FOX44 Special Report: Magnolia Empire’s Legacy in Waco

Local News

WACO, Texas – The Chip and Joanna Gaines empire has completely changed our city of 141,000 people.

Before the Silos, Waco was mostly known for it’s more tragic history – but has transformed throughout the years to the thriving tourist destination it is today.

“It’s always been a crossroads, historically. You know, we are on I-35, I think there’s underdevelopment, there’s always been space for development in Waco. And so, I think the City started to realize some of those things then, but the tourism destination that we’ve become is really the thing that is the story of the past 15 years,” said Stephen Sloan, Director of Institute for Oral History and Associate Professor of History at Baylor University.

In fact, Waco has been in an upward population trend since the 1970’s.

“As a kid growing up here in the 90’s, I still remember when Downtown was pretty sleepy, for whatever reason, but it seems like a little bit before the Magnolia craze, with the Turner’s and some of the other shakers and movers of 21st century, Waco started breathing some life into Downtown, and then the perfect recipe that was Chip and Joanna Gaines came along and really just threw gasoline into that positive fire,” said Robert Marshall, COO at Waco Masonic Lodge.

The Magnolia empire began on Bosque Boulevard nearly two decades ago, when Joanna Gaines opened the first Magnolia Market – better known today as the Little Shop on Bosque. It closed down in 2006 and reopened eight years later before the Gaines outgrew it, and in 2015 they moved to the Silos, attracting 30,000 visitors per week and making it Waco’s most popular tourist destination.

“People just seeing the town, people wanting to move here, either spending their dollars here or Waco becomes a place where they might more likely send their kids to go to school, I think it has all sorts of layers of benefit,” said Sloan.

Chip and Joanna Gaines don’t just bring in thousands of dollars in revenue to Waco, they also help businesses start off – serving as a platform for them to kick off and succeed with tourists.

“They see like-minded businesses, and they just get really excited about seeing small businesses thrive,” said Jonathan Martin, owner of Black Oak Art.

Black Oak Art is a production pottery studio in Downtown Waco. He says he wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of the Gaines.

“It for sure all started with Joanna trusting in us, and asking us to be a part, and we kind of rode her coattails up, and was able to build this business around it,” said Martin.

The empire – made up of the Silos Market, Magnolia Home, Silos Baking Company, Magnolia Table, Magnolia Press, Little Shop on Bosque, Magnolia Realty, and future projects like a new hotel and taking over the Waco Tribute Building – have changed the way people define Waco.

“They’d ask, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Oh, Waco!’ ‘Oh, Willie Nelson, Branch Dividians’, maybe the Tornado – or of course one of the more awful, but historic incidents in Waco history that a lot of people across the nation still remember – the Jessie Washington horror. So, all of these really negative things, really, and then it shifted,” said Marshall.

“This has definitely been a turning point in a variety of ways. I think for particularly the downtown area, it’s had such an impact,” added Sloan.

Changing people’s perception of Waco has largely contributed to the number of people relocating to Waco for more than just a visit.

“I do love it when people make this place their home, because I think tourism is definitely something that can come and go, and it’s something that is hard to depend on long term. And so, my hope is people come to love this place and appreciate it for the unique attributes it has,” said Sloan.

The Gaines and all of their hard work in the city have set the stage for a continuously successful future.

“I think what we are going to see, hopefully for at least the next couple of decades, is that really quickly matching the growth that other parts of Texas is seeing when we weren’t seeing it. So it’s all up from here, as the way it looks,” said Marshall.

To learn more about the Magnolia empire, you can click HERE.

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