Chamber official: Tourism sparks rebirth

Chris Day
Jourdan Foran, a board member with the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce, discussed growth in Pawhuska at Monday’s Noon Rotary meeting in Bartlesville. Chris Day/Journal-Capital

Ree and Ladd Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Mercantile has sparked a revitalization in downtown Pawhuska, Last month, more than 12,000 people a day passed through the general store and restaurant. People from every state and 30 or 40 countries have visited The Mercantile since it opened last October, said Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce board member Jourdan Foran.

Foran talked about the renaissance of the town of 3,500 to members of the Noon Rotary Club Monday at the Bartlesville Community Center.

Customers aren’t just going to The Mercantile. They are visiting other Pawhuska retailers, the Tallgrass Prairie, Osage Nation Museum, Woolaroc and other places of interest, she said.

“It’s been really cool to see the boutiques come in, the restaurants come in and to see the businesses that were there flourishing,” she said. “We have seen so much growth. Some of my dear friends, Joey and Callie Lee, own Osage Outfitters. They have tripled their sales pretty much every month, and that’s amazing for a young couple with a 2 1/2 year-old little girl to see them doing well and see these businesses thriving again.”

Rotarian Mike May said he enjoyed a recent visit to Pawhuska and The Mercantile. It was a chilly, blustery March Saturday. At 10 a.m., the wait to eat at the restaurant was already 45 minutes.

“We went into the General Store. … The General Store was packed. Everybody had a bag. They had six checkout people and there was a line for everyone of them. It looked like the day before Christmas. I’ve never seen anything like it,” May said.

The restaurant can seat up to 150, and the Drummonds want everyone to have a great experience, Foran said. However, the restaurant has a grab and go line for customers to order off the full menu and take the food home to eat.

“It’s the same food. It’s just in takeout form,” she said. “The line for the grab and go orders usually doesn’t exist because people want to sit down in the restaurant.”

Foran said March was Christmas every day and spring break every week for The Mercantile. ‘We averaged about 12,000 people a day in March,” she said.

The renaissance has some long legs, too.

Pawhuska is home to some bed and breakfasts, but there isn’t a hotel in Osage County. Bartlesville has become the hub for Pawhuska visitors. They stay at Bartlesville hotels while they explore Pawhuska. Then they explore Bartlesville and Dewey, too, Foran said.

Research shows visitors spend 75 percent more in the town in which they are staying than you do anywhere else you visit, she said.

“I love that the new license plate says ‘Explore Oklahoma’ because we are in a beautiful area to explore,” she said.

Downtown Pawhuska is a step back into the early 1900s with 86 buildings listed on the National Registry. Some of those buildings are vacant, while others are under construction.

The Triangle Building opened in 1912, and sits in the heart of downtown. Renovation of the building continues every week, Foran said. “This morning I was at The Merc at 6 a.m., and I noticed they had put some railings around.”

Although contractors aren’t sharing much information, Foran said the Triangle Building will have retail space on the bottom floor, extended stay or hotel rooms in the middle and an event space at the top.

“It’s truly being restored to its original glory. We are excited about it,” she said.

It’s not just tourism, Foran said. Movie scouts are coming to Osage and Washington counties to look for locations.

The Coen Brothers were scouting Osage and Washington counties just two weeks ago, she said. “That would be huge, and another thing to list of opportunities for Bartlesville,” she said.