Rawhide Western Town & Event Center fills up for a special event. Although attendance has dropped on its regular-admission days, more visitors are coming for festivals and other ticketed entertainment, officials say.
Casey James/Special to the Tribune

Rawhide Western Town & Event Center is dramatically reducing its hours starting Friday, Sept. 1, in response to a decline in attendance in recent years.

Instead, the 1880s-themed Old West entertainment venue and steakhouse on the Gila River Indian Community is beefing up its concerts, festivals and other special events that require tickets.

The business, at 5700 W. North Loop Road, is also urging people to rent space in its dusty-town setting for private parties.

Rawhide has been open Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the year except in the hot summer months. It allows visitors who buy tickets to attend its Red, White & Rawhide Fireworks Spectacular in July and other paid, ticketed entertainment in the summer.

Starting in September, though, the town will be open to the public for only a few days, regardless of the season. Mostly, it will be open only for its many concerts, festivals and signature happenings requiring tickets, such as Boo! Arizona 2017, Fiesta Dog Show and Rawhide Snowy Christmas.

While attendance has dropped on its regular-admission days, more visitors are coming for festivals and other ticketed entertainment, said Cindi Carver, Rawhide general manager.

“We had wonderful successes for our holidays,” Carver said. “Then they would come on a typical Friday night when we don’t have all the vendors. They would be like, ‘When I was here, we saw this show.’ The show’s still here but the town has a different atmosphere when it’s not home to hundreds of people.

“This is what people love about Rawhide,” she said. “With the special events, there’s lots of crowds; there’s lots of people. They love that ambiance.”

On regular days, when there are no special events, Rawhide draws 600 to 800 guests, Carver said.

Festivals, concerts and other shows requiring tickets tend to attract about 3,000 to 5,000 customers, she said. Attendance on the non-event days is down about 20 percent from two years ago, Carver added.

Rawhide is starting its fall season with its Summer Ends Margarita & Mojito Festival 2-9 p.m. Sept. 30, when participants can taste margaritas, mojitos, microbrews and Mexican beers.

The usual attractions – including live stunt shows, gold panning, train rides, the steakhouse and shopping – are available for guests who buy tickets to the festival.

A new ticketed festivity at Rawhide in the 2017-18 season will be the Goldrush Music Festival, where Mashmello, $uicideboy$, Dillon Francis, San Halo and other artists will perform Nov. 18-19.

People will have a chance to visit Rawhide for regular admission without having to buy tickets on Sept. 9 and Oct. 6, 13 and 21.

More general admission, public hours might be added and would be listed on Rawhide’s website at rawhide.com. Admission is free to Rawhide during the public hours, but people still must pay for food, shopping and special features such as hay and train rides.

With Rawhide open mostly just for ticketed events, the make-believe town will be available more often to rent for private and semi-private parties, Carver said.

“With this new transition those private events can be customized to whatever it is that you may want to do,” she said, adding:

“You can actually make it your Rawhide. We are really focusing on getting the message out to people that while we are an event center and people can come to us for festivals and concerts, they also can come to us for their private events. We can work within their budget.”

Carver said Rawhide has offered a buffet on Mother’s Day and other occasions and will start offering it every Sunday in the steakhouse starting in September.

She said the reason for greatly decreasing the number of regular business hours does not have to do with finances.

“Rawhide has been a Valley icon for 47 years and we’re not going to go anywhere,” she said. “We wanted to get creative and say, ‘OK, let’s listen to the people and see what the people had to say.’ Our Thanksgiving buffet is wildly successful, and that kicks off our Snowy Christmas.”

Jeremy McClymonds, who is on the board of directors of the Chandler Compadres, a charitable nonprofit organization, said Rawhide’s decision to cut back on general public hours makes sense.

The Chandler Compadres have a big fundraiser at Rawhide every year and McClymonds said “they’ve been a good partner with us.”

The Chandler resident said Rawhide is “a special experience” that people enjoy once in a while for the gun show and shops, but not the kind of place residents typically visit every weekend.

“Over the last five years, Chandler’s opened up a lot more restaurants and competing businesses,” McClymonds said. “There’s only so many consumer dollars.”

He added Rawhide is great for the Compadres’ fundraiser because Chandler does not have many indoor venues for large events. The Compadres typically attract 1,500 people every year to their November fundraiser at Rawhide.

McClymonds is also supportive of Rawhide’s plans to expand ticketed entertainment.

“I’d be open to them continuing to develop that and bring in all kinds of special events for kids and families and adults,” he said.

Rawhide moved to its current spot from a north Scottsdale location in late 2005. Managers and employees told the East Valley Tribune then that the new park was an improvement over the Scottsdale location because the Chandler site has a modern steakhouse and bigger show facilities. Rawhide left 160 acres in north Scottsdale as part of a real estate deal.

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