By Meredith Wagner | Arts & Life Editor
No more than three years ago, the prospect of vacationing in Waco was somewhat of a laughable matter — something residents joked about despite Waco’s homegrown, peaceful appeal. But now, largely because of beloved HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, Waco is a hotspot on the tourism map. While Wacoans go casually about their lives, nearly 70,000 tourists from around the country are gradually pouring into the city — It’s no wonder, then, that Waco was declared number two on Trip Advisor’s list of destinations on the rise in the United States.
Waco’s increase in tourism is especially evident during “Spring at the Silos,” an annual event in March for which vendors set up shop on Waco’s blocked-off, downtown streets. Visitors travel from all around the country to fight for the best parking space, to buy handmade goods and to see the now-famous market for themselves.
About 1.6 million visitors walked through Magnolia Market’s doors on Webster Avenue in 2017 alone, according to the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is about 25% more visitors than the previous year. Overall, according to data provided by the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, the number of tourists visiting Waco increased by about 320 percent from 2014 to 2017.
Magnolia has lured more than just interested tourists from neighboring states and countries; the vendors featured at Spring at the Silos come from various walks of life, bringing with them unique trinkets and homemade goods.
Adrianne Pepitone owns Studio Pep, a Pennsylvania-based company that makes hand-pressed, small-batch confetti and confetti balloons. Pepitone said she agreed to come to the Silos as a vendor when Magnolia reached out to her, but her traveling experiences since then have been more than eventful.
“We shipped all the inventory, and then we brought two suitcases filled with whatever we could fit,” Pepitone said.
Because she missed her flight on Tuesday, Pepitone said she traveled to two airports and drove two hours to make it to Spring at the Silos on time.
“We ended up doing Baltimore, to Charlottesville to DFW, and then we had to drive two hours the next day,” Pepitone said. However, she said, despite the chaos, “It’s been amazing. It’s been magical.”
Asher Connelly, co-owner of Fontenelle Supply Co., along with his wife Mary Connelly, had similar travel experiences. The husband and wife duo took on a 12-hour drive in their shop truck, which they named “Appollo II,” from Des Moines, Iowa, to Waco earlier this week.
“We just threw everything in the back and took off,” Asher Connelly said. “This is actually the farthest we’ve traveled. Magnolia sent us an email, and we were like, ‘Yeah, we have to do that.’”
Asher Connelly said although Mary Connelly is a fan of the hit HGTV show “Fixer Upper” and understood the reason behind the craze, they were still surprised at how busy Spring at the Silos was.
“I can’t believe how busy it is, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like on Saturday if today is just Thursday,” he said.
Mother and daughter duo Liz and Elizabeth Clark own California-based company “nopomo,” a business that collaborates with artisans in Mexico to make handmade, functional goods like blankets and shoes.
Before traveling to Magnolia’s Spring at the Silos, Liz Clark said, “We had never been to Texas. I never really thought of coming here.”
In fact, Liz Clark said she had heard little of Magnolia Market before making the trek to sell her products just outside the market.
“I had kind of an idea, but I didn’t know the extent of its popularity. I hadn’t really watched “Fixer Upper” until we were at the hotel in Waco and it happened to be on T.V.,” Liz Clark said. “We watched two episodes at the hotel.”
Ashly Crow, a Magnolia visitor, traveled from Anchorage, Alaska, to visit family members in Austin and set aside a day to visit the Silos.
“My mom is really into it, and she buys investment properties,” Crow said, adding that watching “Fixer Upper” was a bonding experience for her and her mom. “I’m sad that ,she couldn’t be with me, but I bought her a couple trinkets.”
Virginia native Abby Davenport and New Jersey native January Manalo said they visited the Silos together to get away for the weekend.
“We’re both really stressed mothers. It’s been good to get away, ” Manalo said. “[Spring at the Silos] is like controlled chaos. The experience has been genuine, friendly.”
As tourists ooh and aah over the familiar parts of Waco, locals are reminded of the uniqueness in some of the normalized parts of their city.
“You see little things in the backgrounds on “Fixer Upper”, like the ALICO,” Davenport said, “and then it’s like, ‘Oh my word, there it is!’”