It has been two-and-a-half months since Ree Drummond opened the doors to her anticipated restaurant and store, The Mercantile. Ever since, residents of Pawhuska have seen thousands of tourists pour in from coast to coast to catch a glimpse of the red-haired Food Network star.
They will wait in line for hours – sometimes in the rain, sleet or snow – to eat at the restaurant (which can seat up to 80), or shop at her deli, bakery or general store. The Mercantile is quickly making Pawhuska a destination location for legions of fans and as a result, local inns and hotels are booked for months.
“I do have a lot of people that travel from coast to coast, and they come to see ReeDrummond's The Mercantile, and they visit Pawhuska and love Pawhuska and think it’s a wonderful place,” said Debby Easley, co-owner of the Historic Whiting Bed & Bath on Kihekah in Pawhuska. She owns the inn with her husband, Osage tribal member Steven Easley. “They have enjoyed it, and they plan trips back here. Most people that come and stay two days, they like it better. They say one day is not long enough. But two days they’re able to visit some of the other shops and other historical sites we have in Pawhuska.”
She said many of their guests are unaware that the Osage Nation is located in Pawhuska and after staying one night they want to see what the Osage Nation has to offer. She said she sends them to the Osage Nation Museum, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and she would send them to the Osage Nation Interpretive Center but it’s closed.
The Interpretive Center was open for one week in August of last year but it is currently closed due to lack of funding.
The local Osage-owned businesses in town have seen an increase in foot traffic while some feel the influx of tourists has caused so many parking problems that their elderly customers are turned away.
"Our business has picked up with foot traffic. We were closed on Mondays but now we’re open to accommodate the influx of people coming in,” said Jackie Wilcox, Osage owner of Spurs of Arrows, located on Main Street. “We have sold magnets and stuff with Oklahoma on it, and Osage County items, it has been fun for us.”
It is the same for Joe Trumbly, Osage owner of Clifton’s Art & Jewelry, LLC, also located on Main Street.
"The traffic has had a positive effect on business and Pendleton blankets and jewelry have been big sellers to the tourists,” Trumbly said. “Most of the people walking by will come in and look around. All of this foot traffic has to be good for the town of Pawhuska's sales tax revenue."
According to the Bigheart Times, the first month The Mercantile was open “Pawhuska’s sales tax collections jumped from $89,718 to $103,746, according to the Oklahoma State Tax Commission.”
Joanie Lessert, Osage owner of Hair Razors, located on Kihekah, said her business is doing great.
“We’re a beauty shop; we just don’t rely on foot traffic. We have local customers who have come in here for years. It hasn’t affected our business [in a negative way] one bit,” she said.
Danette Daniels, Osage owner of the Water Bird Gallery, said she has had an increase in business from “tourists coming in from around the country to see The Mercantile. Folks are parking all over town, which I love because they walk by and in the Water Bird Gallery."
Hotel and Travel Plaza
One year ago, ON Congressman R.J. Walker sponsored ONCR 16-10, a resolution to request fee land in Pawhuska to be put into trust for the purpose of gaming. The request was passed by the Fourth Osage Nation Congress and the fee-to-trust application process is ongoing.
The property is located southeast of the Pawhuska Osage Casino on Highway 99. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed the resolution on Jan. 27, 2016. He said the application could take years when it involves gaming.
According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, when fee land is put into trust for the purpose of gaming, machines and other games cannot go on the property until the application is approved. However, that does not mean a hotel and travel plaza could not be put on the property.
"We are looking into opportunities in Pawhuska for a hotel and travel plaza but it is currently in the discussion phase," said Byron Bighorse, Osage Casinos CEO.
Bighorse said they are putting together an annual plan of operation to present to the Congress during the fall Tzi-Zho Session in September, and hopefully it will include an option for a hotel and travel plaza for Pawhuska.