Stockyards City

As Real As It Gets

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Stockyards City is the place to come if you want to experience the heritage of the Old West, from buying a pair of custom-made leather boots to catching a performance at the Rodeo Opry.

Stockyards City's history dates back to 1910 when a public livestock market opened, and quickly sparked a large and lucrative industry for Oklahoma City. Large meat packing plants soon began operations in an area that was dubbed "Packingtown," bringing a total investment in the stockyards of $3.5 million and creating 2,400 jobs for a city with a population of 60,000 at that time.

The growth of the industry was not only important to the state, but to the nation as well. Within five years, the volume of livestock handling rose by 130 percent. Growth continued and soon a business district sprang up around the city's major employers. A streetcar line, bank, lodging, eateries, and cattle-related businesses moved in to support the burgeoning industry. Today, the Oklahoma National Stockyards is known as the world's largest stocker and feeder cattle market, and much of the original business district is still intact.

From the moment you step into this district, which is about five miles from downtown Oklahoma City, the new gateway – an arch decorated with images of a cowboy, steer, and horse – makes it clear that this community's heritage is steeped in the Old West. Erin Karl, executive director of Stockyards City Main Street, says that it's easy to feel like you've stepped back in time. She points out that in 1979, the entire district was listed in the National Register and that "property owners are truly interested in keeping the historic aspects alive."

Choosing to capitalize on the district's western image and roots was an obvious choice for the Main Street program. "The Oklahoma National Stockyards is still a very active employer in the district and the backbone of our community," says Karl. Even the Main Street program's logo derives from the Stockyards.

A large percentage of the 70 businesses on the main street offer products and services that meet the needs of the surrounding agricultural community. "This is the place where you come to buy what you need if you are a cowboy or part of an agricultural business," says Karl.

This active industry is what keeps Stockyards City authentic and makes it a unique tourist destination. "As long as we continue to be a working community that supports the Stockyards," says Karl, "we'll maintain the authenticity that other places tend to lose after awhile. We are very western and we do what we claim."

Read the other articles in this series about Oklahoma Main Streets:

Oklahoma City: Bright and Booming in the Heartland
Stockyards City
Plaza District
Artists Alley
Wilburton
Perry

Leveraging its Old West theme is making the district a more widely recognized destination. The low-level buildings, decorated buffalo statues, the "Headin' to Market" cowboy sculpture by artist Harold Holden, and the famous Cattlemen's Café steakhouse are all important elements of that image.

Special events also communicate the district's heritage. For eight years, the community has been hosting a Run with the Bulls 5k run. The annual Cowboy Christmas Parade, which has been going on for more than 30 years, attracts people from all across the state. This year the parade had 75 entries and was led by 100 marching longhorn cattle. At the end, a cowboy Santa with a big hat, belt buckle, and boots waved to kids along the parade route before handing out presents. A large number of horse- and western-themed entries filled the parade, including the cavalry, a trick roper, and a Native American section coordinated by the owner of a Native American jewelry store.

Spreading the word about Stockyards City is an integral part of sharing the brand with the larger tourism industry. The Main Street office essentially serves as the tourism department for both the district and the Oklahoma National Stockyards.

"They know me very well there. I can walk the catwalk and bring tours into the auction barn," says Karl. "We work with the Oklahoma Convention Bureau to bring in travel writers who are looking for a western experience. Last year we had writers from Ireland, England, and Germany."

The Main Street program has been spending more time working with newspapers and magazines – especially western-focused magazines – to get the word out that Stockyards City is the place to go if you are looking for the Old West. With the Oklahoma Centennial coming up, the program is ramping up its marketing efforts and looking into commercials, billboards, and other new opportunities.

In 2010, Karl says, the program plans to launch something new each month to celebrate the Centennial and show that the past and future are equally important to Stockyards City. Developing a special cookbook, a calendar featuring district merchants and their stories, banners, t-shirts, a special logo that looks like a cattle brand, an outdoor Western movie night, and an Oklahoma wine festival are currently in the works. Karl is particularly excited to launch a sip-and-stroll event that will place a dozen or so state wineries in local businesses so people can taste wine while visiting businesses in the district.

"Historically, this district was created to meet the mercantile needs of people working in the Stockyards. There were feed stores, bars, and brothels, as you can imagine. It catered to the needs of cowboys," says Karl. "One hundred years later, it has become a tourist destination with an image that capitalizes on the Stockyards that is still up and running."

And the best part? You can buy a custom pair of leather boots, eat a steak at a place that's been open since 1910, catch a performance at the Rodeo Opry, and even see a real cowboy walking down the street.

THE POWER OF MAIN STREET

National Main Streets Conference: Oklahoma City, May 2-5, 2010.

There is only one gathering each year that brings together people who understand exactly what kind of work you do… the kinds of opportunities specifically available to a community like yours… the types of challenges you face and the creative ways to overcome them. It's the National Main Streets Conference.

For three days, you'll experience a whirlwind of great ideas, inspiring speakers, innovative solutions, and thought leaders who are involved in historic preservation-based economic development. Other conferences may explore community revitalization, but only our conference frames it within the structure of the proven Main Street Four-Point Approach® and shows you how to achieve your goals using volunteer teams.

We are pleased this year to showcase the successes and stories of Main Street communities throughout Oklahoma. This article showcases our host city and its revitalization story. Case studies from communities throughout Oklahoma highlight what's been happening in recent years around this great state to get you amped about joining us in Oklahoma City for our upcoming conference.

Free Main Street 101 Training from National Experts!

There's no free lunch anymore, but there is free Main Street 101 training by National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC) staff. New directors, board members, and volunteers are invited to participate in our day-long, free training on the basics of the Main Street approach on Sunday, May 2, at the 2010 National Main Streets Conference. You don't have to be registered for the conference, but we bet the valuable education and the enthusiastic atmosphere will make you want to stay. If you are a Main Street executive director from a town near Oklahoma City with board members and volunteers who plan to experience the conference vicariously through you, encourage them to come for the day and attend the free Main Street 101 sessions. NTMSC staff will cover each point of the Main Street Approach and share inspiring examples so you'll know how things should be done.  Main Street 101 Training (free): Sunday, May 2, 8:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m