It's safe to say “Fixer Upper” couple Chip and Joanna Gaines have taken over Waco. With their expanding home renovation and design business, bed and breakfast rentals, and newly announced restaurant opening, the Gaineses have made their mark in Texas.
But no other venture has turned Waco into the travel destination it is today than the famed Silos, which the couple purchased in 2014 as part of their own fixer-upper project.
The 26,000-square-foot property houses a bakery, a home goods store, garden and garden supply shop, and a food truck park. The Silos and its “little something for everyone” is attracting people the nation over, driving tourism traffic up to record highs for the sleepy Texas town.
In an exclusive Fox News interview, Carla Pendergraft, the director of marketing for the Waco Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said that Waco's tourism traffic — pre-Chip and Joanna —topped out at around 500,000-600,000 people per year. But since the show launched, that figure has more than doubled: In 2016, 1.9 million people visited Waco, and 2017 projections put that number at around 2.6 million.
The monumental influx in tourists is changing the dynamic of the central Texas spot, and the residents have taken notice.
"[Waco had] a little bit of an image issue,” Pendergraft says, alluding to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians religious cult. Before “Fixer Upper,” she says, “it was hard bringing conventions here.”
But now, when anyone pitches Waco, Pendergraft says people respond with, “That’s where they do ‘Fixer Upper!'"
"Waco has seen so many benefits from the show," she adds.
Wacoans themselves are seeing those benefits by way of a booming economy. Downtown Waco is experiencing some huge changes — more retails spaces and special tourism businesses have sprung up in the wake of the Waco craze, including a specialty “Magnolia Trail” for super fans that want to visit locations Joanna Gaines has mentioned on the show.
One couple, Tami Smith and Joey Macarthur, moved from Snoqualmie, Wash., to Waco after falling in love with the town’s homey charm on their first visit. They brought their antique shop with them, securing a retail space a few blocks from the Chip and Joanna downtown compound.
Smith and Macarthur are just two of many who have moved their business to the newly revitalized downtown. But, regardless of the blossoming businesses, the people funneling into the city are there to see Magnolia and the Silos, and it’s obvious.
“You can spot Magnolia customers and fans. They’re walking around with the big Magnolia bag,” Pendergraft said.
The interest is bringing people to other parts of Waco, though. Smith and Macarthur say that “100 percent” of the traffic that is brought to their antique store is from people stopping by after visiting the Silos.
Not everyone believes that the show’s success is the reason for the boom. One realtor credits the skyrocketing housing prices and increase in taxes on the town's low housing supply, and not an influx of investors or homeowners coming in to buy up properties.
Even Pendergraft admits Waco was on a “bit of a growth trajectory” before the show, but she concedes that since the nation has fallen in love with the silly antics of the wholesome duo, that growth has accelerated — rapidly.
For instance, Waco has also become a “bucket list” destination for many, like friends Derrinn Richards and Polli Patterson, who opted to stay an extra day in Waco instead of going to Galveston as planned. The friends readily admitted to visiting Waco because of their love for “Fixer Upper.”
The family friendly spot has a far reach, too, pulling one family all the way from Atlanta after a mom wanted to surprise her daughter on her 16th birthday.
When asked if she enjoyed her time at the Silos, the birthday girl, Hayden Danyo, said she “loves Jo’s style” and is a big fan of the show.
With the added foot traffic comes growing pains for the town. The Silos frequently have lines of people that extend down the road, which have many taking notice because of the added street traffic — and nearly every Waco resident who spoke with Fox News complained about the increase in traffic.
One Wacoan summed up the newly congested roads with: "Now people have to wait for two cycles of a traffic light, instead of getting to go through on the first.”
Waco residents may need to learn some road patience, because Pendergraft said she sees no sign of tourism slowing down anytime soon.