This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Waco Gets Way Cool.”
Three blocks from where busloads of tourists disembark to browse and eat and pay homage at Magnolia Market at the Silos, the shopping compound created by Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, the seven-story Praetorian Building rises above its squat downtown neighbors, a gleaming-white example of elaborate early 1900s architecture. On the first floor, local jewelry designer Summer Ellis’s showroom displays her angular metal creations. Behind another storefront lies Interior Glow, a posh home-goods shop owned by a husband-and-wife team who relocated to Waco from Houston. In the building’s marble lobby, a barista named Travis Tarver (a painter and guitarist from Vermont who went to Baylor and stuck around) will serve you a cup of espresso at Brû, a coffee bar operating out of an old elevator car (locked safely in place). On the upper floors: creative work spaces, an art gallery, loft apartments.
The Praetorian is not what most people think of when they think of long-sleepy downtown Waco, but it’s increasingly emblematic of the city’s vibrant creative scene that’s largely been spurred by the success of Fixer Upper.
Jonathan Martin, the ceramicist behind Black Oak Art—who makes the Magnolia mug that Joanna drinks from on the hit HGTV show—is opening a store called Gather, also downtown; the shop will host weekend workshops on crafts like calligraphy and floral design. The Gaines’s go-to furniture designer, Clint Harp, of Harp Design Co. (who has his own show on the DIY Network), also has a new retail store. And then there’s the burgeoning dining scene.
About half of Waco’s two million visitors last year made the pilgrimage to Magnolia Market. It’s time to come for Waco itself.
Meet the New Waco
After checking out Summer Ellis Bijouterie (summerellis.com) and Interior Glow (interiorglow.com) at the Praetorian, head back toward the Silos, to the new Mary Avenue Market (maryavenuemarket.com). Fox & Gray, one of five businesses there, stocks party dresses, casual rompers, and jewelry while Good Timber Furnishings sells handmade furniture. Over on Washington Avenue, beloved Waco women’s clothing and gift shop Wildland Supply Co. (wildlandsupplyco.com) opened last year in its new downtown location. Black Oak Art’s Gather (gatherwaco.com) is opening next door, and Harp Design Co. (harpdesignco.com) lies a few blocks west.
EAT + DRINK
Just across the Brazos is Lula Jane’s (lulajanes.com), a light-filled bakery that serves breakfast and lunch items with ingredients often sourced from the owner’s garden. For a Southern-inspired lunch closer to the Silos, order at the window at Cajun Craft (cajuncraftwaco.com) and grab a seat on the porch, which owner Kim Bui has decorated with industrial light fixtures. Don’t let the warehouse facade scare you away from the taproom at Bare Arms Brewing (barearmsbrewing.com), where two mechanical engineers create complex beers like a cucumber saison. The just-opened Pinewood Coffee Bar (pinewoodroasters.com), in a low-slung mid-century building south of downtown, is a sleek addition to the more college-y coffee houses elsewhere.
The Gaineses run two vacation rentals in the area, Hillcrest Estate and Magnolia House, but they’re usually booked months ahead. Get a taste of Gaines style by renting one of several former Fixer Upper houses that owners list on Airbnb.