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‘Cutting us at the knees’: Small business owners say they will lose income, local economy will suffer due to event center change

A Laramie County commissioner says he and his colleagues voted to bring a sporting competition to the Event Center at Archer this December. The decision attracted the ire of residents at a public meeting Wednesday.

Lindsey Taylor Groves, left, and Laramie County commissioner Troy Thompson listen to a member of the public at a public meeting Wednesday inside the Commissioner's Board Room in Cheyenne.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — For the past four years, the women-owned Cheyenne organization Simplicity 307 Vendor & Event Planning has hosted its increasingly successful Cowboy Christmas Market at Cheyenne’s largest venue, the Event Center at Archer, during the second weekend of December. For 2024, this may no longer be the case.

Tension mounted at a public meeting Wednesday between Laramie County Commissioner Troy Thompson and county residents regarding a scheduling change at the Event Center at Archer. Around 30 members of the public — including event center director Dan Ange, Simplicity 307 founders, local business owners and shop vendors — met in the county commissioner’s meeting room to discuss a scheduling conflict between the Cowboy Christmas Market and East High School’s Charlie Lake Wrestling Tournament.

Several local shop owners and market organizers present at Wednesday’s meeting said they felt unheard and weren’t involved in the discussion to move the Cowboy Christmas Market’s date. Members of the public also claim that moving the date of Simplicity 307’s event will be disastrous to the local economy and negatively affect the income of vendors who rely on December’s craft fair.

A decision to move the wrestling event was made during a December meeting of the Laramie County Board of Commissioners, one commissioner said. Information obtained by Cap City News brings the validity of this decision into question.

Background

On Dec. 28, Simplicity 307 stated online it had been notified that the wrestling tournament would be taking place at Archer during the second weekend of December, effectively taking the Christmas market’s time slot. Simplicity 307 clarified in its Facebook post that rescheduling its event to a different date would create numerous problems to the local community and would force the market to compete with other established events and fundraisers.

In a comment to Simplicity 307’s original post, Commissioner Thompson, who served as the board’s chairman in 2023, provided context as to why he, the event center and East High School decided to host Charlie Lake at Archer for 2024. Thompson said the venue will allow additional space for more wrestling mats and the event can wrap up quicker so that high school students won’t have to travel home late at night.

“We absolutely love the tremendous success that the craft fair has had in bringing people to the Events Center and we sincerely hope they will continue to have as much success on a different weekend (or even multiple weekends as the Simplicity 307 folks discussed this week with our events staff),” Thompson wrote in his response to Simplicity 307’s Facebook post.

A day later, Laramie County Events issued an official statement on the matter. The organization stated that no contracts have yet been signed.

Meeting between Thompson, business owners

Community members vocalized their grievances to Thompson on Wednesday. To begin the discussion, Thompson provided context to the current situation. He said that previously, the Charlie Lake Wrestling Tournament — which has been held annually on the second weekend of December for decades — has been hosted at two locations in Cheyenne. This year, the event was hosted Dec. 8–9 at East High School and Storey Gymnasium.

Thompson told the public that he is a wrestling fan and is involved with East High School’s youth wrestling program. The commissioner conceived the idea to move the Charlie Lake wrestling event when he attended the tournament in December. Thompson said he heard comments from parents traveling from towns such as Pinedale about the tournament’s growth and length of time it runs.

“As I’m sitting there with them and the day got longer and longer, I heard them talking about, ‘We need to find a place for dinner, we’re gonna have to get hotels,’” Thompson said.

After the wrestling event, Thompson approached Ange at Event Center at Archer, Cheyenne’s largest indoor event center, and East High School staff to propose bringing the wrestling tournament under one roof. Thompson said the school athletics department and Ange were open to the possibility of bringing Charlie Lake to Archer. At a Dec. 18 department head meeting, the county commission took a vote to move the wrestling event to Archer, Thompson said. He and Ange then set out to communicate with Simplicity 307 about this decision so the event organizers could have as much time as possible to reschedule.

“So that is where we are,” Thompson said at Wednesday’s meeting. “The county commission has made a decision, and we are giving you a date before and the date after. And if you guys don’t want to do it, we get that. We understand that. But that’s the situation we’re in.”

Thompson clarified in the meeting that the wrestling tournament is funded by the school district. Simplicity 307 organizers said they pay the event center $8,000 out of pocket to host their two-day craft fair.

“The vote was five to nothing,” Thompson said in response to a community member’s question about where an official vote was published. Another member of the public asked Thompson if the wrestling event plans were a done deal. “Correct,” Thompson said.

In a phone interview with Cap City News, Ange, the event director, said the commissioners indeed voted 5–0 at the department head update. He added that a contract has not yet been signed.

Laramie County Commissioner Troy Thompson addresses event organizers, local business owners and Cheyenne residents during a public meeting Wednesday inside the Commissioner’s Board Room in Cheyenne. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

Members of the public each had chances to share their thoughts on the event change to Thompson. Community members said they believe Thompson is not considering the community’s input in the commission’s decision.

Simplicity 307 chief operating officer Lindsey Taylor Groves said that by moving the event, Cowboy Christmas Market will be forced to compete with local fundraisers and other events, which will negatively impact the local economy. Vendors have already set their schedules for 2024 more than a year in advance, Groves added.

“While we support the wrestling match, these guys come to Cowboy Christmas Market and rely on that schedule,” Groves said. “These guys are going to have to worry about how they’re going to pay their bills that month. … And so this is why we’re extremely concerned.”

Local shop owners attested to Groves’s comments. Deb Fairchild, treasurer of the Women’s Civic League of Cheyenne, said her organization has been hosting the Christmas House event for the past 50 years on the first weekend of December. The event raises $60,000 per year, which is dispersed back into the community in the form of grants and scholarships.

“That’s what we raised in two days,” Fairchild said. “Asking us to go up against the biggest craft fair” when both events sell the same variety of handmade craft will greatly impact Christmas House. “The amount of money we will be able to give back to the community will be very little compared to what we give now.”

Business owner Kira Craft of Unearthing Artistry said that Cowboy Christmas Market is one of her biggest events of the year. She said that changing the market’s date will take away her and other vendors’ biggest source of income around the holiday season.

Around 30 local residents sit inside the Commissioners’ Board Room during a public meeting with commissioner Troy Thompson to discuss an event schedule conflict at the Event Center at Archer. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

“These aren’t big-name corporations that can handle losing thousands of dollars,” Craft said. “These are small businesses in the Wyoming and surrounding areas. … So not only by moving this wrestling tournament out there and taking away our income, you’re taking away those funds going back into [the Cheyenne community].”

Another impassioned resident, a local business owner, said this year’s Cowboy Christmas Market was the best year she has had. She said that moving the event to the third weekend of December would bring in significantly fewer attendees because most people don’t do their holiday shopping the weekend before Christmas. 

“A lot of it is second income for us because the economy [is terrible],” she said. “We need that money, and that date is the best date. … So by cutting us at the knees — and that’s really what it is because even if we split it over both weekends, we’re not going to make half of what we did on that day because of the timing.

“I think as a commission, like actually talking to the business owners that you’re affecting — even though, yes the meetings are public — like, do we have time?” the resident said. “You’re making the decision without actually knowing any of us, so you don’t know how it’s actually gonna affect us or the economy of the city.”

Another resident asked why the tournament cannot be moved to the first weekend of December instead of the second. Thompson said that the tournament date is set through the Wyoming High School Activity Association and in tandem with other schools involved in the sporting event.

Chad Whitworth, associate commissioner of the activity association, told Cap City News via a phone interview that the activity association doesn’t dictate when sports events can occur. Schools involved in the tournament coordinate with one another to decide the date. The association only controls the first allowable date an event can happen. For 2024, the earliest date the wrestling event can take place is Thursday, Dec. 12, Whitworth said.

Cap City News attempted to contact East High School athletics director Jerry Schlabs for information on the wrestling tournament schedule. No comment has been received as of the time of reporting.

Residents also saw issue with the fact that the Dec. 18 work session meeting wasn’t publicly mentioned and that commissioners didn’t personally reach out to Simplicity 307 nor local shop owners to attend. Currently, the department head update meeting is not listed on the county commissioners’ online calendar. Thompson told Cap City News that the event was posted on the county commission’s schedule on its governing body’s web page in December. 

The commission’s schedule is updated weekly, according to commissioner’s assistant Jessica Bennetts. She told Cap City News that the schedule is not sent out via email nor made public on public forums such as Facebook.

Simplicity 307’s stance

The event organizers said they feel blindsided by the wrestling event decision. Michelle Shimmin, president of Simplicity 307, said nobody told her and the other event organizers about the Dec. 18 work session. Ange told Cap City News he did not contact Simplicity 307 to inform them about the meeting.

In late December, Shimmin and her work partners Lindsey Taylor Groves and Alana Stottlemyer later met with Ange in a separate meeting to discuss moving the Cowboy Christmas Market to a different date.

The 2022 Cowboy Christmas Market. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Tompkins/Simplicity 307 Vendor & Events)

“The more we talked, the more it became apparent they weren’t asking us [to move the craft fair voluntarily],” Shimmin said in a phone interview.

Ange told Cap City News that Shimmin and her colleagues had entertained the idea of moving the event date to other weekends due to crowding concerns. He also offered the women a discount while discussing moving their event to a different date. 

Shimmin said she and her colleagues were adamant throughout the meeting that changing the Christmas event’s schedule would never be a feasible option for them. She said that they “were considering what they’re saying” but not agreeing to move the market to separate dates.

The work session vote

During Wednesday’s meeting, Thompson asserted that the decision to change the wrestling event’s location to Archer was a collective agreement among all county commissioners. However, the validity of such a vote ever occurring, and whether it holds any weight at all, is bare.

Thompson said the commissioners unanimously agreed to move the wrestling event to Archer. Cap City News reached out to inquire about an official vote with the county clerk’s office. The minutes for the Dec. 18 meeting state, “It was noted that perhaps the craft show can be moved up a week.” Thompson provided further clarity to Cap City about the county commissioners’ consensus on the event scheduling.

“What is most important to note in these minutes is that there was no disagreement among the commissioners as to the direction we instructed our director to take,” Thompson said via email. “To be clear, this was a unanimous decision made by the commission, with none of our commissioners dissenting, or even speaking in opposition.”

Any decision made during a commission work session meeting is effectively meaningless. 

Laramie County clerk Debra Lee told Cap City News via email that the monthly work session meetings are informal information meetings. Commissioners do not vote on issues at these department head update meetings, according to commissioner’s assistant Jessica Bennetts. All votes are made during scheduled board meetings, she said via a phone interview. 

Thompson has further clarified to Cap City News that the scheduling of events at Archer is up to the full discretion of Ange; the county commissioners only provide their input. Ange confirmed to Cap City News that he does not require the commission’s input to establish or alter event dates at Archer.

“Normally a schedule change like what was discussed today, would be a decision that our director would make, without commissioner input,” Thompson said via email. “However, because this decision involved an existing event, I felt it wise to have the full commission discuss the issue with Dan before he moved forward.”

As of Thursday, not all commissioners appear to be on the same page as Thompson. Commissioner Linda Heath told Cap City News that a formal vote never occurred during the December work session meeting. She said the topic was brought forward as “a spur-of-the-moment comment” and that the purpose of the discussion was to simply explore the possibility of a venue change. Nothing was set in stone, she added.

“It was just a nod of the head and just ‘Let’s explore this’,” Heath said in a phone interview. She added there was “no formal ‘yay’ or ‘no’” at the meeting.

Since the meeting, Heath’s perspective on the issue has changed. She believes the commissioners were not given sufficient information on the issue to make a fair recommendation. At the time of the meeting, she knew the wrestling tournament would conflict with the Cowboy Christmas Market but was unaware about how changing its date would impact the community. She said she wants to see the event center honor Simplicity 307’s original schedule for 2024.


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