WAX – West Asheville Exchange, a local Facebook group made up of 38,000+ locals and counting, is a wondrous, strange (and if we’re being honest, sometimes terrifying) online destination.
Many consider it “the front porch of Asheville,” where locals gather to exchange information, goods + services. It’s also a place where snark, strange theories, feisty rants, heartfelt anecdotes, pleas for community support, and wry commentary about everything from Asheville’s sinkhole problem to the housing market come out to play.
But how did this Facebook page earn such a devoted following in the first place? We recently sat down with the page’s founder, Mikki Mugs, to learn the group’s origin story.
“It’s been a long, wild ride. Much like Asheville’s own journey,” says Mikki, who is sometimes called the “Mom of WAX.” Just a little over ten years ago, Mikki started the group for West Asheville residents to exchange neighborly goods such as chicken eggs.
“It was a couple of thousand users in the early years, all people in the West Asheville neighborhood who knew each other. And we just started ‘snarking’ around with each other,” recounts Mikki. “We used to get together in person a lot and meet for karaoke.”
From there, the discourse of WAX evolved beyond chicken eggs into city-wide “hot button” issues — and the number of group members ballooned. “Suddenly there were thousands of comments on certain posts and thousands of people requesting to join the group.”
A decade later, the group averages hundreds of posts and comments per day and shows no signs of slowing down. While Mikki maintains that she tries to read everything posted on the page, she admits that managing a group with so many people and personalities hasn’t always been easy. “There have been times where it has been kind of crazy and a little bit mean.”
In order to keep things from getting “out of hand,” she established group guidelines and has enlisted 5-6 Facebook admins who “are smart, with a good sense of humor, and able to deal with snark” to enforce these rules.
“I always warn people, don’t say anything you wouldn’t scream in the middle of the street…. And I encourage people to use their backspace button, especially when they’re mad about something.”
For Mikki, though, the wholesome moments more than make up for the chaotic ones.
“The most rewarding part [of moderating the group] is watching the good stuff. It makes me feel like I’m proud of my kids,” Mikki shares. “The very first time [something like this] happened pops out to me. There was a girl who lived up the street who had mono and she was stuck at home for like two weeks, and all she wanted was a muffin from West End Bakery. And within twenty minutes, she ended up with like four or five muffins on her porch.”
Other WAX miracles include community members helping each other track down missing pets, wallets, jewelry, and even the missing lid of a hotdog cart. Folks also help each other find missed connections (à la Craigslist) — and there’s even a recurring series called “The WAXlorette,” which at one point charted the journey of a local woman’s tumultuous dating experiences in Asheville.
Another fun facet of WAX: locals will often volunteer their photoshop skills to spruce up their neighbors’ photographs in a funny or heartwarming manner — examples of which include adding a “Sherlock Holmes-style” cap + pipe to a photo of a local dog and creating a “Superhero” backdrop for a photo of someone’s daughter. (Pro tip: If you want to see more, just type ‘photoshop’ into the group’s search bar function).
Though there is plenty of snark to be found on WAX — and the group may sometimes behave dysfunctionally — at the end of the day Mikki feels that the page is all about community members helping each other out.
“People can often be afraid to say they need something, but the fact is people want to help each other, and that’s what community is… it’s about hands reaching out and hands being there to help… and that’s to me what WAX is about.”
“It’s like an extended family,” she adds. “Like there’s cousins there that I don’t necessarily want to invite to the barbecue, but you still wave to them and you help each other out when they need something, whether that’s mowing a lawn or fixing a hole in your roof.”