Path Home Shows 2017 Show Archive April 2017 Show 1718 Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1718

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1718

This week on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we look at small town downtowns and the people helping revive them.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1718

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1718

For more information visit these links:

Pioneer Woman Mercantile

The Pioneer Woman

Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce

Tallgrass Art Gallery

Becky McCray

Small Biz Survival

Lovera’s Handcrafted Foods

Pontotoc Technology Center


Show Details

Show 1718: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: April 30, 2017



Rob McClendon: Here is what is coming up on your “Horizon.” Well, for more than a generation, small town downtowns have struggled with changing demographics and with shopping trends. But that does not mean the future of Main Street includes a wrecking ball. This week on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we will see how a national celebrity is helping her local town one purchase at a time.

Ree Drummond: We spent the year leading up to opening making sure that every aspect of the mercantile is worth it for anyone who wants to drive.

Rob: We will visit with a rural revitalization expert on how small towns can keep their Main streets viable.

Becky McCray: So maybe sometimes you can give them a little bit of a financial sting. Some towns have actually passed ordinances that charge more for letting a building sit unoccupied or sit in storage.

Rob: And we end our day with a taste of Italy in small town Oklahoma. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Female Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by CareerTech – a job for every Oklahoman and a workforce for every company -- with additional support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I am Rob McClendon. Well, it can be a struggle for small town downtowns. Everything from increased competition from a big-box retailer a town over, to just changing shopping habits, can make it difficult for local retailers. But you sure cannot tell it these days in the small northern Oklahoma town of Pawhuska. During the Osage oil boom in the early 20th century, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, per capita was the wealthiest town in the world. In fact, it was the home of the first Rolls Royce dealership west of the Mississippi. Even a very young Clark Gable roughnecked in the oil patch nearby. But as oil booms go, there was a bust, and Pawhuska’s population began a steady decline. But today, fans of the Pioneer Woman can swell this small town of 3,500 to five times that size on any given day, thanks to a local celebrity’s return to her family’s merchant roots.

Rob McClendon: Well, the lines can get long at the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, thanks in great part to the celebrity surrounding Ree Drummond – better known as the Pioneer Woman.

Ree Drummond: Welcome to my frontier. I started my blog in 2006. It was nothing. It was a small personal blog about daily life on the ranch. It didn’t even have any recipes.

Rob: But it did have a certain feel that attracted readers by the hundreds of thousands.

Drummond: I do not take myself too seriously. I don’t debate politics or religion or things like that, that people can get anywhere. It’s just kind of a slice of life. And I think everybody enjoys family, food, you know, humor.

Rob: That runs through every word she writes. Just look at the subheader on her website: “Plowing through life in the country, one calf nut at a time.” Something we got to experience first-hand when Ree was a couple hours late for our interview and for good reason.

Drummond: We had controlled burning on the ranch. And the fire jumped a road that it wasn’t supposed to jump, which happens a lot. We actually had some lodge tours going on out on the ranch. A bunch of Merc guests came out to check it out. So I wound up rounding them all up and having them follow me out the back door to the ranch.

Rob: So do you ever snicker when someone questions your authenticity?

Drummond: Well, just like today, I mean this is my life for the past 20 years. You know, you make plans and then, um, your husband lights a little match, and then you have to take 15 strangers out the back way of the ranch. And as I said, I’ve been doing this for the past 20 years of my life. So it is funny.

Rob: And successful. From her wildly popular blog came a cookbook, then a variety of other books and her own TV show on the Food Network, all giving a peek into her life on a working cattle ranch.

Drummond: You know, I never thought of myself as a writer when I started a blog. I really just started blogging. You just have to start writing, and just like anything, whether it’s cooking or photography or any hobby or skill, you will get better the more you do it. So blogging is great for that because it’s a daily thing. And it was for me. I was a serious seven-day-a-week blogger for probably two or three years when I first started. I guess I had a lot to say after living in the country for 10 years.

Rob: You are quite the photographer. Have you always had a good eye?

Drummond: Oh, no. No, no, no. I was terrible when I first started taking pictures. But, again, the same thing, I wanted to learn how to take pictures so I got a big girl camera, I called it, took my first few pictures, and I thought, well, they are not any good, and this is a really nice camera. So I just started taking pictures every day and before long I would get one good picture out of a hundred. Then I would get two or three good pictures. So it’s just, anything you do daily, you are going to get better.

Rob: How important is place for you, that being here in the Osage Hills. How important is that?

Drummond: Oh, gosh, well, it’s home. And you know I was born in Bartlesville. So I wasn’t born too far away. But now, you know, Pawhuska really is my home. It’s where my kids were born, and we’re dug in here, and this is where our roots are. My husband’s family has lived here for generations. So it’s very important. You know, when we were thinking about doing the Mercantile and as the idea evolved, we never once considered doing it anywhere but here. Even though it might have made a little more demographic sense to build it in a larger locale, it wouldn’t have made sense for us to do it anywhere else.

Rob: But I think probably just the past few months have shown that if you build it, they will come.

Drummond: I’m just so grateful for every person that drives here, whether they are driving from Tulsa or another state. Because they are kind of taking a chance on, you know, whether the experience is going to be worth it. And so my husband and I and the people that helped us with this, we spent the year leading up to opening making sure that every aspect of the Mercantile is worth it for anyone who wants to drive.

Rob: That includes customer service. Elizabeth Keese works in the bakery and moved here from Arkansas.

Elizabeth Keese: I really love it. I mean it’s such a fun atmosphere to work in. And it’s just a really great company to work for, honestly. I love working here.

Rob: With close to 200 employees, the Pioneer Woman Mercantile has become a major employer for this small town.

Drummond: My husband’s great-great-grandfather emigrated from Scotland. And he actually was a merchant. He wasn’t a rancher. This building itself was not his store. But this was the original Osage Mercantile in Pawhuska. So there are roots kind of on both sides, both on my husband’s family and in the town. So I’ve always loved the idea of an old general store. I don’t know where or how many times I’ve seen pictures of, you know, the cabinets and the men standing around in their uniforms waiting on people, “Little House on the Prairie,” the Olson Mercantile. I just had a clear vision that I wanted this store to harken back to another time and place.

Rob: But turning a vision into reality is a job unto itself and something Ree Drummond is quick to point out she did not do alone.

Drummond: I shudder to imagine where we would be if CareerTech had not gotten involved in the days and weeks leading up to the Merc opening. They were unbelievably instrumental. I mean I could go on and on, but they are basically our heroes. We have this warehouse full of product for the store, and before we brought it over to the store, of course, everything had to be tagged and priced. And so we spent days, I think at least a couple of weeks, meticulously tagging product. Everything was 70 to 80 percent done, and then we found out to our horror that the system had tagged everything with exactly the same bar code and price, which we wouldn’t have known by just looking at the tag. So it was just a little bit of a hidden glitch. And we were completely panicked. We didn’t know what to do. And CareerTech literally swooped in with their Superman capes on, brought a busload of helpers, and they spent however much time they needed to retag everything. And, I mean, as I say, I shudder to imagine where we would have been on opening day if that busload hadn’t shown up and helped us.

Rob: And since that opening day, the crowds just continue to grow.

Rob: Now, if you would like to plan a visit, Thursday through Saturday are their busiest days and the Mercantile is closed on Sunday. But there is still plenty to do in the area, and the Pawhuska Chamber has it all lined out well on their website which we do have a link to under this story at Now, when we return, building upon the success of the Pioneer Woman.

Female Announcer: You are watching “Oklahoma Horizon” with Rob McClendon – weekly insight into your changing world.

Rob McClendon: Well, the opening of the Pioneer Woman Mercantile is a huge event in and of itself. But what about the bigger picture? How are businesses, people and the city of Pawhuska affected by this big name attracting all the crowds? In a word, it is thankful, but also mindful they need to build upon the Pioneer Woman’s success. Our Blane Singletary has their story.

Blane Singletary: The Mercantile might be bringing everyone to the small, once-quiet town of Pawhuska, but it’s far from the only place those people are going.

Cathi Ball: They are standing in line, and while they are standing in line, one person holds the place in line, and the rest of them come shop.

Blane: That’s Cathi Ball. She runs a clothing shop inside the Tallgrass Gallery, just across the street from the Pioneer Woman Mercantile. And while things are bustling today, she still has fresh memories of the store’s humble beginnings.

Ball: I have been here for five and a half years. There was a group of eight women that had separate booths in a little store two doors down, and we just tried to provide things that were not in the town. There was no place to buy clothing.

Blane: Now, with tens of thousands of people flocking to Pawhuska every month since the Merc opened in November, businesses like Cathi’s have had a slew of new customers they have been all too happy to accommodate.

Ball: So it has been amazing. We help them with information around town about where to go and what to do. They say once the money comes into a town it passes at least three times through the town before it is gone. So everybody is benefiting from it.

Bruce Carter: Obviously, that does improve the foot traffic for your community. We get a lot of tourists in. They get to see the other things that are happening here.

Blane: Bruce Carter is the owner of the Tallgrass Gallery.

Carter: All ships rise with the tide. The tide has risen, but it is up to us to keep it going.

Blane: The opening of the Mercantile might have changed this downtown district overnight, but taking advantage of this sudden growth spurt is going to take a lot of continued effort.

Carter: I think that for a small town sometimes the stars have to align. But those stars do not align without people working in the background and having a vision or a goal. Pawhuska probably for 12, 13 years has been trying to become an arts destination. And I think what happened here is with Ree Drummond, the stars aligned, and we were able to make that happen. But it’s been people working in the background, working hard, believing in something. We do not talk about visions in Pawhuska any more. We talk about goals. We do not talk about problems. We talk about creative opportunities.

Blane: And one of the many people working in the background on those goals and opportunities is Joni Nash, executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce

Joni Nash: It all goes back to just a spirit of excitement, anticipation of what is going on now, but what’s also to come.

Blane: Like anyone who has come across a major windfall, Nash says the key objective now is not to blow it.

Nash: All of a sudden, we do have all this organic growth and stimulation, but we want to maximize the potential. Looking outside, we have tapped into partnering with those resources as far as getting those investors and getting those promoters here to talk Pawhuska outside of Pawhuska and bringing the right people here.

Blane: And, of course, all those meals and merchandise serves up a heaping helping of sales tax revenue, to the tune of an extra $20,000 per month. Mike McCartney is the Pawhuska city manager.

Mike McCartney: For rural communities like ours? It means a lot to us. We have to have that to keep everything going and as most communities, rural communities in the state, are struggling right now, and it will help us out a bunch.

Blane: And long before that money started pouring in, the city and its chamber have had a long wish list.

McCartney: We pushed the downtown. We started our streetscape plan back in 2010. So we have been pushing. We could never have gotten to this point, I do not think, for sure this fast, without the Drummonds stepping up. When Ree opened her door, it came, and it came fast.

Blane: And that is why at the top of this list is infrastructure. Mike says some of what is currently in place is estimated to be over 100 years old. All these new people need all manner of new facilities.

McCartney: It has not really caught us off guard, but you just do not know until they get here just what you are going to need. Restroom facilities. You have that many people, and they are standing in line, they need a restroom at some point there. Getting back and forth across Main Street, which is Highway 60, we have had to really watch that.

Blane: Thanks to an ongoing partnership with Tri County Tech Center, which has already helped train and staff positions in the Merc, they will be able to facilitate this much-needed update for the city, allowing them to focus on their big dreams, like a new, bustling downtown, with more residential, commercial businesses and nightlife. And Joni Nash says people cannot wait to get started.

Nash: I have calls constantly now of interest that are wanting to come to Pawhuska and wanting to find out what it takes to get a business downtown. There is really great investors that are stepping up and coming into our community.

Blane: While change, especially one that has taken hold this fast, is never easy, Bruce Carter says it is essential for this rural community to continue growing and thriving.

Carter: Without struggle, there is no progress, and sometimes people would like things to remain the same, but things do not remain the same. And I think you would find a very small, small minority in Pawhuska are not appreciative of what is happening. We went from being a very small, rural, backwater community to being Disney World. And you have to pay to do that. It is pay to play.

Female Announcer: “Horizon” is at your fingertips – join us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to catch the segments you may have missed and our latest new content as it happens.

Rob McClendon: Well, not every small town can have their own ready-made celebrity attraction, but what they can do is build upon what they do have. Recently I sat down with rural revitalization expert Becky McCray to talk about some tips on keeping small town downtowns viable. So, Becky, we see a lot of small towns just struggle with empty storefronts. How do you get around that?

Becky McCray: Every town kind of has their own unique set of challenges. So in one town in might be absentee owners that own the buildings but live somewhere else. In another town it might be the condition of the buildings that, that structure is just not in good shape, and you can’t get into it. And maybe it might even be that the code, compliance requirements, are too much that there is just no way to afford to bring it up to code and then be able to go in there and be in a successful business, or maybe they are being used for storage. This is really common in small towns. And so there is any number of reasons.

Rob: Yeah, let’s talk a couple of strategies here. What about the absentee or -- how do you get them on board?

McCray: It’s really hard. It’s a project. It’s a project in human relations. You have to actually connect with them as a person and come to the point that they can understand how important that building is and how important that business is that may get there. Maybe sometimes you can give them a little bit of a financial sting. Some towns have actually passed ordinances that charge more for letting a building sit unoccupied or sit in storage. This actually is one that works really well with those absentee corporate owners that maybe a corporation owns hundreds of buildings in hundreds of different towns. If you make it not pay, then sometimes they will go ahead and let go of that building.

Rob: Yeah, I just had a friend trying to bring a business into a certain town, and he got stymied because the business he is trying to bring in, they just said to him flat out, there’s too much vacancy around him. Is that common?

McCray: Yeah, a lot of times it gets kind of a critical mass of vacancy, and it’s just simply hard to overcome the thinking that then gets entrenched. People start thinking, well, we have so much vacancy there is just no way a business could overcome this. And so in that case you have to start with temporary events and transient things, pop-up businesses and festivals and events and anything you can do to bring life to the downtown on a temporary basis. It will help to eventually fill those buildings and to provide a better business environment for any kind of business to go in there.

Rob: Yeah, and I think that’s really interesting, especially with some of these temporary buildings you’re talking about. You may have a burned out building that you could bring a temporary, you know, building inside and you’ve got a facility then.

McCray: Yeah, in Paris, Texas, there is a building that it burned out, so there is just a shell. And so they saved that front façade so it looks great from the front that there is still the brick façade there. Well, the inside was burned out; well they paved it back. They made it nice enough on the inside for seating, brought in a temporary building just to be the kitchen area, and now it’s a beer garden.

Rob: Wow! I want to take you back to the empty buildings. What can you do if you just can’t get a building occupied?

McCray: Divide it up, instead of looking for one tenant to fill all 15,000 square feet, divide it up and look for tenants who can fill 400 square feet with something unique, niche-oriented and that’s of experience. And then when you have multiple of those, so you have a dozen of them in one building, that’s an interesting and engaging experience, and people will come specifically for that.

Rob: So we know how it’s been. How do we get where we want it to be when it comes to small town downtown?

McCray: I always fall back to the innovative, rural business models. And these are, that’s a name I made up for a set of ways of looking at business that doesn’t rely on one person filling the full space. But they are tiny businesses only covering maybe a few hundred square feet. Temporary businesses, maybe only in there for a few days, a few weeks, even a few hours during a festival. They are businesses that are together where you bring lots of businesses so they have, that generate their own critical mass. And finally also trucks and trailers where a business can be based on a mobile platform and can string together enough market through multiple towns, don’t have to rely just on your hometown to be enough to support your business. And it gives you enough strength to have enough market to make that business work. So tiny, temporary, together, trucks and trailers.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much.

McCray: Thank you.

Female Announcer: Want to see more stories like this? All our segments are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV.

Rob McClendon: Well, while the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska prides itself on having a little bit of everything, Lovera’s Handcrafted Foods in Krebs, Oklahoma, has taken a different approach of doing just a few things, but doing them very well. Austin Moore explains.

Austin Moore: For those travelers in search of the best cuisine, Italy is likely at the top of the list. The country is famous for wine, pasta and especially for cheese. But if Italy is out of reach, Krebs, Oklahoma, will take you on its own tasty journey.

Sam Lovera: If you go to Rome, you are not going to get a meal like you would in Krebs. Or vice versa. It has kind of evolved. It is Italian style but it has evolved from like a Depression era Italian.

Austin: Sam Lovera is the owner of Lovera’s Italian Grocery, known not just as a destination store for Italian ingredients, but also for the sausage they produce and for the cheese.

Lovera: We make world-class cheese. Right here in Oklahoma.

Austin: A claim his cheesemaker -- and son-in-law -- Shawn Duffy can back up.

Shawn Duffy: Our Caciocavera cheese, our traditional, was voted the best mild provolone in the world in 2012 in England. Our smoked cheese, our hickory smoked cheese, just two years ago in Sacramento, California, was voted the best smoked cheese in the country.

Austin: Of course, the story is not really about the cheese. Not really. It is about the jobs.

Duffy: Artisan cheese is very much in and of itself a labor-intensive process. And so just innate in its nature is the opportunity to develop jobs and those things because it is very hands on.

Austin: So when Lovera’s wanted to expand their line, the small facility on-site was not enough. Enter Pontotoc Technology Center and their small business incubator, which normally helps startups grow.

Hershel Williams: Anywhere from IT, from computer programs that they use on their books, their record keeping. We help train their employees. If they need soft skills, we do that right here at Pontotoc Technology Center.

Austin: Hershel Williams works with agriculture business management at Pontotoc.

Williams: Normally, our companies stay here three years. We help them get established and get them on their feet, and then they move on. The cheese plant people, they will be here. The only time they will leave here is if they outgrow the facility and build a bigger facility for them to move to.

Duffy: This facility opens up all sorts of opportunities for us to expand, hire on new people, bring on new dairies and that sort of thing.

Austin: With the installation of a new food-grade floor thanks to the Ada Jobs Foundation, the school board here saw an opportunity to create new jobs for Ada with Lovera’s hiring a local crew and to shore up some of the region’s oldest industry.

Williams: We had a need for farmers and ranchers here in this southeast Oklahoma to have a place to produce their goat milk. And this is an opportunity for a small-time family to come in and put a hundred goats in and make a profit at it. And that is the key point, you know, no need to do it for practice. So we need to do it for a profit.

Austin: Cross Broom Farms supplies goat milk to Lovera’s. Owner Becky Wise.

Wise: He had wheels of goat milk cheese. And I was just like, “Is that ours?” and he said, “Yeah. That come from your goats.” And I was like, golly, that is just awesome. It is awesome. That is my milk. That is my milk. And I helped make that product.

Lovera: It makes us feel so great to be able to keep them in business, and you are able to keep their business going by what we are doing.

Rob: Now, if you would like to taste Lovera’s cheese it is showing up at a number of retailers and can also be found online.

Rob McClendon: This month the greatest show on earth closes for good. Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we visit Ringling, Oklahoma, to see how oil, intrigue and John Ringling’s circus put this small town on the map.

John Ringling: If anybody asks the town of Ringling, they say, “Ringling? I’ve never heard of Ringling.” You always say, “The circus!”

Rob: On Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Thanks for including us as a part of your day. I am Rob McClendon. Hope to see you back here next week.