Wildland Supply Co., an upscale retailer of clothing, accessories and furniture, has opened at 721 Washington Ave. just in time for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. The store’s move is also continuing development along a downtown street that for years has taken a back seat to the Austin Avenue renaissance.
Cory and Kate Parker Duncan have bought every one-story building in the 700 block of Washington Avenue, a total of four. Cory Duncan said he has found tenants or is negotiating lease deals for the three spots Wildland does not occupy.
Kate Duncan, 30, said she always dreamed of owning her own shop. The Nacogdoches native studied retail merchandising at the University of Texas.
She never thought that goal would materialize locally, but her future changed when she met Waco native and fellow student Cory, 29, who became a real estate developer.
They first opened Wildland Supply in temporary space at 804 Austin Ave. owned by Waco businessman Brian Ginsburg, then leaped at the chance to jump headlong into the changes taking place in Waco’s inner city by acquiring four properties of their own. One became the new and larger home of Wildland Supply Co.
“We actually opened last Saturday, and it was great. So many of my old customers and a lot of new customers came out,” said Kate Duncan, who called from the road Wednesday as she and her mother, Priscilla Parker, made progress on a long-planned trip to the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving.
She said she poured her creative juices into making Wildland Supply a destination spot for locals and tourists alike, something that would complement the growing number of attractions taking shape along Washington, Austin and Franklin avenues, Lake Brazos and property on the Interstate 35 frontage road.
“I try to discover new West Coast and international brands from Denmark and Spain, for example, for my regulars, many of whom are from the Castle Heights and Cameron Park areas,” Kate Duncan said.
She said the store also gets a lot of business from Baylor University students, and she now has 2,000 square feet of display space and has added furniture to her product line.
“We’ve really been able to expand our selection of clothing, and I now have a special section for loungewear and intimates,” she said. “In my new building, I have fitting rooms, not curtains, and I have a nice couch on which to relax. I want everyone who comes in here to feel comfortable, to become friends almost instantly.”
Megan Henderson, executive director Center City Waco, which is devoted to downtown revitalization, said she applauds Wildland and its impact on the area.
“I think Washington Avenue is great, has its own feel, and it’s certainly exciting to see a store like Wildland, which is unlike anything else in downtown. It has a following and certainly is great at retail execution,” Henderson said. “I love the fact the Duncans have staked out a big area so they can create their own look.”
The Duncans, among others, are making sure the 700 and 800 blocks of Washington Avenue have not fallen into slumber.
“Waco Escape Rooms, now on Lake Air Drive, soon will move into one of our buildings in the 700 block of Washington Avenue, and then there is Gather at 719 Washington Avenue,” Cory Duncan said.
Baylor alumni Sara and Jonathan Martin are working to combine Jonathan’s Black Oak Art pottery and Sara’s Kindred Event Studio into Gather, which features retail space and workshop classes community members can take, including calligraphy and photography.
As for 715 Washington Ave., “I do have a potential user, and I’m in negotiations now,” Cory Duncan said. “The space has an existing freezer, but I’m not sure the new user will be involved with food service or what exactly his plans might be. As soon as we get the green light, we’ll disclose their identity.”
Cory Duncan said so many buildings downtown have potential, and he and other developers and property owners have seen “quite an influx of demand.”
“These structures date back to the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s and they have that desirable look that is coming back for restaurants and retail space,” he said. “There are so many diamonds in the rough, so many neat old buildings. People just have to take that leap. They are bringing downtown to life.”
Ginsburg, who owns property on Austin Avenue, said he admires the Duncans for their faith in the future of inner-city Waco.
“There is nothing wrong with Washington or Franklin, but someone had to step out there and make things happen,” Ginsburg said.
He has a new prospect for the space at 804 Austin Ave. the Duncans leased for a time. A deal fell though that would have placed an Asian restaurant there.
“My real estate agent said we may have a bistro for 804 Austin, and we have a couple of other options for 806 Austin Avenue,” Ginsburg said. “We had at least four good calls right after making the space available, which says something about the property and demand. It’s hard to find space for all the people who want to be down here.”