Tour bus passengers stopping in Merritt for a bite of Chinese food will now be able to take a picture with the “Sheriff of Merritt” and purchase some country western souvenirs before moving on.

The City of Merritt has approved a two-week trial period for Paul Campbell’s venture, which includes two horses and a souvenir stand in the Tropico Spice parking lot.

Campbell plans to charge visitors $10 to have their photos taken on the horses and with locals dressed in native and western wear.

“The ‘Sheriff of Merritt’ invites you to come down to the town that still lives in the west,” reads a promotional flyer Campbell’s employees handed out last week onsite.

Last Tuesday was Campbell’s first day in business and by 2 p.m. he saw about six tour buses stopping by the restaurant.

Some visitors appeared bashful and unsure about having their photos taken, while others were happy to take photos with the horses and cowboys, he said.

Campbell planned to be onsite Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for two weeks, as per the agreement with the City.

“After two weeks they will determine if it’s got validity and if they can make a go of it for next summer,” said Merritt Economic Development Manager James Umpherson.

Campbell said his goal is to promote Merritt as the Country Music Capital of Canada – specifically the downtown area. Eventually he wants to make his outdoor western studio at Merritt Brick and Block on Blair Street another destination.

“I think the idea has a unique possibility and if you tap into this novel approach it will work,” said Umpherson.

“The bigger issue for the city is tour buses, and there is potential if we can capture the tour bus market.

“That’s the biggest wildcard for Paul.”

Most tour buses stopping in Merritt have arrangements with local restaurants. Umpherson said he would like to see the tour bus companies schedule Merritt as a destination where visitors can have lunch, as well as take in local activities.

Campbell plans to attend a National Tourism Association convention where he will network with tour companies to build awareness of the Sheriff of Merritt and photo opportunities before they arrive.

“Our goal is to be able to bill the companies directly and include it in a travel package, rather than charge visitors $10 upfront,” he said.

Because he wants to draw tourism traffic downtown, Campbell said he hopes to also set up at Spirit Square. He said the addition of bus parking spaces near Spirit Square would help facilitate this and he has spoken to City officials about the possibility.

But before that happens, Umpherson said the City needs to ensure tour bus companies are on board and confirm that bus parking spaces were in line with city bylaws.

Campbell has a valid business license for his Sheriff of Merritt business.

If he sets up on City property, he will be charged $50 per day and the location must be approved.