“What goes up must come down” is Newton’s Third Law of Motion – and part of a 1960s song that you may now have spinning in your head. But the truth of those words is being tested right now in Waco, Texas.
I can tell you from experience that as soon as something good happens in Waco, something else sets the city back again. But that pattern of ups and downs changed with the arrival of “Fixer Upper,” the wildly popular HGTV show featuring local house-flipping team Chip and Joanna Gaines.
That show is a big reason almost 3 million people visited Waco last year. The visitor count was just 500,000 the year before the show hit the airwaves.
In turn, new businesses are popping up, filling downtown storefronts that have been vacant for decades.
So the Gaines’ announcement last week that they’re quitting the show, hit a nerve with Wacoans. The big question in town is: can Chip and Joanna continue to defy the laws of gravity, bringing Waco up with them?
Carla Pendergraft, the City of Waco’s director of marketing heard the news about the end of “Fixer Upper” last week, along with the rest of the world.
“I pretended to be really cool about it, but inside I was very shocked,” Pendergraft says.
Pendergraft did what any good marketer would do and turned to social media to find out how people were reacting to the news.
“What fans have said is ‘How am I going to get my Chip and Jo fix now? I’m going to have to go down to Waco. Well what better way than to go down to Magnolia Market?’,” Pendergraft says.
Magnolia Market is the home furnishing store Chip and Joanna Gaines opened two years ago in downtown Waco. Pendergraft says it alone draws in around 35,000 visitors a week.
Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, who came into office in 2016, just after Magnolia Market opened, says it has driven development downtown.
“There’s no question that the acceleration that came after that project and them establishing that as their retail headquarters has had a tremendous acceleration effect on Waco and on the downtown area,” Deaver says.
Magnolia Market is more than a store. It’s a destination. And it’s the centerpiece of the Gaines’ version of Waco, where everything is picture-perfect and every day is “bring your kids to work day.” The market consists of three buildings, a food truck court and two towering grain silos, all situated around a large green lawn covered in picnic tables.
Corey McEntyre owns Milo Biscuit Company, a food truck featuring homemade biscuits and chicken, fried in sweet tea. He opened his business at Magnolia in 2015, with his wife, after the couple met Joanna Gaines on a visit to Waco the year before.
“From the ground floor we were kind of part of the conversation, which was really cool,” McEntyre says.
McEntyre plans to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant downtown this year. He says Magnolia provided him and his fellow food truck owners a platform to start their businesses that didn’t exist before in Waco.
“There’s this little business ecosystem over there that’s kind of spawned out of this TV show and just who Chip and Jo are,” McEntyre says.
The City of Waco has worked with the Gaines’ to ensure that people coming to Waco to see Magnolia, which is located just two minutes off I-35, have a reason to stay in the city and explore. The city’s visitor’s bureau created a site-seeing map of spots featured in the show and worked to set up a trolley line to ferry people around town.
“I believe it had about 175,000 riders its first year, and that’s wildly successful for any sort of public transit,” says Pendergraft, the city’s marketing director .
Virtually no corner of Waco has escaped the Gaines’ Midas touch. Realtor Camille Johnson, who has sold homes in Waco for 30 years, says property values across the city are at an all time high.
“The average sale in Waco… was $147,000. That was in 2015. The average sale of homes this year was $177,000. And I’m sure we’re close to an average sale of $190,000 to $200,000 now,” Johnson says.
Johnson says “Fixer Upper” has even drawn people to Waco to start their own home- flipping businesses.
“I have a really cool family that had a very successful remodeling business in California,” Johnson says. “Well, they moved here, bought a home here, and they’re doing that same thing in Waco.”
So many people are benefitting from the Gaines’ show that you’d expect at least some outrage at their decision to call it quits. After all, it’s marketing power that can’t be bought or replaced. But Wacoans don’t seem to be holding a grudge. In fact, Pendergraft sees the move as the Gaines’ refocusing their efforts closer to home.
“I can’t imagine they don’t have something else up their sleeve,” Pendergraft says. “They have the Hearth and Hand line coming up, they have Magnolia Table that’s going to open, then Chip’s Corner is going to open up in one of the silos, and then they keep inventing new events at the silos.”
Pendergraft is confident these and other ventures will continue to bring record-breaking crowds to Waco. Milo Biscuit Company owner Corey McEntyre isn’t quite as optimistic. He thinks tourism is likely to fall off a bit. But he says he supports the Gaines’ decision. And he thinks they’ll continue to support Waco businesses like his in return.
“I think Chip and Joanna will be eating at Milo whenever we open,” McEntyre says. “I think that they’ll continue to have that kind of relationship, and not only with us, but with all the other people they’ve worked with.”
We reached out to Chip and Joanna Gaines to see if they had anything to add. They politely declined.
The last episode of “Fixer Upper” will air next spring.