Today is International Women’s Day and we figure, recognition starts at home. Today you’ll see news of women who have made history across the globe. But we’re equally in awe of those who accomplish much, to little fanfare, in our own neighborhood.
Today (especially) we tip our hats to the Women of Downtown Waco.
They sign paychecks, balance budgets, plan events, champion the arts, make whisky, raise the culinary bar, decorate our lives, exceed expectations and persist.
Jennifer Wilson knows a little something about persistence. Her business, Spice, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. When she and Christi Proctor founded the business two decades ago, this end of town was not the instagrammed, hashtagged and widely beloved Downtown Waco we know today.
“In the beginning we had this idea and two of the strikes against us were that we were women and we wanted to be downtown,” Wilson said.
She and her then-partner saw the potential and coolness factor in being so near the river and Baylor University. “The potential we saw 20 years ago was legit. It’s thriving beyond anyone’s imagination.”
Proctor has recently moved back into downtown with Christi’s Interiors at 1023 Austin Avenue.
So, what does it take to not just survive but thrive downtown for 20 years?
“You have to be tenacious, hard-headed and driven to withstand the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between,” Wilson said. “And patience. You have to have lots of patience.”
And if you can ride out the doldrums, Downtown Waco can prove to be a good business decision. Leah Stewart, owner of The Olive Branch has seen her business go from mostly feeding lunch to downtown office workers to becoming part of the Downtown Waco tourist trail. The Olive Branch is approaching its 14th birthday and Stewart said she’s glad she took the unique and affordable opportunity she had to start her café downtown.
“There’s no way I could do what I’m doing in Dallas, Austin or San Antonio,” she said.
The female commitment to downtown stretches across the bridge and down Elm Avenue as well. Marilyn Banks has been offering outfits, knick-knacks and the fanciest church hats around in her store, Marilyn’s Gift Gallery, since 1989. She, like Wilson, also had plenty of naysayers, but she was determined to make a place for herself on Elm Avenue.
“This is always where I wanted to open my business and it’s been a blessing,” Banks said, in a previous interview.
For Dani Owens, whose venture, The Yoga Bar, just celebrated its third anniversary, starting a business downtown has been a bit of a whirlwind. She marvels at the changes she’s seen in just the last three years. And she enjoys the collaboration and cooperation she’s experienced since joining the community of lady bosses in Downtown Waco.
“We’re all likeminded women, going for it and supporting each other and other business owners,” Owens said.
Wilson sees women as especially qualified to be a major factor in Downtown Waco placemaking and resurgence.
“We’re daring and we think outside the box. The creativity women have lets us pursue things outside of the norm,” she said. “We’re able to envision an atmosphere and create an ambience that other people can appreciate.”
Being stubborn and determined aren’t bad qualities to have either, Wilson said.
“Don’t say it can’t be done because we’ll make it happen.”