Tourists should pop the Magnolia Bubble

By Brooke Hill | Copy Editor

With the recent soft opening of the restaurant Magnolia Table, the Chip and Joanna Gaines takeover has been more evident than ever across the Waco community. If I had seen one more picture of Magnolia Table on my Instagram story the week it opened, I would have screamed.

There’s no doubt that the Gaineses have contributed significantly to the Waco economy, but the focus on Magnolia and Magnolia Table has turned Waco into a tourist trap and shifted the focus from what Waco truly is: a small town with local charm.

If the Gaineses truly cared about keeping the charm of Waco while redoing the Elite Cafe, they would’ve kept its name. The name of the Elite Cafe was already recognizable, but the Gaineses decided to shift the focus away from the history of Waco and onto themselves. Visitors would have flocked to the restaurant regardless, in hopes of seeing Joanna’s touches and snapping countless pictures for their Instagram stories. But by changing the name of the historic cafe, the Gaineses are able to profit off the Magnolia name even further.

Ken Brittain, chairman of the McLennan County Historical Commission, and other commission members are not pleased that the local Texas Historical Commission was not consulted regarding the changes made to the landmark.

“I would have fought very strongly against it,” Brittain told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “The Elite name was part of the historical ambiance.”

Clearly, the Magnolia name has changed Waco’s reputation. Before, most people only associated Waco with the Branch Davidian standoff. Coincidentally, the soft opening of Magnolia Table occurred during the week of the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the Branch Davidian standoff, giving Wacoans something new to be excited about instead of remembering Waco’s darker days. However, tourists should not come to Waco simply to snap a few pictures at the Magnolia Silos and then leave. If they’re going to make the trip, they should get to explore the quaint vibe of Waco and discover what made Chip and Joanna themselves fall in love with the city.

Businesses such as Waco Tours shift the focus to the city of Waco by leaving all Magnolia-related stops off of their tours, assuming people will already be making that stop on their own time. There’s Spice Village, the Waco Suspension Bridge, Health Camp, the Waco Hippodrome and Lula Jane’s – all gems that seem to shrink in the shadow of Magnolia. Most Baylor students don’t mind this because we get to keep these treasures for ourselves, unlike Common Grounds and Heritage Creamery, which, thanks to their appearances on Fixer Upper, are becoming less of a study spot and more of a tourist must-see. If Waco visitors really want to get a feel for what the town is like, they should go all-in and explore local favorites. The home goods hiding in The Findery and the warm home-made biscuits at Lula Jane’s are part of what makes Waco, Waco.

Church Under the Bridge is something else that makes Waco what it is. The glamour of Magnolia tends to underscore the vast numbers of homeless and poverty-stricken individuals that Waco encompasses. The way the community comes together during Church Under the Bridge to bond over love is something that makes Waco truly special. Don’t steer clear from the struggles that Waco is enduring – embrace them. See them with your own eyes. Experience the trials that the city is going through and become passionate about them. Help Waco and its community members spread its story and make the public aware that Waco is not just filled with glamorous Magnolia. A whopping 29 percent of the population in Waco lives below the poverty line, a number that is higher than the national average of 14.7 percent. And yet the public only sees Waco as the home of “Fixer Upper,” with many claiming they’d love to move to Waco and live in one of the Gaineses’ houses without knowing anything about the city itself.

People have always said students need to get out of the Baylor Bubble. Now it’s time for the visitors to get out of the Magnolia Bubble. Go see Waco for what it is: not a city filled with beautiful homes and restaurants fixed up by Chip and Joanna Gaines, but a city full of local businesses and everyday people who are being overshadowed by the glory of Magnolia.