The Magnolia universe is expanding again with a $10.4 million Magnolia Market project that is nearly complete, and on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon it drew hundreds into its orbit, including a couple from Kansas City, Missouri, and a family from Atlanta, Georgia.
Three weeks ago six new shops selling merchandise including $3 whiffle balls, $28 Magnolia leather work gloves and $26 “Demoday” T-shirts went public on the premises.
Chip and Joanna Gaines spent millions to expand and enhance their Magnolia Market at the Silos, 601 Webster Ave., a project that slowed little during COVID-19-related shutdowns elsewhere. Earth movers continue to churn and gurgle at the old commons area, where food truck areas are being paved and shade structures constructed.
But the new entrance on Eighth Street is open, and the new phases are basically complete and getting plenty of use as Christmas shopping season gets into gear.
Six rustic shops, each with planter boxes, wooden shake roofs and dark green window trim, sell lifestyle products including upscale clothing, men’s essentials, soaps, child and infant items and leather goods.
And, as Joanna Gaines noted in her blog, there are “more restrooms and more shade,” meaning more covered areas to beat the heat in the summertime.
But on Thursday, a youngster fresh from Atlanta had running on her mind.
Kathryn Shea, a 3-year-old from Georgia, stole more bases than the law allows, scooting around the Katy Ballpark whiffle ball diamond, laughing and flying into the arms of her mom, Jessica Shea, a first-time visitor. The Sheas, including husband Dennis and 7-month-old son, Jeremiah, are attending a wedding in Dallas and fancied a quick trip to Magnolia Market.
The group, which included friend C.J. Johnson, from Leander, arrived on opening day for Katy Ballpark, named for the stadium that stood at that spot for much of the 20th century.
The whiffle ball facility is perfectly manicured, the artificial grass so green it nearly hurts the eyes. No runs, hits or errors yet appear on the scoreboard stationed just beyond the outfield fence of wrought iron painted black, and a security guard said he knew of no pending organized events. But the venue was proving to be a magnet for kiddos on sunny Thursday.
In a tour this week, Magnolia spokesperson John Marsicano said Magnolia Market is about presenting a Waco-flavored experience to the world and the community.
“That is the driving force behind everything we do,” Marsicano said. “If you come here and want to play whiffle ball for five hours and walk out without spending a dime, we’re thrilled that you chose to spend your day here. That’s really what it’s about.”
Before the pandemic, Magnolia Market at the Silos routinely attracted 30,000 guests a week, making it Waco’s most popular tourist attraction. Marsicano said that since it reopened in late spring, the attraction’s foot traffic has been down by 30% to 35%, but “it’s been steady, all things considered.”
“It’s important to us, too, that we’re being really thoughtful to make sure people need to take proper precautions,” he said.
Restrictions remain on the number of people allowed inside Magnolia Market to ensure space for social distancing. Employees ensure visitors are properly wearing masks, and hand sanitizer is abundant.
Marsicano said the Gaineses are focused on producing a reprise of their popular “Fixer Upper” show focusing on Waco-area home renovations, and the show is expected to be a keystone of the new Magnolia Network set to debut sometime next year. Once that rolls out, he expects crowds to grow.
“It provides another window to the world about Waco and what’s happening here, so naturally, those two things go hand in hand,” he said.
In the meantime, he said he believes the pandemic has made Texans more likely to limit travel to their own state, to the benefit of Magnolia Market.
Steve and Stacey Butler, from near Kansas City, flew into Texas bound for Fredericksburg. Tweaks in their travel plan allowed a visit to Magnolia, her first, his second. The newly open additions came as a surprise.
“This new stuff builds their brand, and I’m sure it will do something for attendance and benefit the local economy,” Steve Butler said.
The Butlers said they are huge fans of “Fixer Upper,” the reality show that put Chip and Joanna Gaines, Waco and shiplap on the map. Steve Butler said some viewers may get the wrong idea about Waco’s size. It has a small-town feel, he said, but having grown up in a town of 8,000 residents, he knows a small town when he sees one, and Waco does not fit his description.
About 250,000 people live in Waco’s home of McLennan County.
The refigured Magnolia Market at the Silos features a new entrance off South Eighth Street. Where food trucks park now has a paved surface, meaning no more slogging through the muck to address hunger pangs.
Holiday lights soon will appear on the silos themselves.
Near the heart of Magnolia Market now stands a place for reflection and relaxation, where hushed voices and streams of sunshine entered Thursday. Inspired by the sight of Waco’s historic Second Presbyterian Church on North 13th Street, built in 1894 and showing its age, Chip and Joanna Gaines recreated a house of worship on the Magnolia grounds.
A fact sheet placed on a pew advises visitors that Joanna fell in love with the old church, but the original could not be picked up and moved. But original pieces of interior flooring, wainscoting, beams, trim work, pews, exterior siding and lattice were salvaged and used in the new structure.
“The beautiful stain glass windows were disintegrating, so replicas were made,” according to the fact sheet, which concludes with this from the Gaineses:
“We hope this building serves as an inspiring part of your experience, one that as you pass through allows you to pause, reflect, and behold the beauty of a place with such a rich and meaningful history.”
Magnolia Market arrived in 2015, and additions since have included Silos Baking Co. in 2016 and the Magnolia Press coffee shop last year.
Managing Editor J.B. Smith contributed to this story.