The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Tried and True Waco

Looking back at Waco businesses that have endured

3 weeks ago

By Emily Ober

In 2022, WACOAN celebrated 20 years of being Waco’s Magazine. Twenty years of issues that tell Waco’s story, twenty years of Best of Waco winners. To commemorate 20 years of Best of Waco, we shared a blog looking back at how the winners have changed – or in some cases, stayed the same. While looking through the old issues to help our intern, Chris, with the story, I started reminiscing about the places that have been in Waco as long as I can remember. I am a native Wacoan, born and raised right here. Though I have ventured out to new places, Waco is my home and it holds many fond memories.

 

In looking back, I began to wonder, what places have been with us Wacoans through the years, weathering through the ups and downs? Officially founded in 1849, Waco was the center of economic growth in the early 1900s and was even dubbed “The Athens of Texas” as many schools moved into the area. When the tornado of 1953 destroyed much of downtown, the population and economic decline hit the city. But Wacoans are resilient and we are seeing a new boom in the city. With that comes new businesses which we gladly welcome. But this is a special dedication to just a few of the tried and true of Waco.

 

Baylor University

Courtesy of Baylor University

Since moving to Waco in 1886, Baylor University has been a partner with the city of Waco. When Robert Griffin III brought home the Heisman trophy in 2011, it was a historic moment for Baylor and when we started to see a shift in the city. Locally owned businesses returned to downtown Waco, the riverwalk project brought visitors to the Brazos and McLane Stadium brought Baylor fans closer to the campus. It’s a real tried and true part of Waco.

 

Dubl-R Old Fashioned Hamburgers

Dubl-R burger will always be the best burger in Waco in my book. While I won’t pass up a Whizzbang’s (the original crown holder who snatched it back in the 2022 voting), there’s something so perfect about a Dubl-R burger. It has the right combination of a greasy burger on a toasted bun while not leaving you with that heavy feeling you get after eating greasy food.

Dubl-R has been a family favorite. I remember getting a burger after softball games in elementary school – probably not the best in a dietary sense, but it’s without a doubt the best way to celebrate a win or commiserate after a loss. This is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that you have to know about to find. Located on 1810 Herring Avenue, it’s a small building that stands alone. It’s only open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, so you’ll have to be sure to be there for a lunchtime date.

 

River Square Center

Before the revitalization of downtown in recent years, River Square Center was the hub of downtown. Four storefronts have weathered the long road to restoring downtown Waco to its heyday.

Spice Village, a consistent retail winner in our Best of Waco, was the boutique that my friends and I would frequent on weekends, building our perfect wardrobes. From the chunky jewelry from the aughts to unique handcrafted gifts you find today, Spice has been the shopping destination for Wacoans since 1997 and its large yellow arrow is impossible to miss.

Courtesy of Spice Village

Several of Waco’s favorite restaurants are also located here. A personal favorite is Cricket’s Draft House & Grill, a long-time Beer Selection and Pool Hall winner in the Best of Waco voting. Another staple since 1997, it’s been a favorite of mine for getting together with friends for great food and rounds of pool or table tennis. Cricket’s is aptly named for the swarm of crickets that we see here in Waco every few years.

Ninfa’s margaritas are legendary, according to Wacoans. Another consistent winner over the years, this Mexican restaurant has brought in a crowd since 1996. Although the original Ninfa’s is found in Houston, this restaurant has become a staple of Waco and the River Square Center.

And if you’re not in the mood for Mexican, you can find Thai on the other side of the River Square Center at Bangkok Royal. While a newcomer compared to the other spots mentioned, it has been a popular spot for Wacoans since opening in 2000.

 

George’s

Home of the famous “Big O,” George’s has won best chicken fried steak every year since Best of Waco began. A visit to Waco isn’t complete without this tried and true favorite.  Opened in 1930 under the name Harry B’s as a small bar, it became George’s in 1966 and has become a symbol of Waco ever since.

As a kid, every school ceremony was catered by George’s, I’ve been to a wedding reception there and to the Big “O” tent at McLane Stadium. Whether you visit the original location at 1925 Speight Avenue or visit their Hewitt location at 1201 Hewitt Drive #100, it’s the perfect spot for dinner and drinks with friends.

 

Genie Car Wash & Fast Lube

The reigning champ of full-service car wash in Waco, Genie Car Wash has been my family’s go-to service. My car enthusiast dad would bring his car in regularly for a wash and I remember standing at the window, waiting to see our 1989 Thunderbird go through the wash. My favorite was the rainbow soap that my dad would splurge on when I would beg for it.

We always got a shiny, clean car and the quality of the service has remained the same over the years. Wacoans agree that this is the best full-service wash in town. The iconic sign still stands at 916 N Valley Mills Drive.

 

Ambold’s Lock & Key

You’ve seen the name on Waco businesses all around the city. Since 1872, Ambold’s has been a Waco feature, though the shop has changed hats many times over the years. While today it’s Waco’s security system, when it first opened, founder H.E. Ambold opened a general store, selling products from sewing machines to fishing rods.

Today, the shop on 1125 Franklin Avenue boasts a beautiful mural of Waco’s history, painted by Tony Bryant. Ambold’s is a part of this history and a tried and true Waco business.

 

Golden’s Book Exchange

If you love the smell of old books and perusing endless stacks of reading material, Golden’s is the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of life. The shop is tucked away in the corner at 3120 Franklin Avenue. The oldest used bookstore in Waco opened its doors in 1977. I love bringing in a tote of books and exchanging them for store credit to bring home some new reads.

You’ll find a sense of calm as you peruse the shelves, stumbling on hidden treasures. Golden’s has something for everyone from young readers to murder mystery fans. And you’ll find even better deals at their half-off Saturdays every other month. Sometimes, a tote bag isn’t big enough to bring them all home.

 

Georgio’s and G2

Courtesy of G2 by Georgio’s

Young Wacoans looking for their perfect Prom dress can find them at G2, but when I was shopping for my dress, they were at the original store, Georgio’s. The shop was always crowded with beautiful wedding gowns and brightly colored special occasion dresses. Now the shop has split into two, but Georgio’s always guaranteed the perfect dress for any occasion. It has remained Waco’s go-to dress shop since opening in 2003.

 

Reed’s Flowers

As you drive down Austin Avenue, exploring the many shops that have opened their doors in the last few years, you’ll find a shop that looks like it’s straight from the 1950s. That’s because the shop exterior hasn’t changed since moving to 1029 Austin Avenue in the late 1950s.

Originally opened in 1930, this tried and true florist has brightened Wacoans over the years with their beautiful arrangements and fresh-cut flowers. You can see the love for flowers that started with founder Albert Harry Reed and passed down over the years at this family-owned shop that shows what it means to be a Wacoan and persevere.

 

Waco Hippodrome

Opening in 1914, the Waco Hippodrome Theatre has been a longtime hub of entertainment in Waco. From live acts to silent films to ‘talkies’ and even a live seal act at its opening, the Hippodrome has brought many memorable shows to Wacoans. When it reopened as a movie theater and restaurant in 2014, I was there almost weekly. In 2017, the Hippodrome hosted the first Deep in the Heart Film Festival, bringing Waco creatives together.

In 2020, the Hippodrome suspended its movie theater and restaurant operations and now hosts live music events. Waco’s favorite place to watch a movie has yet to return, but I’m personally eagerly awaiting the return of the beloved Hippodrome and enjoying dinner and a movie once again.

 

Art Center Waco

Waco is a city for artists. Driving through downtown, you’ll see dozens of murals. Part of 7th street is even closed to traffic and is dedicated to chalk muralists. Art Center Waco has been a space to cultivate young artists since 1972. As a kid, I went to the summer art camps they held when they were still located on MCC’s campus.

Today, they are found at their new building at 701 S 8th Street. Recently, they held the Reel Stories film series and they continue bringing art to Wacoans and is a longtime winner for summer camps.

 

ALICO

The original icon of Waco, the ALICO building stands over downtown as the tallest building, with none coming close to taking the title. This building is a tried and true symbol of Waco. It was built in 1910 when the boom was in full force by Roy E. Lane who designed other iconic Waco landmarks, including the Hippodrome and the famous Cottonland Castle. Despite being hit directly by the 1953 tornado, the building remained standing. Pictures taken of the aftermath show piles of rubble around the ALICO building, but this resilient building withstood. Like Wacoans, it has remained strong and resilient.

 

What are your tried and true Waco businesses? Share them in the comments.