As I stand up to the grand estate, I can see multiple chimneys, Juliet balconies, and a brick path that leads to a huge set of French doors. The scene feels like something out of a fairy tale, but the towering pine trees lining the driveway bring me back to reality: I’m in Texas, two hours east of Dallas and halfway between Longview and the little town of Gilmer. Josh Smallwood, in a T-shirt and jeans, greets me with a smile and accompanies me inside his former home, now the headquarters of 80 Acre Market.
Smallwood is optimistic about the kind of business savvy that might suggest he’s over thirty, but when the 80-acre market began as a bi-monthly event last October, he wasn’t sure what to expect. In just a few weeks, his team has transformed the seven-bedroom home he shared with wife Holly and their five children into a home-goods store, shop-by-room and filled to the brim with tea towels, pillows, crockery and more. They trucked the mothers in autumn colors and forty baskets of pumpkins from Florida, seven hours away. They had games in the garden, live music and a food truck. They were ready. The question was whether society was ready for them.
80 Acre Market is inspired by the gathering places the Smallwoods enjoyed on family trips across the state. They learn that Chip and Joanna Gaines have transformed Waco in part through a couple’s Magnolia Market. However, Smallwood was skeptical about whether his sleepy industrial hometown would accept this foreign concept.
“Holi and I wanted to solve a problem we were having ourselves, and that was that there was nowhere in town to eat and there was no chain, and there wasn’t a proper place for the family to go out on the weekends where they didn’t have to pay,” Smallwood says. I guess people didn’t even know they wanted something like an 80-acre market until it was offered as an option.” Turns out, Smallwood had nothing to worry about. On opening day, over two thousand guests flocked through the wrought-iron gates, some traveling from far away. like houston.
Before things could go well for Smallwood, a lot of things were bound to go wrong. He was born in Longview, has a father in and out of prison and a mother who was a “drug business”.
“The last straw came when I was in fifth grade and a drug seizure broke down,” Smallwood says. “All the [local] The parents were taken out of that methamphetamine lab they had right next to our trailer. My older brother and I were sitting on the stairs, wondering what happens now when everyone we know is locked up in that car.”
The boys went to live with their grandparents, who did not have much but provided consistency. And the people of the city also disembarked, providing the brothers with food and taking them to and from the extracurricular schools. With high school graduation nearing, Smallwood was eager to start over, and set his sights on California. Then Holly got pregnant, and they got married and bought a modest house in the Venetian style. Smallwood worked three jobs while earning her MBA from the University of Texas at Tyler. In the end, the couple decided to reinvest in their hometown rather than relocate.
When the opportunity came up to buy a rustic framing company, Smallwood wasn’t interested in the product—photos of Western icons like John Wayne in Barnwood frames—but thought he could make it his own. In 2012, his dedicated home décor company, Smallwoods, was born. His brother Dustin signed on as General Manager.
First job application? Bring production home. Rather than sourcing the materials from New York and Indiana, Smallwood wanted something the company could manufacture almost exclusively in Texas and sell directly to consumers. He settled on wooden signs with inspirational quotes and asked a local watercolor cutting facility to make a metallic stencil that he could spray.
“It was very handcrafted, but not in a good way,” Smallwood says with a laugh.
Soon, he discovered wide-format printing and began allowing customers to upload their own quotes, art, and photos for custom framing. In 2015, the company moved to its new headquarters in Diana, Texas, and was preparing for a busy holiday season in 2017 when a fire destroyed everything.
“In a strange way, she was revitalizing,” Smallwood says. “It was a great example of what happens when all material things are gone and the only thing left is your people.”
After the fire, Smallwood was ready to fulfill a new dream: to build a campus for Smallwoods on the 80 acres where he lived. He initially bought the property because it reminded him of his grandfather’s farm, a bright spot in his difficult childhood. 80 Acre Market will be part of the larger campus and another way to sell Smallwoods merchandise. More importantly, it was Smallwood’s way of giving back to the community he helped raise.
When she arrives the Sunday before Easter, the market’s events coordinator, Jo Swanson, prepares for an Easter egg hunt, one of many free events she has organized since her niece Holly asked her to join the team. Other activities that fall under her purview include two bounce houses, face painting, and a craft station that elevates discarded Smallwoods fabrics into DIY art. On the weekends I visit there is also a petting zoo with rabbits. But what really gets Swanson excited is the new earthen mound being built with several excavators and “dinosaur bones”.
“My goal is to kind of make things go backwards — get the kids off the tablets and get them into the woods,” she says. “We are in the country, in this beautiful place – why would we make it something that it is not?”
Offers change with the season. On Father’s Day, there will be a championship and an antique car show. Hayrides will debut this fall, and the pianist is set to deliver a sing-along to shoppers during a decorated Christmas market. There is absolutely no pressure to buy anything, but you will fall short not to peek inside the store. And even if you’ve gone before, it’s worth another look.
“Every two weeks, we change everything,” lead designer, Sheila Madden, tells me as I look at a sweet tea candle in an antique cup for $18. “We don’t want anyone to feel like, ‘Oh, we went last time. We have seen it all. “
Madden’s approach to presentation design is meticulous. “A lot of store managers might think, ‘What’s our high dollar real estate zone?’ Where do we get the most sales? “It’s hard for me to see why because we change every two weeks, but I also want to make the products room-appropriate so people can see what they can do with them in their home,” she says.
This means that in the kitchen, you’ll find serving utensils and cutting boards starting at around $40. Above the mantelpiece is a giant black and white map of East Texas framed by Smallwoods for $125. Pillows and duvets are piled to the ceiling in what was once his and her wardrobe. The basic bathroom features an exclusive range of products—including body creams, bath bombs, and Texas-themed soaps—all made on the property in a conveniently converted barn called the Bath Barn.
Madden leads me to the courtyard, where a tent displays more local artisans selling everything from flowers to coffee to mocktails. She told me that it’s not uncommon for sellers to sell, and since the market doesn’t charge sellers, this is an easy way to find out. One vendor representing Rowdy Creek Ranch, a new winery and great experience down the road, hints at the potential impact 80 Acre Market could have on the surrounding area, which is still mostly farmland. In other words, there is room for growth.
When I met Smallwood later that day, he showed me where he would put a swimming hole the size of a football field. A visit to the Blanco River inspired him to line the bottom until the water was crystal clear. The swimming hole is surrounded by rolling hills that mimic Central Park in New York City. Other plans include a separate pond filled with bass and catfish, a two-mile walking path, and an orchard and farm that will supply fresh produce to the nearly four hundred Smallwoods employees. It’s a children’s playground and kids at heart, and it’s only funded by $100 million in addition to the company’s annual revenue.
We have been invited to this luxurious event in New York [for e-commerce disruptors]And people kept saying, ‘Oh, you’re running,’ and we didn’t even know what that term meant,” Smallwood says.
Creative control is so important to Smallwood, that he’s already turned down reality show offers from both Lionsgate and Magnolia Network. But he’s not against the cameras documenting his project: He’s assembled his production crew and plans to shoot behind the scenes, shooting episodes of the ten to twenty-minute reality show through the company’s social media channels.
“We’re going to bring it out in a very original way,” Smallwood says. “If Grid wanted it, there was no speculation about what it would be. It’s like, here it is; you either like it or you don’t.”
Smallwood learned that it would be easier to follow in the footsteps of, say, Chip and Joanna Gaines. He has never been to Magnolia Market in Waco, and although he is flattered when people compare it to an 80-acre market, he does not seek his market to become a mega-enterprise. He told me that he measures success not by the number of products sold, but by whether or not they bring value to society. With that said, the term “community” has become such a corporate buzzword that I feel the need to pressure Smallwood about his altruistic intentions.
“My brother and I were able to experience success, not because we were exceptionally talented, but because people helped us when we had nothing to offer them in return. That was the best crash course on how important you are as an individual in relation to how valuable you are within society if you apply yourself it,” Smallwood says. “Because we focused on this axiom, we’ve only improved and only seen success, so it feels like a no-brainer.”
I still think of his philosophy when I researched banana pudding and a really delicious invention that the food cart chef calls “brisket parfait.” My dining companion, a mother of three, notes that “this is the kind of place where parents can finish a meal,” meaning there’s enough to keep the kids entertained long enough for the adults to loosen their hair. Truthfully, it’s hard to describe an 80-acre market. It might look somewhat like a French palace or Mecca upper stabilizer fans, but 80 Acre Market doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is – and that’s exactly what its community needs.