There's a harmony moving between Holly Stump and Martha Sanders that you rarely see between two people. The respect, evident within their working relationship, points to 14 years of side by side owning and operating Sironia, Waco's landmark shopping experience and favorite of many lunching ladies.
Yes, lunch! Sironia arcs over 30 boutiques run by various vendors, two of those boutiques being Martha and Holly's The Hive and Sironia Kids. The spot also serves the city at their cozy, in-house restaurant, Sironia Uptown Café.
(The cadence of many Wacoans? Lunch, shop, repeat!)
In 2004, this duo purchased the building from Diane Henderson with a dream and a vision. Dream: to restart Sironia in the same way Diane had run her business for 17 years, as a cluster of many boutiques under one roof. Vision: to see Uptown Waco revived. Spoiler alert: They have done both!
What's something most people don't know about sironia?
Martha: We are able to afford the opportunity for other small businesses to come in and pretty much fulfill their dream without having all of the overhead and having to spend all their money because that opportunity was afforded to me, that opportunity was afforded to Holly. And we want to keep offering it to others.
I'm not from here; I came for school but this place holds so many great memories to so many people. We saw a way to breathe new life into this building when there was absolutely nothing downtown and to extend a hand to small businesses – to flourish, to grow, to encourage, so they can test their dream out to see if it's really going to work. Some of them have gone on to own their own businesses, to open their own freestanding store, outside of Sironia.
Who are some of those shops in town?
We still have one of the original boutiques from Sironia back before we bought it. Doris Mosely runs Once Upon A Time; she's in her 80s now. She has all these really neat toys: Madame Alexander, Melissa and Doug – you can tell she's picked out every little thing. They're toys you'd look at and say, "Oh, I played with that as a kid!" Linda at the Design House has been in Sironia for nearly 14 years. She does gorgeous, custom jewelry. You can watch the jewelry-making process right behind their counter.
Tell us about some of the boutiques within the store.
Martha: In the boutiques you're going to see fine jewelry, gourmet food, lots of women's clothing, home decór, hand-painted signs (and she does painting classes), French country, and then there's Maud Elizabeth. She up-cycles things into these amazing bags and pillows; she's an amazing designer. Toys, shoes, men's clothing, and Tommy Bahama at Covet.
Holly and I have The Hive, which is women's trendy-classic fashion and plus-size fashion and Sironia Kids offers boutique children's clothing, boys and girls, up to size 7-8.
It's a women's heyday: I mean, lunch and shop? Come on. Who doesn't love that?!
What was Sironia before Diane bought it?
They stack the following phrases into a story, finishing each others' sentences in this graceful way: Sachs on the Avenue. It was the highest-end clothing store. It was further down Austin, but got destroyed in the catastrophic F-5 tornado. Mr. Sachs, the owner, moved it down the street and in '54, he had an architect from California work with him to outfit the place. The architect is the one who brought in the little amoebas (Holly points to these amoeba-shaped cutouts in the ceiling) into almost every room! And the building is in the shape of an "S."
Holly: They had live models that modeled in the display windows in front. There was an on-site tailor, they sold furs and wedding gowns. There's a button to call the tailor into the dressing room, still today! Those thermometers in the display windows were to make sure the models could breathe, sometimes wearing heavily beaded gowns! Customers will come in, who are in their 80s. They'll tell the story of choosing their wedding dresses here. So many have said it was such a special thing for a parent or grandparent to bring you here to choose something. It was kind of "the place."
The relatives of the original owner still reside in Waco today.
What do you love about Waco?
Holly: Martha came in '95. I grew up here and never thought I'd stay. I moved away for a couple of years but came back. Waco is such a cool town now. It's fun. When we opened, it was a ghost town. It was Lane's and Modern Furniture. Us and Cameron Trading Company. That was it.
Martha: It was the Crystal Palace before Cameron Trading Company. It was lovely. They sold fancy chocolates, home decor...
Holly: Retail was so different back then. Retail was different when we opened, even, because you weren't fighting Amazon. You weren't fighting the Hobby Lobby's, you weren't fighting all this huge, internet stuff and chains. You could be this neat niche; you could fill it for your community but now it's so different. That still happens but you just have to work harder at finding the specific things people want offered to them in person so when what you find at market is successful, you're like, "Yes! We found good stuff!"
You aren't related, but what Does owning a business together look like?
Martha: I think you just have to make the decision that you're going to make it work and make it happen. Like everything in life, there's peaks and valleys, highs and lows.
Holly: I think what works best for us is we have different strengths and weaknesses. That has worked very well for the both of us because we're so different. And we started off friends who were going toward business and now, Martha's like a sister to me. We've been blessed because we've worked hard at it and we've hung in there together. Martha has been there through all of my stuff in life, through all of this. And, we just don't give up. So you just go through life together.
Martha: You have to agree to disagree, you have to agree to forgive, you have to agree to overlook faults. I tell her the same piece of information like, four times on some days. She laughs.
We both have to be a little bit crazy to do this. They agree, smiling.
Holly: And to have a true partnership, it's humbling; you have to be so honest. All of your faults are out there but all of your strengths are too. It's a commitment.
Martha: Yeah! Where one falls off, the other one picks up or vice versa.
How would you describe Sironia Uptown Café?
Holly: The café holds the original, signature recipes of Sironia. It's the only place you can get the real deal: all of the original trios, Uptown’s Favorite Chicken – a grilled chicken breast topped with green onions and mushrooms that have been sautéed in butter and white wine, our signature desserts including the strawberry cake we've been known for it since we opened (fresh strawberries with homemade whipped topping!). You're welcome into the perfect place for a mid-day chat, break off of your feet, to refuel. It's in the very heart of Sironia.
(Side note: If you, like me, thought Sironia specialized in more of a light, tearoom menu, FYI! They alsoooo serve delicious burgers, and sides like perfected mashed potatoes.)
Any other stories you want to tell?
I think we're just proud of the fact that we've been open for 14 years and weathered all the storms, the economic storms and things.
Owning your own business is really hard; it just is. And you find strength from within in places you didn't even know existed and for me it's just about having faith. So, when the times are soooo difficult, personal life, store, whatever! - I just have faith. I just know that if you work as hard as you possibly can, it's just going to be okay.
What does it mean to you when people shop local?
Martha: It means a lot.
Holly: It's everything.
Martha: Because it's supporting us, our community, our dreams – more so than when you buy from a chain or big box store. I don't think people realize how much stays in your town, how it helps your town, how it improves your town, how it builds upon your town, makes it a greater place. I mean, the difference that you're making one dollar at a time, in your town, by shopping locally, local people and local businesses.
Holly: Yeah, all of our employees, when people shop with us, we're able to pay them. We're able to provide jobs for people – it's a chain reaction.
One of our employees is in school right now to become a surgical tech. She graduates in August. She also has a culinary degree; that's why she was hired originally, for baking.
Do you give to many places in town?
Martha: We're big on schools (we can't say no), we're big on CareNet, we're big on the veterans; we're big on the animals; we're big on cancer. We just say yes.
Holly: We have two interns that start with us this week – school-aged kids – from Communities in Schools. We're really excited about it.