Sironia on Austin Avenue offers Central Texans a different shopping and dining experience than what they’ll find at big-box retail stores or crowded chain restaurants. That difference, say owners Holly Stump and Martha Sanders, is what keeps customers coming back.
While large stores can be detached and impersonal, their attention to customer satisfaction has helped Holly and Martha forge close relationships with their patrons during the 15 years they’ve owned Sironia.
“You can usually find one or both of us near the entrance greeting people,” Holly said “We know their names and most of their kids’ names, too!”
Martha agreed. “We still believe in very basic values built on customer service,” she said.
Customer relations are even more relevant as internet buying gains popularity.
“Retail has changed,” Holly said. “The increase in online shopping is our biggest challenge.”
“But people don’t get the personal experience (when they buy online),” Martha added.
The steady stream of shoppers who enter Sironia each day have convinced the owners that there’s still a market for brick-and-mortar stores where customers can see and feel the merchandise before they buy it.
Sironia’s iconic history has made the store a popular shopping destination for almost 40 years. Diane Henderson, Sironia’s original owner, bought the building at 1509 Austin Ave. in the early 1980s, naming it after the 1952 novel “Sironia, Texas,” written by philanthropist and Waco native Madison Cooper. It is commonly believed that Cooper based the novel’s fictional town on Waco.
Henderson owned Sironia until 2004, when Holly and Martha approached her about buying the store and going into business for themselves.
Sironia’s current site is steeped in nostalgia for some native Wacoans. The building was designed and built for Sachs Austin Avenue, a women’s dress shop originally located on the square in downtown Waco. The shop was destroyed May 11, 1953, when an F5 tornado ripped through the area, killing 114 people and demolishing hundreds of buildings. The following year, Sachs moved uptown to Sironia’s current location.
Today’s Sironia reflects the original architecture of Sachs Austin Avenue. Even the three glass display cases where live fashion models posed for passers-by during the ’50s remain in mint condition near the storefront.
“Architects who designed this building were ahead of their time,” Martha said, referring to the glass cases.
The store’s expansive floor space and “S-shaped” design beckons shoppers to browse through the vast selection of merchandise. Sironia is a collection of individual shops stocked by more than 25 independent vendors who offer a selection of cards, candles, gourmet foods and gifts.
Shoppers may find fashionwear, purses and baby clothes in another area. College students will be delighted by Baylor-inspired gifts, souvenirs and clothing. Yet another section of Sironia features home accents and hand-crafted jewelry.
“We captured a ‘boutique feel’ with specialized collections of merchandise,” Holly said.
“That’s true,” Martha said. “We wanted fewer vendors, but larger selections of embellished and curated merchandise. The vendors have created something that is all their own!”
Sironia Uptown Café is the perfect place to meet a friend for lunch after a day of shopping. The ever-changing menu includes fresh salads, homemade soups, sandwiches, made-from-scratch quiche and old-fashioned hamburgers. Featured menu items are posted daily on a chalkboard in the restaurant.
Holly and Martha suggest saving room for dessert. The café offers a variety of decadent options each day, from triple-layered cakes and specialty cupcakes to meringue-topped pies. While Sironia’s strawberry cake is the crowd favorite, any of the café’s desserts may be specially ordered with two days’ notice.
“The best part,” Holly said, “is every item on the menu is made from scratch on site every single day.”
A private room is available for parties, and a special menu for private events is offered for no additional cost. Contact Sironia Uptown Café for more information.
Sironia has experienced the benefits of Waco’s increase in tourism. In addition to the Central Texas customers that they’ve always had, it is not unusual to have shoppers from other states.
“We have a lot of visitors from California,” Holly said. “One shopper from Arkansas is a frequent visitor. She even texts us to let us know when she’s coming!”
Tourists from England, Canada and other countries have shopped at Sironia, as well.
Holly and Martha attribute some of the phenomenon of tourism growth to Baylor University.
“Sironia has always been a staple among Baylor students,” Holly said. “But when Baylor opened the new stadium in 2014, Sironia was packed during every home game. I had never seen anything like it!”
The Magnolia Silos opened in 2015 and downtown Waco became a hotbed of new shops restaurants, and clubs. Tourists continued to find their way uptown a few blocks to Sironia.
“The Findery and The Silos recommend us to their customers and we do the same for them,” she said. “We give our shoppers maps of Waco that include all the other nearby businesses. We are team players and we feel we are all in this together.”
Martha said she feels Waco is finally being noticed as a destination instead of a city to drive through on the way to Dallas or Austin.
“Instead of people passing through Waco on I-35, they now say, ‘Let’s stop here for a while,’” Martha said.
After 15 years, Holly and Martha feel the key to Sironia’s success has been consistency – offering the same customer service for which they are known.
“We want shoppers to feel welcomed, and to enjoy the experience of Sironia,” Holly said.
They said future plans include serving breakfast and/or dinner at Sironia Uptown Café, and perhaps applying for a liquor license.
“We have weathered many storms, but Sironia is here to stay,” Holly said. “We want Waco to be the best it can be. The good news is – whatever happens, Waco has been forever changed.”
and Sironia Uptown Café
1509 Austin Ave.
Tue-Sat, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Lunch served 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.