Last month, my family tagged on a day-and-a-half trip to New York City as part of a longer stay in Washington, D.C. After booking the requisite Broadway shows — “Hand To God” for me and middle daughter Helen, “On The Town” for my wife Paula and daughters Hallie and Harper — came the more difficult decisions of what to do in New York in a single day.
Being the museum/arts geek that I am, my suggestions leaned toward museum visits and Central Park. Harper, 13, leaned toward the Empire State Building and getting a photo of the August Wilson Theatre, named after the black playwright who was part of her previous history fair performance. Central Park and Chinatown were other agreed-upon stops, but one was off my radar entirely: a trip to Mood Fabrics.
It’s not that my wife and daughters are dress-makers or costumers at heart. They are loyal fans of the television series “Project Runaway,” a fashion design competition that pits a new group of young designers each season in weekly challenges.
Many, if not most, of the weekly challenges in the New York-based series involved a trip to Mood Fabrics to get the raw materials for their creations. So, a walk through Manhattan’s Garment District, up three flights in a small elevator with an elevator operator and an accordion-style gate rather than a door (two historical artifacts) and there we were with the other tourists with “Project Runway” cravings.
There was also a celebrity, around whom several clustered to take pictures: not designer Tim Gunn, but store mascot Swatch the dog, a patient, black-and-white Boston terrier often seen on those fabric-shopping Mood visits.
Who knew? And, yes, we got a photo of him before leaving.
On our way back to DC the next day, we were surprised with another demonstration of television’s power. There on a bus stop shelter on West 34th Street were larger-than-life images of Waco couple Chip and Joanna Gaines, hosts of HGTV’s popular series “Fixer Upper,” affectionately hugging each other under the caption “Get A Room.”
In a flash, I realized the same ratings power that had led to advertisements in the nation’s largest city was also driving the spill-over crowds I’d seen the last few months in the Gaines’ Magnolia store in Waco. There’s also a small but growing number of “Fixer Upper” fans showing up at the Magnolia Market, whose rehab is underway.
BSR Cable Park can attest to the power of a YouTube video going viral and national television has a similar long reach, particularly when a show or series pulls in the more than 2 million weekly viewers that “Fixer Upper” currently does.
Big numbers like that turn small percentages into something considerable. If one out of every 1,000 viewers of “Fixer Upper” decided to visit the Magnolia store or Market on a summer vacation or weekend trip, that would translate into 2,000 visitors to Waco.
President Obama’s recent naming of the Waco Mammoth Site as a National Monument may not seem like such a big deal, but it connects Waco to a national audience of park-goers and monument visitors. Same for Baylor University’s McLane Stadium, whenever a Baylor home game gets televised to a regional, and occasionally national, viewership.
Can the accumulation of such national exposure put Waco on the map in a way it hasn’t been before?
Television can be fickle, but I’d ask Swatch the dog.