A cottage that allows guests to buy decorations right off the walls will open in Waco after four locals with a heart for hospitality started a venture aimed at promoting existing entrepreneurs in the area.

Alexis and Phil Christensen and Haley and Jordan Gandy have partnered to launch a vacation rental dubbed Avenues of Waco at 715 S. Eighth St. in May.

Reservations recently opened for the fully furnished three bedroom, 2½-bath cottage that sleeps eight people.

Jordan Gandy, 34, said one of the early reservations is a great example of the clientele he expects. A family has booked the 1,500-square-foot cottage for a weekend in December 2018 to attend a graduation at Baylor University. Instead of renting out multiple hotel rooms, they’ll get to stay together in a home.

Phil Christensen, 29, said Waco is a special place, and the group wants that belief passed on to everyone who stays at the cottage, whether they are visiting the area for the first time or the 20th. The group sees both the potential and existing beauty in the city, Christensen said. Dallas and Austin are cool surrounding cities, but there is a special charm about Waco, from its rich and intense history to its really neat developing presence, he said.

“Alexis and I travel quite a bit,” Phil Christensen said. “We’ve been all over the world. There’s something that is so special about Waco. Sure, we’re biased, but the amount of community that’s been developed in the city in various neighborhoods, organizations, churches, educational systems and businesses, it really is a unique place.”

Centrally located between Baylor, Magnolia Market at the Silos and downtown Waco, Avenues of Waco will enable guests to walk to many of their destinations.

Part of the experiencing of staying at the cottage is the connection to local businesses, Phil Christensen said. The owners are partnering with local businesses to display others’ work throughout the home, he said. The group will feature work from various creative people throughout the area, whether that is a dining room table, art or coffee, he said.

“We have this blossoming artisan community in Waco, and I’m excited to show that off,” Alexis Christensen, 29, said.

She has worked in housing and community development for the past four years and is a Baylor graduate.

The group wants Waco to be a better place because of this project, said Phil Christensen, another Baylor graduate.

“In everything we do, we try to leave things better than the way we find it,” he said.

In places that are appropriate, a place card could list the cost and artists’ name. However, a book in the cottage will list all the pieces for sale, where they were made, the company’s website and directions to get there, he said.

“We definitely don’t want people to come and be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a price tag on everything. Don’t touch anything,’ ” Haley Gandy said.

Jordan Gandy said the group would like to showcase its favorite parts of Waco, including a list of restaurants, possibly favorite hole-in-the-wall eateries that might not be advertised in other locations.

Phil Christensen said one of his favorite things about the project is the way it is setting out to be part of the community and to promote neighbors, not to compete with local businesses.

Prepared for the visit

“By definition, when you’re traveling you’re not home, and there’s a good chance nobody really knows you,” Jordan Gandy said. “The experiences I can think of that I’ve had that are over the top are when the place I’m staying at does something that could just be a little thing.

“Like, we went to this little place for our anniversary, and they left a card, a very nice card, and a little gift bottle of wine and it said, ‘Happy anniversary. I hope you have a great stay.’ It’s those little things like that, that make you feel known and welcomed and make you feel like you’re at home,” Jordan Gandy said.

“Whether it’s the lines we use or the soaps and the lotions, I think last year, everywhere we’ve gone we’ve said, ‘OK, what’s missing? What do we have at home that we don’t have here?’ And we’ve got a long list of things like that, that we’re going to have available at our cottage.”

Haley Gandy, 33, said the team also can personalize visits for guests.

“If you’re 5 years old or you’re 60 or if you’re from America or not, just kind of like, we want each person to feel like we thought about them ahead of time and prepared for them in a general way and in a very detailed way,” Haley Gandy said.

“We would like to have prepared for what they might have forgot, or might have wished they had while they were staying here, and try and stay one step ahead by providing that. I think when you’re traveling, sometimes it’s nice to have quality things, like, that are handmade or just that you don’t get to experience in your everyday life, provided for you that tell part of the story of where you are staying.”

Phil Christensen said the team will stay out of the way when guests want privacy or be as available as needed. If a family reunion comes to town and wants a photo shoot while everyone is together, they can set the group up with a local photographer. If guests are looking for a massage, the team can connect guests with a local masseuse, or if a wine tasting is more interesting, perhaps an in-home event can be offered, he said.

“It’s way more than just providing a bed and electricity,” he said. “It’s helping them to live it up in Waco.”

A stay at Avenues of Waco is $400 per night Sunday through Thursday; $550 per night Friday or Saturday; or $2,500 per week. Reservations require a two-night minimum stay. Amenities include high-speed WiFi, a washer and dryer, TV, kitchen, fireplace and a backyard, among others.

Friendship, business

Jordan Gandy, also a Baylor graduate, said the group looked at renovating older homes before buying the lot, but as the deals fell through they became more focused on having a central location.

Working on this venture with good friends has been incredibly life-giving and fruitful, Phil Christensen said. The couple spent months discussing the idea and who they might partner with. Jordan and Haley just kept coming back to mind, he said.

Each person’s strengths make the partnership work: Jordan is incredible with numbers, and Haley is very creative, Phil Christensen said. Success has come from early on establishing clear guidelines and expectations for each person’s roles, he said. They have business meetings strictly to discuss Avenues of Waco, while other nights are carved out to just have dinner and be friends, he said.

Phil Christensen said the goal was to invest in the community and make Waco a better place. The more discussions unfolded, the more the idea of a short-term rental became attractive.

Jordan Gandy said the two couples had just returned from a ski trip in Colorado when Phil called with the proposal.

“All four of us I think had rooted ourselves in Waco and obviously we love the growth and everything that’s kind of happening in Waco and we just wanted to be a part of that,” he said.

The people who live in Waco make the city them gem it has become, Alexis Christensen said.

She said she’s originally from Austin, and her husband is from Missouri. But Waco has become their home. She said they stayed because of the community that exists in the area.

“We feel really passionate about Waco,” she said.

Jordan Gandy said the land the cottage will sit on has enough room for a second home, if the group decides to expand.

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