MERCEDES — Fun, food and games took center stage at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo yesterday, culminating the 78th annual event in festive fashion.
The weekend’s festivities attracted hundreds of families from throughout the region, many of whom remarked that the sunny weather was a welcomed change to the downpours that created a slow start for the show’s longer March 9 to 19 run.
“It’s the first time for the week,” Gabrielle Lopez, 24, of San Juan said of her visit to the stock show on Saturday.
Accompanied by her son, Noah Alexander, 4, and brother-in-law, Maxemiliano, 15, Lopez praised the show’s more practical feature — its paved parking lot — as a long-awaited convenience.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and that pavement makes the difference,” she said. “There’s also a lot more diversity here, the weather is finally perfect and, like I said, the parking lot is definitely worth the cost.”
Lopez was referring to a new $10 parking fee imposed at the show this year. It’s a cost that Ralph Deaanda of Advertir, the stock show’s marketing agency, said was necessary to cover some of the expenses associated with the paving, which made way for more than 3,000 striped spaces as well as shuttling accommodations.
Still, there were others who took issue with the fee.
“Some people were not real pleased by the $10 parking, but you weren’t having to park in gravel or mud like in years past, which is what would drive some people away from the stock show too,” Deannda said. “We also heard comments that the paving was fantastic and that now they don’t have to worry about the mud when it rains.”
Even with the paved parking lot, vendors such as Otila Medrano of Round up BBQ blamed the rain for a noticeable decline in business during the first few days. It wasn’t until the showers ceased that a clear uptick in attendance was observed.
“It started out slow but I think it was because of the rain, and now it’s really picked up,” Medrano said on Saturday, further noting that she and her staff of seven family members sold an average of about 300 onion blossoms per day at the stock show.
Although it was her first year working as a vendor, Samantha Melgarejo of Granny’s Cheesecake and More agreed that business was good.
“It’s also been fun because I got to see new people,” Melgarejo added.
Sheila Shotwell, 30, of Mercedes was one of Melgarejo’s customers on Sunday, because although the attractions represent the main draw, it’s the fair food that has gotten the former through the gates since she was a child.
“You don’t get it often down here, so we get to try different kinds of things from the funnel cakes to the giant corn dogs, and also brisket sandwiches and deep-fried stuff too,” Shotwell said before ordering deep-friend Snickers and shortcake. “I had the deep-fried Oreos yesterday and they were very good. It’s a donut with an Oreo inside basically. Anything deep-fried is awesome … seriously. They’ve got deep-fried Philly cheese steak that I’ve wanted to try too.”
For Nathaniel Salazar, 29, of Weslaco, it was the new Kids Corral that struck a chord with his family of four.
“I don’t remember it being here before, the Kids Corral, but it’s nice because over where they have the adult rides they have the kids rides, and that’s where you have teenagers in there running around,” Salazar said on Sunday after he and his wife Chantelle, 29, watched their children Cataleya, 3, and Lorenzo, 18 months, have fun on a car ride. “Not that it was bad, but now that you have a separate area just for kids, you can have all the little ones here in one area. So when considering that, the vendors and exhibit hall everything seems expanded. I think the stock show’s grown a lot, and it’s pretty impressive.”
Sharing similar sentiments on Saturday was Levi Newell, 16, of the Harlingen High FFA.
After showing rabbits the last two years, Newell said he witnessed more support for the exhibitors at the 2017 event.
“I think there’s been a bigger turnout of people this year, and it made the environment more friendly, especially to the exhibitors,” Newell, whose rabbits placed fifth this year, said. “When we’re in the show arena, there’s a bigger applause for everyone. It’s been a really good year this year. They made more attractions here at the carnival and decided to put up a show arena in the rabbit barn, which encourages more people to come out.”
As for the actual numbers, Deaanda said it may be a few more days before stock show officials have total attendance figures to share.
“I did hear that it’s been positive,” Deaanda said. “What I did here is we’re moving in a positive direction, and they were pleased with the turnout.”