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‘Everything’s bigger’: Cowboy Christmas vendors, patrons glad to be back in LV

Sam Abweh has been a vendor at The Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas for decades. His business, Samsville Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has had a booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center every year since 1997.

That is, until 2020. When no one had a Cowboy Christmas booth because there was no Cowboy Christmas in Las Vegas. Nor was there a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, as the event temporarily moved to Arlington, Texas, because of the pandemic.

But Abweh made good use of these past two years. He had an idea of making his booth, from the outside, look more like a Western-Southwestern shop you might see along small-town Main Street. And it is awesome. The front entry of the wood structure even has an inviting porch with chairs to kick back in, before you head through the doors. And there’s Route 66-themed art along all four outer walls.

The structure is really Abweh’s love letter to Las Vegas, a city he and countless other Cowboy Christmas vendors missed dearly in 2020.

“Oh my God, we missed it,” Abweh said. “This idea started a year and a half ago, and we’ve been building this back at our warehouse for the past couple months. Then it took three days to build it here. Seventeen of us put it together.”

On Wednesday night, his efforts got the full reveal, as The Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas officially opened.

“You walk onto the porch and then inside, and you feel like you’re home. And inside, it looks just like our store in Santa Fe,” Abweh said. “You want these people to come to your store, so we wanted to build a show within a show, an attraction within an attraction. It’s a gift to our customers. That’s what keeps us going and inspires us.”

It surely made an impression on the countless Cowboy Christmas customers who’ve already gone through the South Halls over the first few days of the rodeo. Plenty of other vendors are working hard to make an impression, as well – and make up for a big chunk of lost revenue from 2020.

Jerry Zink is an area sales manager for eXmark Manufacturing, which builds light commercial mowing equipment. His company made a $35,000 investment to return this year and get a spot along one of the main aisles, which always helps with traffic. And eXmark was happy to spend that money.

“It’s critical to build on name recognition for our sales,” Zink said. “This will gain us nothing but visibility, but that’s important. It’s all about visibility. It’ll pay us back in the future, absolutely.”

The customers are as eager to return as the vendors. J.C. Townsend brought his family — wife Nora and their three children, who all compete in rodeo — to the opening night of Cowboy Christmas. The Townsends, from Natchitoches, La., checked out last year’s Cowboy Christmas during its one-year stint at the NFR in Texas, but they knew Vegas was the real deal.

“Everybody said that everything’s bigger in Vegas,” J.C. said as his daughter was getting her cowboy hat reshaped. “It was huge in Fort Worth last year. But from what I’ve seen tonight, it’s a lot bigger here. It’s great.”

Nora most appreciated the expo’s early opening. As long as Cowboy Christmas has existed, it has opened on the first day of the rodeo. This year, The Cowboy Channel wanted to bring the expo to life earlier, leading to the Wednesday night debut, a night before the Wrangler NFR’s first go-round.

Customers who took advantage of it were able to enjoy stress-free shopping in lighter crowds, before everyone really rolled in for the rodeo.

“We were excited that they opened up a day early,” Nora said, while noting the expo would’ve been difficult to navigate if not for some smart planning. “Looking at the vendor list was so overwhelming. But I downloaded the app, and having that made it a lot easier.”

Just having this massive event is making it a lot easier for rodeo fans to do their annual one-stop holiday shopping and for vendors to jump-start their recovery from a pandemic that wreaked havoc on their businesses.

“It’s amazing. We’re really thrilled. We’re gonna make up for what we lost last year and give people a great experience,” Abweh said. “For us to be in back in Las Vegas, it’s really the best. Vegas has triumphed. We all need Vegas.”

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