A look into Houston's retail past

The Ghost of Sears Past

As of 2020 Sears has nearly left the Houston area. They have shutdown all but the Pasadena store, sold their outlet chain, and shutdown all area Hometown stores. It’s really a shame for a chain that once had a major influence over the Greater Houston area. Their presence in this town was built as the city grew starting downtown and expanding to the suburbs as our sprawl progressed. In 1978 Sears announced plans for three new stores along with two new malls to be built by the company’s Homart division. At FM 149 (Now TX-249) and FM 1960 would be Willowbrook Mall to the South I-10 and Mason was to be the site of Meadowbrook Mall. The plans also called for a Sears at 59 and FM 1960 but a mall was not announced.

Of the three new stores only two would be built with Meadowbrook Mall never coming to fruition. Likely due to competition from the proposed Williamsburg Mall but that’s a story for another day! Source: Houston Chronicle.

Today we’re taking a look at one of these former locations. The Willowbrook store closed in mid-2020 amid the pandemic and unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the closing sale. However to my surprise it has “reopened” under the Spirit Halloween banner. While Spirit is no newcomer to Houston area, they tend to go for smaller shops as seen in last years post.

The sign on the North side of the building is still up. This can only be seen when driving along the backside of the mall as is not visible from either highway.
I believe this entrance was at one point Customer Pickup but I couldn’t verify it. The doors are however now being used as an employee entrance for Spirit.
The grand arches seem to be unique to this Sears. Although I’m sure there are other examples. Spirit has multiple banners up, but none where Sears had their signage.
All store entrances were closed with paper signs directing you to use the mall entrance. Notice that there are a large number of fixtures left behind.
The mall front sign is a new one for me! Although I’ve seen Halloween stores in malls before they usually use banners.
Walking into the Spirit only a tiny portion of the former Sears floor space was being used as sales floor. Including the “backroom” Spirit only took just under 1/3 of the downstairs.
Some of the original fixtures were being used behind the scenes as storage, like these hangers used for products that had “slipped out of their packaging”.
I’m not sure exactly what this counter was as it was un-staffed but I think it was either makeup or more specialized costumed. This area was the back right of the sales floor, and was significantly larger than the left side. You can see through the door that a separate backroom was setup here.
This long shot really shows how big the space was compared to most other Halloween stores. This was only about half of the sales floor.
This photo was taken directly in reverse of the last one. I believe that this carpeted area was the mall entrance checkout. It’s possible that may have hosted the a small amount of the jewelry section but it was difficult to tell as the store had been well kept.
Moving over towards the back left corner of the store you can tell this was a clothing area based on the column mirror. You can also see the aforementioned escalator above the false wall.
Peeking behind the curtain again, I was able to see even more abandoned fixtures. If you look directly to the back you can see an escalator and another abandoned price check mount.
While Sears is selling the actual price check devices the signage and mounts were all left in the store.

While I was a little disappointed by the amount of the Sears that was reused, with no dressing rooms or original fixtures present I did enjoy getting a chance to check out the Willowbrook Sears at least one last time. On the way out of the mall, I noticed something was up with the Old Navy. I had seen the false front on the way in, but had figured it was a COVID related closure. Especially with the large red “We’re Open!” signs.

On closer inspection the red sign was from Old Navy Canada, and the false entrance was in Old Navy colors but was otherwise unbranded.
Looking at the note on the door, it seems that Old Navy hasn’t been paying their lease! As of this posting the store is still listed as temporarily closed. Could this be the feature of a new post? We’ll find out soon!

Checking in on Meyerland Plaza

Meyerland Plaza is one of Houston’s oldest continually operating shopping centers. Opening in 1957 as part of the Meyerland Housing Development it underwent an extensive renovation in the early 90s turning it from a more traditional outdoor mall to a department store anchored shopping center. Only a few original tenants managed to survive to the transition. The renovation added new features such as a second story and a new Venture Department Store. The mall has continued to change over the years and has been rather successful.

Starting off Meyerland has received a new sign. This is the large sign along 610, the previous large neon sign was not original as the first sign supposedly collapsed during Hurricane Carla. I believe the sign change was part of H-E-B’s agreement to become a tenant.
Moving along to the front of the plaza Bed Bath & Beyond has shut their Meyerland location leaving a oddly shaped vacancy. This was one of the store to originally include a second floor.
When the plaza was renovated the interior walkways were converted to second story loading docks. As such the first floor was given to BB&B, giving the store a T-shape.
While some larger fixtures were left behind, it looks like the space was stripped of most everything else including flooring. Within the last few years the second story of most stores had been closed.
The large blue skylights give a nice looking light, they’re not particularly stylish compared to more modern shopping centers but make up a large part of Meyerland’s design so hopefully they stick around.
To the left this space was most recently occupied by Justice’s a girls clothing store that closed in 2015. By 2018 Navy Federal Credit Union opened in a majority of the vacant space, leaving just this small portion vacant.

The old interior is still in tact with the new bank’s wall running down the middle of the former sales floor.
This space received temporary use as a BBVA branch. Originally occupying the former Meyerland State Bank, the branch (famous for one of Houston’s biggest robberies) was torn down for the new H‑E‑B, where they now lease tenant space.
This store was most recently a Motherhood Maternity. It seems to have closed around the end of 2019 as part of a bankruptcy related multiple unit closing.
Argenta Silver was a local silver jewelry shop that closed around late 2018. The space has sat vacant since then.
Next is Palais Royal which closed within the past few months. This location previously had a second story, some of which was converted to offices and a training center, the entrance to which sits to the left of the store.
Inside of Palais Royal one of the interesting features is this hallway which originally provided access to the second story.
Moving down the line to JCPenney. While this location is not listed in the closures, I’m not optimistic for Penney’s continued success.
This is approximately where the fourth entrance sat, it was pretty well covered up and is only visible by differences in the ceiling.
This jewelry case had the tile knocked off exposing the original grout which matched the brown tiles seen at the former Almeda and Northwest Penneys locations.
Looking out of the new second story entrance which was added when H-E-B opened. For a look on the other side check out these photos from earlier in the year.
These last two photos are from a few days later and show Pier One which was one of the first to close in Houston. It was recently converted into a new Five Below location
Pier One and all shops on this side of the plaza were added later after General Cinemas closed their location here.

While Meyerland Plaza has experienced lots of success thanks to proper upkeep and a good mix of stores, they are just as effected by the retail apocalypse as any other shopping center in Houston. With this new loss of anchors hopefully more space will be redeveloped.

Random Retail: Sight-Seeing down 90-A

May 18th marked the 5th birthday of Houston Historic Retail, The site existed a few years prior as a free WordPress blog. Some readers have been here since day one and I thank you all for your unending support.

Welcome back loyal reader! With the ongoing COVID crisis I haven’t really had any chances to get out and take that many photos. I have made some updates, like new photos of West Oaks Mall, and HEB Pantry Foods, along with new pages like Sunniland Furniture and Luther’s Bar-B-Q. One of the few trips I have taken during this time was out to Shiner, Texas to pick up some custom made masks. On the way there, my wife and I decided to stop in Halletsville for lunch. This was when dine-in was still banned.

Our first choice was Sonic, but we sadly found it out of business.
Next on this list was Subway but we found it closed too.
Moving forward it looked like even more of the town was closed. This Courthouse Annex started life as a Stanley Supermarket location.
After Stanley’s bankruptcy this store was eventually sold to Godwin’s. At some point the county took over the majority of the building, and it looks like the former Subway is next.
Driving up the road a bit we eventually saw some signs of like in the form of a Brookshire Brothers and a Division 1 Walmart located side by side.
It’s rare enough to find a non supercenter still operating in a town big enough for a full line grocery store. Even more rare was the unprotected Garden Center in the parking lot. Most stores discontinued the use of parking lot garden centers, and the few that keep them only operate seasonally and with a barrier to prevent theft.
The Brookshire Brothers location was even big enough to maintain a Connoco with a tiny C-Store
Heading back into town we ended up stopping at Dairy Queen which we had avoided because of the line. In retrospect the line was due to the fact that DQ was basically the only option.
Past the classic 3 pole design, this DQ had something unusual about it. Can you spot it?
This DQ has a second window! Not just has, but uses. It was tiny and was very obviously created by removing only a few bricks.
Upon finally reach Shiner, I didn’t find much of interest to photograph. Although we really just grazed the town. One neat thing was this Subway Cafe, which means they sell extra items, this one also sells Mama Deluca Pizza.

While it wasn’t the grandiose trip we wished for, Shiner was a nice drive out into the country. I have some back-loaded blog posts that will likely be appearing soon. In addition to those keep your eyes out for some themed posts. Until next time loyal reader!

Steak ‘n Shake leaves Houston and Taco Bueno Arrives

Happy Fourth of July! To celebrate lets check out two chains both on their second run in Houston. Steak ‘n Shake returned to Houston in 2008 with their Eldridge and 1960 location. With the Katy, Pearland, and Webster locations opening 2012-2013. The previous incarnation of Steak n Shake dated from the mid-1970s and would only last until 1978. While I was never able to find an exact reason for them leaving Houston, it seems that lack of proper management was the largest cause.

The signs had been removed completely by July 2nd
While the Katy location has already been leased to Eggcellence I haven’t been able to visit Pearland or Webster to see their fate.

The second run of Steak ‘n Shake is deffinetly the winner for overall length, but there are gaps when the stores closed usually around a few months at a time. There were even times when signage was removed from the building in an attempt to lease but no tenants were found. While COVID has given major issues to many restaurant chains, Steak ‘n Shake was circling the drain before any of this began. For a while now, the company has tried to convert locations from corporate ownership, to franchises with many stores sitting empty awaiting a new fate.

The building is in rough shape, and looked this way prior to closing.
The closing was hasty, with menus being left in place and only handwritten signs informing customers.

Right across I-10 from the former Steak’n Shake is where Taco Bueno has decided reentered the Houston market. As previously mentioned this is the second go around for Taco Bueno in Houston. In the 1980s the chain opened a small number of locations around Houston. These buildings had very striking adobe style architecture,  with some former locations maintaining their themeing.

The Carl’s Jr sign was reused with the star extension removed   
The exterior elements like the stars around the build were sanded away, and the entrances received new stone facades
Much of the inside of the restaurant remains the same, including the soda fountain, which still has all the same drink selections.
All the read themed seating was left in place, and after a much needing cleaning actually looks pretty nice.

Carl’s Jr. leaving the Houston area happened in a similar manner to Steak ‘n Shake, a few months ago. It’s also worth noting that while Taco Bueno was once associated with Carl’s Jr. this ended about 20 years ago. Hopefully Taco Bueno will be successful, but only time will tell, and with the current pandemic this may be a challenge.

Check out Houston Historic Retail on Facebook for updates: https://www.facebook.com/HoustonHistoricRetail

Spring Break Demolition Report: Bringing it to a Close

Today we say goodbye to the Spring Break Demolition Report, with a palty list of 3 demolitions. Saying goodbye doesn’t mean that I wont ever do this again. I anticipate a repeat next Spring Break, this was never meant to be a permanent solution but a tiding over. If you enjoyed this or not, let me know, I always appreciate feedback.

The feeder is where a neighbor’s house once stood. This development predates I-10 by about 15 years.
This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the day before this post.

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Spring Break Demolition Report: Threading the Needle

Multiple older homes from prior to 1950 today. Also featuring a return to Westway, where we’ve been at least twice this week.

With new houses on every other side, the demolition of 6406 Haskell will be filling in the gentrification gap
This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the day before this post.

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Spring Break Demolition Report: It looks like a Cheap Mad Scientists Lair

Two bits of the continuing grentification of Montrose, and we’re back in Westway on the same street.
I don’t know what’s worse, the plastic fireplace cover, or the TV console up on the rocks.
This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the day before this post.

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Spring Break Demolition Report: Included Marble Fixtures

So if this is all included as marble, what’s excluded?

4 Homes and the return of a commercial demolition today on, Houston Historic Retail

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the day before this post.

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Spring Break Demolition Report: Surrounded on all Sides by Townhomes

We see a dip today in the number of permits files. This isn’t too surprising with the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

In art, a sculpture is defined as being a structure surrounded on all sides by spaces. Would that make this home art?
This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the day before this post.

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Spring Break Demolition Report: I can see clearly now

The Garden Oaks updates continue, and HCFCD takes another bite out of Greenspoint.

I can see clearly now the vanity is gone, I can see all piping in my way!

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the day before this post.

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