When Lori Davidson moved to Waco, she knew she wanted to stay a while. Plant roots. Build community. Fourteen years in, and there’s plenty to show for her efforts. From education to nonprofits to church, she’s joined with existing organizations to build on their foundations. But Davidson has also created her own mark on Waco – a pop-up market named in honor of her mom, two of the first vacation rentals to open in Waco inspired by her mom, and a tour company tapping into her love of history. Now that her two children are grown and out of the house, she’s looking forward to what the next phase of her life will be, but as she’ll quickly tell you — she’s not leaving Waco!
WACOAN: How long have you lived in Waco?
Davidson: I moved here in 2008. I had a lot of moves around the country before that. This move brought me closer to my side of the family. My mom, she passed away now, but my mom was in Dallas.
I was thrilled to move here. I said I won’t be moving from here, I want to set roots here. And I have.
WACOAN: You are the owner of Lulubelle’s market. Can you tell me about that?
Davidson: It is actually named after my mom’s childhood doll. Because her grandfather, Luther Martin, and her grandma Geneva Belle gave her a doll so she named it Lulubelle. I had the cutest picture of her, I think from 1956. She’s in chaps and a cowboy hat, holding the brim up and just dangling Lulubelle.
I named Lulubelle in honor of my mom. I always had an antique business on the side, while I was a teacher, for years and years. So I decided to actually give it a name, and it became Lulubelle’s. I started doing Lulubelle’s Markets.
I was teaching at Live Oak [Classical School]. I was teaching Spanish. My daughter took over my job. She said, ‘Mom, what do you do with our receipts? Do you know if we turn them in for our school supplies and things?’ I [shook my head], that’s just kind of the nature of the job, especially at a private school. She said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re right next to the Silos. We have this land…’ We have to close [school] when Spring at the Silos or Silobration comes because it goes up 150,000 people and it’s just not safe to move the kids across the campus.
She said, ‘We have this prime real estate, and every teacher has a side hustle. Why don’t we start an event right here next door?’ I said, ‘That’s a great idea, let’s create a teacher supply fund.’ That’s what we did.
We only had 38 vendors that first year, but any teacher or faculty member, anybody on staff who wanted a free spot had a free spot, and then we charged vendors coming on to the property. That first year we had a lot of people come. I’d say at least 15,000 because of the overflow from the Silos. Then it started to get a little bit of a reputation for itself, so now it’s grown to about 125 vendors, food trucks, live music. We still raise money for Live Oak and do that.
WACOAN: Is that how you became involved as the market director for the Waco Chalk Walk?
Davidson: Fiona [Bond] moved here a year [after I did]. Our sons are best friends. Torin and Alex have grown up from kindergarten, now they’re seniors in high school. They’re two of a kind.
Fiona has always been on the art side of things and the music side, just doing an incredible amount of work. Fiona approached me last year and said, ‘What do you think about partnering and you handle the market aspect of it and I handle the chalk side of it?’
It was our first time actually putting our heads together on a project. It was rewarding. It was eye-opening for sure because I had never been involved with shutting actual city streets down, and that’s quite a process with the parks department. But Megan Davis [with the events office at City of Waco] was so good at explaining things.
Last year I coordinated the market side of it, so I got to know Eastside Market and got to know Eric Linares and Andreas [Zaloumis] and then the [Waco Downtown] Farmers Market, Bethel [Erickson-Bruce]. So we all joined forces.
This year we [wanted] to encourage businesses along Austin Avenue to spill out and get involved. We also got the permits for alcohol, so it was more of a festival atmosphere, with live music on the streets and street performers.
WACOAN: When you moved here, how did you start making connections with people?
Davidson: I jumped in with both feet because I hadn’t lived anywhere for more than three years in almost 20 years. I started volunteering at Care Net, and then I realized they required clients to bring a translator with them because they didn’t have anybody speaking Spanish as an intake counselor. So I did the intakes in Spanish for four years. Then they asked me to be on the board of directors, and I was on the board of directors for six. I cycled off last January.
I did a lot of volunteering at my church too, at First Woodway. Then, since I was there so much, they asked me would I want to work there. So I said OK. I just worked part-time. I felt like we were always there. It was a great children’s program, and Alex fit right in and made a lot of friends.
Then Mom got sick in 2013, and I moved her down here from Dallas because it was terminal, ovarian cancer. It was a hard 18 months. I was getting an inheritance, and so she talked to me about being responsible. She said do something that will grow, where you can use it for money for college for the kids and things.
It was when ‘Fixer Upper’ had just started, like season one or two, in the early days. She was always just right on. [My mom] said, ‘I think that’s gonna be something. And you know what, people are gonna come visit, and there aren’t enough places for people to stay. I noticed there’s not very many hotels.’ Just random. She goes, ‘I think you need to buy a house. I think you need to make it like a cute little rental that people can come and stay. You always used to play BNB with your Barbies.’ So I did, and it’s called The Haven at Chapel Ridge. I bought the house next to it when that became available. So those two houses paid for my daughter’s college. She knew what she was doing.
I got involved with the hotelier forum when I opened them. I opened mine before there was even permitting.
Those houses taught me a lot. They were both fixer uppers (not on the show). I learned how to do the final flooring and take out cabinets and put in cabinets and toilets and sinks and pour a concrete pad. It taught me how to do things on my own at a fraction of the cost. I think it was good for the grieving process for me too.
After she passed, I went back to teaching. That’s when I started at Live Oak.
WACOAN: How did you come to start doing The Waco Trolley?
Davidson: I taught with Dawn Ridley, who is the sister of David Ridley who started Waco Tours. I really enjoyed their tours. I like that they give a really great overview of Waco. I was thinking that Waco could benefit from a tour that dives a little deeper into specific areas, [like] a mural tour that’s dedicated to the art of the city.
When I do a mural tour, I’ll start with ‘Starry Night.’ Live Oak students painted that. Sherwin Williams donated the paint for it. It’s a great one, and they can hop off and be in [the picture]. I tell them a little bit about the history and the story about the artist.
I’ve always been a history buff. I think I would have enjoyed teaching that as well. Wherever we go on vacation I follow what my parents did with me. We seek out a museum, we seek out a historic home, and we take a tour on some unusual type of transportation, like a trolley.
WACOAN: Is that why you made it a trolley tour?
Davidson: Yes, I think it stems from my childhood. Those are just really good memories. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My dad would lay out the map with the compass and would literally draw a circle to see what city we could go to. We would go to random places like Daniel Boone’s home. I never knew we were struggling or we didn’t have money.
It was really important for me to provide an affordable tourism opportunity. So most of my tickets range from $20-30, which is significantly less than a typical tour company would charge. I think it’s the teacher in me. I’m passionate about that.
I named [the trolley] Lulubelle. I had borrowed money against one of the houses to pay for it, and it’s just another way that [my inheritance from my mom has] grown. Another way that she continues to bless me.
WACOAN: Do you do conduct all the tours?
Davidson: I’m bringing on a friend of mine, Tammy Hulbert. She loves history too.
I volunteered for Historic Waco [Foundation] for a long time, with events, helping. Jill Barrow, [former executive director of Historic Waco Foundation] was so sweet and gave us their step on tour for Historic Waco. Tammy’s in the process of memorizing that.
WACOAN: You said that you decided you weren’t moving again after you came to Waco. What are some aspects of Waco that you appreciate?
Davidson: There’s something unique about this town, where everybody does something extraordinary. You know? Not like ‘The Little Engine That Could’, but like the little town that could. They just don’t say ‘no’. I’m gonna open this, I’m gonna do this. And people come around you and say how can I support you?
I love it here. I do. The growth has been encouraging to watch. I do think it’s a delicate dance of making sure that the growth and improvement don’t harm the residents as we’re seeing through property taxes and things like that.
WACOAN: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Davidson: I love to garden. I just bought a kayak. I like to be outside. It’s funny, I had two heat strokes the first year I moved here. Two! July of ’08 was the fourth hottest July in Texas history. I was a mess.
WACOAN: Is there anything else we haven’t talked about that you’d like to add?
Davidson: My daughter, Austen Ann, when we moved to Texas, she said ‘I’m gonna embrace everything Southern.’ And I said OK. She goes, ‘I wanna be in a pageant.’ I said ‘What? Why do you wanna be in a pageant? You’re cute and you’re smart. You don’t need anybody to tell you you’re cute and you’re smart.’ And she said ‘No, I want to try it.’
It was Miss Teen something, like a beginner level. It was in Plano. I said ‘OK, I’m not paying for it though. You’ll pay for the gas, the entrance fee, the dress, the shoes. But I’ll drive you.’ So she did. She got her dress at Goodwill, she sewed it, as a sixth grader. I drove her up there, and she got first runner up!
Flash forward, she’s 16, got her braces off. ‘I want to try it again. This one’s called Miss Heart of the USA. You raise awareness for kids facing hunger.’ You bring a donation, canned food donation, lots and lots. You raise money for this. It’s heavily weighed on the philanthropic side.
She won Miss Austin. She won Miss Texas. Then we went to Florida, and she won the whole country! She was Miss Teen Heart of the USA. And that gave her a little bit of a college scholarship.
I’m proud of my kids. I’m thankful that Waco’s been so good to me. I’ve embraced it, and they’ve embraced me right back so that I can give everything possible that I can to [my kids] so they can reach all their goals that they want to in life. It’s been a good fit. A good landing place for me for sure.
Cameron Park. “I love Cameron Park. I just bought two kites, because I think that is a lost pastime. I bought the kite show kites, like the dragon and the cutest wicker picnic basket, and I want to intentionally spend more time outside.”
Central Goods on Franklin Avenue. “That’s a fun shop. I like to look at other people’s finds. I love ephemera, anything that was paper that was meant to be thrown away but wasn’t.”
Lori’s 5 Must Haves
1 – Coffee with Dunkin Donuts extra extra creamer.
2 – My girlfriends. We have a Bunco group once a month. We’re all so different. It’s a really fun group. Each time we rotate at a different house, we bring food. I’m rediscovering that it’s nice to have a girl group.
3 – Hand sanitizer. I’m a Bath & Body Works junkie. A Thousand Wishes is my favorite, and I like the Mahogany Teakwood too.
4 – Good music.
5 – Reliable GPS. I’m directionally challenged.