Are ‘Fixer Upper’ Stars Chip and Joanna Gaines Saving Waco, or Destroying It?
In early 2018, Buck and Jane Morrow were driving home from visiting family in Texas when they spotted Baylor University from the highway. The sight of the school alerted them that they were in Waco, TX, home to HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, of the megahit home design series “Fixer Upper.” And so they made a split-second, life-altering decision to pull off the exit and check out the small city popularized by the show.
“We drove around a little bit and thought this is a really nice place,” says Buck, 74, a semiretired mining engineer. They shopped at the Gaineses’ home goods store Magnolia Market at the Silos. “It looked really pleasant.”
Once the Morrows returned home to their cattle ranch in Castle Rock, CO, Buck promptly forgot about the small, Texas city. But Jane, 64, didn’t. A few months later, she showed him an online listing for a five-bedroom, four-bathroom, Tuscan-style house she liked just outside of Waco. She persuaded her husband to travel there to see the home, in McGregor, TX, and they wound up buying the place and moving to the Waco metro area.
The Morrows certainly aren’t alone. Waco was a sleepy, struggling, small city before the Gaineses exploded onto HGTV in 2013. When Waco crossed the minds of most folks, if it ever did, it was for the deadly, government standoff with the cult leader David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in 1993. Before that it was mostly just a rest stop between Austin and Dallas, with lots of boarded-up storefronts downtown.
With the success of “Fixer Upper,” the Gaineses have successfully turned their home renovation brand, rustic aesthetic, and the city itself into household names. By just about any measurable standard, the place is now booming. And the city has changed in both good ways—and in bad for locals. It begs the question: Are the Gaineses Waco’s savior—or its destroyer?
Certainly not everyone in Waco is a fan of their hometown’s newfound fame. The Gaines phenomenon has led to swarms of tourists descending on the city. And out-of-towners with seemingly unlimited budgets are driving up real estate prices to new heights, leading to higher property taxes for longtime Waco dwellers.
And the hoopla likely hasn’t even come close to its peak. “Fixer Upper” may have ended its HGTV run in 2018, after five seasons, but the pair are slated to debut their own Chip and Jo network this year. The Gaineses are in heavy expansion mode, and the Waco economy is going along for the ride.
New restaurants, bars, and stores are opening in previously empty buildings. The Silos, the Gaineses’ mini empire featuring their home goods store, gardening shop, and bakery, are bringing folks into the community to spend their money. Folks queue up out the door of the couple’s restaurant, Magnolia Table, or head to their newly opened coffee shop near the Silos; a Magnolia boutique hotel is set to open in 2021. And there are other changes, too, including the expansion of SpaceX’s rocket-making plant as well as a new Sherwin-Williams distribution center.
But there’s a literal cost to all this growth: average home prices shot up nearly 52.1% from 2015 through 2019 in McLennan County, which includes Waco, according to local broker Camille Johnson, who runs Camille Johnson Realtors. That’s a tough pill for many longtime residents to swallow, particularly if they’re making area wages.