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Round-Up week’s most visible purveyor of the Stars and Bars will not be back on Pendleton’s Main Street this year.
The Main Street Cowboys, the organization who hosts vendors and entertainment on Main Street during Round-Up, did not accept the vendor application of Liberty Flags & Gifts. Last year the Douglas County-based vendor drew controversy for prominently displaying and selling Confederate flags and the Cowboys drew their own for driving up and down Main Street with Confederate flags affixed to their vehicles.
Johnny Blagg, the vendor director for the Main Street Cowboys, said the current political climate and the media scrutiny were factors in the organization’s decision to pass on the vendor’s application.
Liberty Flags & Gifts owner Viola Moody said the business has set up a booth on Main Street during the past two Round-Ups, but didn’t receive negative attention until “liberals” complained about the booth when it was placed on the 400 block of South Main Street in 2016.
Confederate flags were the vendor’s top selling flag, accounting for 75-80 percent of the business’ flag sales in Pendleton last year, according to Moody.
Moody thought that she and Blagg had reached a compromise for the 2017 event during a discussion they had about two weeks ago with the Cowboys: Liberty Flags & Gifts would display only one Confederate flag on the inside of their booth and refrain from flying any Confederate flags above their Main Street booth, as they did last year. Additionally, the owner wouldn’t make any comments to the media or talk about politics.
Moody said the vendor had done something similar at Bohemia Days in Cottage Grove when a complaint caused Liberty Flags & Gifts to advertise their supply of Confederate flags with a sign instead of a display.
But a few days ago, Moody said they received a letter from the Main Street Cowboys, noting the organization would not approve their application.
“Basically, they’re just dumping on our freedom of speech,” she said.
Blagg said he and Moody talked about these issues but a compromise was never reached because the Main Street Cowboys had never approved the application.
The Confederate flag has long been a polarizing symbol, but it has reached a boiling point in recent weeks.
When a group of so-called alt-right activists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 to oppose the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, protesters and counter-protesters clashed in public spaces.
In the afternoon, an Ohio man allegedly drove a car into a group of counter protesters, killing a woman and injuring several others.
Following the events in Charlottesville, a Pendleton woman organized a local march against racism, leading a group of more than 200 people in a demonstration across downtown Pendleton.
Besides the local political climate, Blagg said the local media making a “mountain out of a mole hill” over the issue played a role in the Main Street Cowboys’ decision.
Following inquiries from the East Oregonian about Liberty Flags & Gifts return, Blagg said they wanted to avoid “last year’s ruckus,” adding that it was nothing personal.
“We choose what is the best fit for the show,” he said.
Moody said the short notice about their application means that they’re “dead in the water” when it comes to booking another event for that weekend.
Since the Main Street Cowboys only oversee vendors on South Main Street, Moody has inquired about setting up shop in another part of Pendleton but hasn’t heard back yet. If Liberty Flags & Gifts misses the whole week entirely, she said they’ll miss out on $5,000 to $6,000 in sales.
When interviewed Thursday, Great Pacific Wine and Coffee co-owner Carol Hanks seemed relieved that the vendor wouldn’t make a return to Main Street, in front of her restaurant.
“They’re a symbol of hate,” she said of the flags.
Hanks said she did complain about the flags last year and was concerned that the vendors would sell even more at this year’s event.