Something once commonplace reappeared Monday at Sixth Street and Webster Avenue downtown — a crowd.
Magnolia Market at the Silos, Waco’s most popular tourist attraction, opened for the first time since bowing to COVID-19 pressure in mid-March. The whole shebang went dark, including the bakery, gift shop, coffee shop and food trucks. Much now has reopened, with safety measures.
It was almost like old times Monday. Lines formed. Visitors posed for photos. Baked goods, steaming beverages and souvenirs were in demand.
Trolleys carried folks to and between downtown points of interest.
“I think this is the reset toward a new normal,” said Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center. “The Waco Tourist Information Center also opened today, though with limited hours for a time. They wanted to be available to answer people’s questions about our attractions.”
Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said Magnolia’s reopening represents a milestone in the return to normalcy.
“I think there have been a lot of different markers along the road, and this certainly is a big one,” said Henderson. “Downtown merchants, by and large, have figured out ways to maintain relationships with customers, and have come up with innovative ways to offer their products. But as much as I appreciate their innovation, I’m encouraged to see a welcoming back.”
Still, Henderson said she wants visitors and locals alike to “have fun together,” but urged caution going forward in the shadow of COVID-19.
“We must be mindful of safety as we live out our values of hospitality,” said Henderson. “We can temper our enthusiasm with prudence, so we can feel good about coming back. We need to continue practicing what we’ve been asked to do: keep our faces covered and practice social distancing.”
Diana Gonzales, who manages the popular Hecho En Waco Mexican restaurant on South Sixth Street, said traffic was marginally better on Monday as downtown continues to rouse itself. The restaurant is weaning itself from strictly curbside service by offering dining inside at 50% occupancy.
“Doing to-go’s was pretty bad, not what we were used to. I would guess business was down 80%,” said Gonzales, whose bottom line depends heavily upon tourist trade given Hecho’s proximity to Magnolia Market.
All Magnolia-themed attractions and venues have reopened Monday through Saturday, including Magnolia Table at Waco’s traffic circle, Silos Baking Co. at 601 Webster Ave. and Magnolia Press Coffee Co., at Eighth Street and Webster Avenue. Magnolia’s Little Shop on Bosque, 3801 Bosque Blvd., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Food trucks at Magnolia Market remain closed for now.
Work on the $10.4 million expansion of Magnolia Market at the Silos has continued, and spokesman John Marsicano expects a fall opening.
Magnolia Market continues to reinstate staffers it furloughed.
“We have already started welcoming many of our employees back, and we look forward to welcoming back as many of our guest-facing employees as possible in the weeks to come,” Marsicano said via email.
A decision on the pace “will be made based on foot traffic and in accordance with our efforts to safely and appropriately resume operations.”
Magnolia Market at the Silos had become the standard-bearer among Waco tourist attractions, bringing in 25,000 to 30,000 guests most weeks, according to estimates from the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Marsicano said Magnolia reopens with changes to protect health and safety. These include single entry points, one-way flow, outdoor floor markers, the removal of outdoor seating and strategically placed registers.
Magnolia urges visitors to self-screen, wash and disinfect their hands often, and maintain at least 6 feet separation from non-family members. It suggests but does not require that visitors wear masks covering the nose and mouth.
“So far, we are pleased that our visitors have respectfully complied with these guidelines while on our grounds, and we will continue to work collaboratively with city and state health officials to modify and enforce these guidelines as needed,” Marsicano said.
Other signs of life downtown include the reopening Monday of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Washington Avenue, near the Waco Convention Center.
The Waco Hilton nearby remains closed for the time being.
Manager Justin Edwards said he awaits word from the city and state on restrictions that may impact the convention center and attached hotel.
“With our business demand being heavily focused on conventions and meetings, we are unable to reopen without them,” he said.
Asked about staffing when the Hilton reopens, he said, “Our team is intact and waiting for word to return and provide the hospitality we are known for.”