VIDEO: A Hat Full of Western Tradition: Vendor sets up at same National Western booth for 34th straight year
Go to www.thefencepost.com to see video accompanying this story, and video with other stories by Lincoln Rogers.
Experiencing the tradition of the National Western Stock Show is a primary reason visitors attend the historic venue year after year.
Finding traditions within that event is an extra bonus.
Located in the Exhibition Hall between aisles 1200 and 1300 was one such tradition that has been in same location for 34 straight years, or nearly a third of the NWSS’s 108 years of existence.
Rick and Diane Bishop own and run Western Traditions, a booth that sells quality cowboy hats, along with cleaning and reshaping most other cowboy hats for just $15. They travel the country with their products and services, setting up at numerous events, including the National Western, Houston Stock Show, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the National Finals Rodeo in Vegas.
Judging by the steady stream of stock show clients handing them cowboy hats in various states of wear, it’s safe to say the Bishops have developed a great reputation over the decades.
“It’s kind of an honor,” said Rick Bishop on his longevity at the century old stock show.
While Western Traditions has been working the NWSS for 34 years, Bishop himself has been in the cowboy hat trade since he was 18.
“We look forward to seeing all of our old customers (every year). We’re working on third generation and coming up on fourth, some of them. It makes me feel old, now,” he added with a chuckle. “We look forward to seeing all our customers and friends we’ve made over the years.”
One of the reasons why all those people return is the speed and expertise in the way the husband and wife team clean and reshape a customer’s current cowboy hat, whether that hat was purchased from them or not. With two steam stations in their booth, the duo uses the heat to soften the hats and reshape them to their former glory, cleaning them with brushes and pads at the same time.
Asked about the worst hats brought to him for a little TLC, Bishop revealed their booth can’t work miracles.
“It’s a surface cleaning is all we can do here,” he started on the subject while his practiced hands flipped a customer’s hat over a burst of steam. “We can’t get grease or sweat out or anything like that. If they need it, we can put stiffener on them and kind of bring them back to life.
But hats in terrible condition are a lost cause?
“There’s a point where you really can’t do anything,” he acknowledged. “We get them with all kinds of grease and holes in them and we can’t do it.”
He also revealed another challenge in the cleaning and reshaping side of his business.
“They are selling so many cheap hats these days, is the problem,” he said in front of a wall full of their own higher quality cowboy hats for sale. “Those real cheap wool hats, I just can’t do anything with them. You never know what’s going to happen. In the steam, they may shrink and curl up.”
What about hats belonging to rodeo cowboys?
Do they see many of those after a hard time in the arena?
“Oh yeah, we’ve done that,” he said with a smile. “We’ve straightened up a lot of their hats.”
There is no need to just take the Bishops word for it.
Steady lines in front of their booth bear testimony to their skill, and newcomers were impressed enough to spread the word.
“(My hat) had just shrunk over time and was too tight on my head,” said first-time customer Seth Hart of Elizabeth, Colo., about why he brought a hat to be cleaned and reshaped.
Asked what he thought after getting his hat back, he didn’t hesitate in his reply.
“I think they did really good,” he answered. “I’m impressed. And getting it reshaped is cheaper than buying a new one “
Hart’s companion at the stock show agreed.
“He looks a little better,” Tamra Reynolds assessed with a grin. “I’m impressed. I’ll take him home with me,” she finished with a laugh.
Those kinds of positive customer responses are what keeps Western Traditions thriving at the NWSS, and makes the 34-year vendor a tradition in their own right. ❖