Join our guest writer, Kendall Sussman as she explores all the hidden corners of Waco, Texas and finds some true treasures. If you haven’t already, check out part one of this series where Kendall meets with members of the Texas Royalty Waco Car Club.
Our last post was a lightning strike highlight of several Waco transformations. This story line of redemption, of beauty for ashes, resonates in South Texas. There is a spikemoss plant found in the searing heat of Mexico and Texas, technically known as Selaginella lepidophylla. In dry weather, it curls into a tight ball, hiding in crevices or skittering heavily in the breeze until it finds a water source. It can survive years of desiccated conditions, searing heat and drought. But once it happens upon nourishment, it unfurls into a lush green plant, soaking up the sun and carpeting the ground with fingers of growth. With proper hydration, it flourishes into a full ground cover. Regardless of its scientific label, it is widely known as the Resurrection plant for its ability to weather seeming destruction and spring back to life.
The spirit of the desert plant wafts throughout the town of Waco, which began as a cattle crossing over the Brazos river and then welcomed the expansion of the railroad. That livelihood waned until, during WWII, the town shifted its life source by hosting two Air Force bases. Once the war ended and the bases closed, factories sprang up in the void, utilizing the vast land resources and willing labor force in the small town. The late twentieth century saw manufacturing trickle south of the border and Waco weathered the drought until a local couple resurrected it once again with a popular renovation show, bringing tourism and a revitalized service industry to the area. Rather than razing the pockmarked historical buildings and replacing them with generic, modern structures the transformation has been authentic, from repurposing grain silos to creating lofts boasting original brick and ducting from cobwebbed warehouses. One can practically trace the fingers of growth through the town. Baylor University’s halls anchor one corner, while Austin Avenue, with renovated storefronts and industrial lofts, borders another. Dried husks from lean years still show through in places, in the streets wizened like a Dali painting and in sporadic retail windows shuttered by plywood.
The revitalization may have started with the local renovators, but since then, tendrils of entrepreneurs have emerged. Pinewood Coffee Bar hides at the far end of Austin Avenue and offers a sanctuary for college students and businessmen alike. Fancy latte drinks, specialty teas and Peruvian drip coffee are all served, supplemented by baked goods from local kitchens. But, the shop is most appreciated for the oasis provided by the strategically niched booths and tables. At night, the adjacent Pinewood Public House offers slightly stronger beverages and an outdoor patio between the two is sheltered by a giant tree strung with vintage lantern bulbs.
Down the street is another haven, one for those with literary wanderlust. In the Fabled Bookstore, one is greeted by tangible echoes from childhood friends: the Narnian lamppost, Aesop’s jaunty fox, and a hundred other whispers in the decor speaking the language of a serial bibliophile. Tucked in the corner of the children’s section is a small wardrobe with fur coats hiding a door that, even for adults, thrums a hushed magic. The store is well-stocked, with book club favorites, modern masterpieces and gifts for those lured by the light of words. Eclectic collections on the shelves offer staff picks; take the time to wander through their intentional and rich descriptions. An impish display of masked books, wrapped for anonymity and inscribed with sparse hints, tempts readers to adventure to new lands.
An offshoot from Baylor University called Bittersweet Waco also recently opened in an obscure storefront on Austin Avenue. They serve cookies for the serious addict, dessert gone rampant, where a giant scoop of cookie dough is just the beginning. These are bulky, artistic nods to the indecisive child at a buffet. Why choose between a S’more or a cookie when one can bake huge chunks of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate into a scoop of chocolate chip cookie? The Cookies and Cream option has chocolate, Oreos and cream bark stuffed together and tumbling out the edges of the cookie dough base. Birthday Cake is a recreation of elementary slumber parties with jumbled marshmallows, slabs of icing, sprinkles and chunks of dough and offers a sugar overload for the truly daring. The owner, Hannah Austin, began baking in her dorm kitchens before finding a local ice cream shop, Heritage Creamery, willing to display her goodies and eventually opened her own shop. The walls of the tiny area are a living wish list, where customers scribble their own dreams while they wait to order.
Each of these establishments embody the heart of Waco in their own way and a visit here is a chance to soak in the stubborn resilience of a determinedly thriving town.