The idea of being a “fan of retail” has gained a good deal of traction in the last couple of years. With the prevalence of Facebook groups, YouTube Channels, Discord Servers interest in retail is growing. My interest in retail began with the discovery of some of the earliest retail blogs. As retail has become more mainstream it has started to develop an “aesthetic”, based mostly around nostalgia. This aesthetic extends to an interest in abandoned things and Vaporwave. Fun stuff, but it’s not what really got me started with retail. What really got me started, all the way back in the days of dial-up, was an interest in unique design.

The Sam’s Club is the only original tenant to receive any major updates while keeping the original theming. The updates includes the new paint, added pickup canopy, and additional/updated signage.

Today we’ll be talking about The Portofino Shopping Center. Located off of I-45 in Shenandoah, Texas, Portofino is closer to The Woodlands, than Houston City limits. Although it does fall inside of the Houston Metro Area. My first encounter with this shopping center must have been around the about 2000. It would have been with my grandfather on to his home town of Groesbeck, a tiny berg East of Waco. The drive required us to take I-45, which was at the time a small two lane highway. Driving through what was mostly pine forest, I noticed something in the distance a massive shopping center. The trees mostly obstructed the view, but you could tell that this was a MAJOR project for what was at the time a mostly rural area.

In my opinion, Sam’s did an excellent job of updating the gas station. Especially as the new colors are in line with their new pallet.

Speeding down the highway chauffeured by my grandfather in his ’88 Ramcharger. The height of the car helped to make up for the somewhat obstructed view. The further along we followed the shopping center the thinner the tree line became. With more and more of the brilliant architecture peeking through the green curtain. At this point most of the buildings had yet to be painted. Although a primer coat had been applied making all the unopened shops shine brilliantly white. The huge spires, and detailed plaster work burned an image of the unfinished leviathan into my brain. One that I would be sure to look for on our next trip to Groesbeck.

The TJ-Maxx was originally a Conn’s while Petsmart is one of the original tenants.

After my first glance at the Portofino Shopping Center, every trip North gave me a chance to check out at the developing complex. My grandfather who was also intrigued by the center kept me updated with the occasional newspaper articles he would encounter as an avid Chronicle reader. On one of our trips we took the exit and attempted to drive up to the view the shopping center. Unfortunately at the time I-45 was undergoing a huge expansion, which meant access to the store was quite difficult. We ended up getting back on the highway and I never again had occasion to actually stop and visit Portofino again until this summer.


I think this is Petsmart’s approximation of a Roman Priest.

Which would make this a Pur-iestess? I’m not sure…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


My fiancee and I were on my way to a get together, we made plans to buy shoes meaning I only had a short amount of time from the parking lot. Some eagle eyed readers may notice that I had to leave some stores out. Some like Old Navy, have been redesigned and no longer resemble their original Italian inspired design. Others like Stein Mart, I was just not able to get a good shot of due to the weather and time limits. After taking these photos I did some research into the background of the shopping center. I had remembered some of the story from my grandfather’s Chronicle Article updates, those memories had mostly faded.

This centerpiece of the shopping center, this section was the first to open. Unfortunately the trees seemed to cause an issue with my phone’s panorama mode. This portion of the architecture is inspired by Doge’s Palace.

What I found on the Portofino Shopping Center turned out to be quite an interesting story. The brainchild of Jim Fisher, a developer who was inspired to build this after a trip to Italy. Some of the special features included a bell tower, fountain, actual imported limestone; all of which are located in the central shopping center shown above. The shopping center also had 8 Gondolas imported from Italy soon after the grand opening. This is something I actually remembered from my grandfather’s updates. My grandfather was quite interested in trying out the Gondola ride, until seeing the price of $10/ticket.

Michaels and DSW both look much nicer than their normal counterparts.

The Portofino Shopping Center held its grand opening celebration on August 26, 2000. Some of the major opening day tenants included Bucca Di Beppo, Famous Footwear, Men’s Wearhouse, and Stein Mart. This first wave of stores would quickly be followed by a secondary set of stores. In the original section stores were divided into two generations. Those which took part in the grand opening and those that did not. All of these stores were designed to the original shopping center specifications in terms of decor and design. For the most part many spaces seemed to be leased prior to the grand opening.

PGA Tour Superstore was most recently a Sports Authority which was converted from an Oshman’s. This was likely one of the last Oshman’s built. This represents a “second generation” store.

Stores such as Michael’s were “first generation” stores. While, Oshaman’s (Now PGA Tour Superstore) is an example of a second generation store. It is difficult to tell first and second generation stores apart, generally the only difference being the opening date. According to newspaper articles the majority of the budget was spent constructing the original section. This is also apparent when visiting the shopping center. The smaller tenants, which were added on to the second generation stores, were not nearly as elaborate earlier designs.

Although slightly nicer compared to most shopping centers, the ends do not match the center.

With staggered openings, and a blown budget the developers began to tone down their designs. This is more apparent when you realize that the arches are not even finished on the right side of Buffalo Wild Wings in the photo above! Although built on a smaller budget, the unique aspect is still kept with this design. The arches and bell towers, all add to a unique beauty not really seen in modern shopping centers. Influenced by classic design and architecture, Portofino does not seem to simulate the Italian Shopping experience, but rather to create an experience.

These buildings are closer to I-45, they were part of the original opening of stores.

Overall my first visit to Portofino was a positive one. I enjoyed getting to see all of the stores up close. Although as far as I could tell the Gondolas had not been run in quite some time. The Portofino Shopping Center lives on as a monument to unique, high budget retail architecture. I should be back soon, with a Halloween Post (Time Permitting) in the meantime check out Houston Historic Retail’s Facebook for more occasional updates.

Greetings readers, today I’m leaving you with a short intro to a new concept. Rather than writing out one long post, I’ve been working on three posts approximately 33% the size of a regular post. I call this concept a Retail Mini. As a bit of a teaser one of these topics, will be something we end up revisiting. Any guesses as to which one it is?

The 2nd Chili’s in Houston

For readers close to myself in age (lets say late 20s), you may have heard of Carillon- likely from older siblings who described it as being somewhat of a neat place to bring a date about 10 years ago, but not much to do during the day. Your parents might have a different memory, as when Carillon opened in the mid ’70s, it resembled an anchor-less mall. As of 2019, lots has changed at Carillon: what little was left to do during the day 10 years ago is now completely gone. With the shopping center only consisting of restaurants, bars, and a handful of office spaces.

Today we’ll be talking about one of the few original tenants left in Carillon, Chili’s Bar and Grill. Opening in 1978 Chili’s was built on previously undeveloped land in Carillon West (as the entire complex was known at the time) shopping center. The earliest tenants had moved to Carillon approximately 4 years prior. At the time Chili’s was still a local chain. While their first location was admittedly in Dallas, the second was in Houston (At the corner of Fountain View and Richmond). Opening only a year after the first, Chili’s Carillon had a local feel and legitimate local roots. The Carillon location was the second Chili’s location to open in Houston, and the third in the nation.

 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Chili’s. As of lately the service doesn’t reflect the price, and the quality of the food seems to vary visit to visit. The Carillon Chili’s is an exception to that. Now I’m not saying the service at this one is stellar, or the food should be Michelin star rated. However, it reminds me of how much better Chili’s used to be. One of the first things you notice approaching this Chili’s is the strange looking elongated entrance, requiring you to walk up a ramp to gain access.

This Chili’s gets busy, and that sign is not just outdated information. In many of the old reviews and articles I pulled researching for this post, the reviewers mentioned how busy this location could be. While no longer the the hour plus waits the 70s and 80s had, coming during lunch and dinner rush will likely require a few minutes to prep a table. I tried my best to come during a non-busy time, but as your about to see was limited in what photos I could take due to the setup of the dining room.

This was the view from our table. While it might look like I wasn’t able to capture much, this is actually the majority of the dining room. There are a couple of booths behind me, and a small bar section which has a few tables towards the front-right. However most of the right side of the restaurant is taken up by the kitchen. Take note of the staircases one leading upstairs one leading down.

Looking down the stairs, reveals more dining. Both booths and tables are down here. Having sat down here before I can attest it does get busy enough to use this section, however when I was here it was closed. Referring back to the first photo, the ramp leading up to the entrance helps to illustrate the split-level concept used by this location. While you are on the ground level here, the only doorway in an emergency exit.

While the downstairs dining room went unused, the upstairs dining room was in use. This prevented me from being able to sneak even a couple of photos. One unique feature I did want to capture was the skylight. It was an overcast day when I shot these, nevertheless these skylights still let in a great deal of light. The original Chili’s locations placed a great deal on emphasis on self-described “Garden House” design. While I don’t have an exact definition for what they meant, I think it’s fair to say they had an affinity for natural light at the early locations.

Back at the table, moving the camera to the right, you can see the kitchen. There are two main sections of the kitchen. One is closed off and is the main prep area. This is accessed by the doorway in the far right of the image. The other portion of the kitchen is for final assembly and hot holding of prepared dishes. This portion is open to the dining room, and is somewhat visible straight ahead in the photo. This actually proves to be interesting as you can clearly see which dishes are next.

Finally we reach the patio seating. I honestly can not think of another Chili’s that has a real patio. (The one in the Galleria doesn’t count) Chances are my limited experience with Chili’s means that I just haven’t seen another one. Still it provides a nice seating option during the more temperate months. My bad photo was due to the fact that even the patio was actually quite busy on this overcast day.

I really recommend anyone with an interest in Houston’s retail scene visit this Chili’s. From what I can tell this is the first location that the restaurant ever had purpose built. It has a lot of character you don’t see in modern restaurant design, which makes for a unique experience.

The Future of Going Krogering

Courtesy: Google Streetview

In the modern age of grocery innovation the Houston area has gained somewhat of a reputation as a test bed. Be it Walmart’s High-Tech Tomball Prototype or Rebuilding a tiny HEB Pantry into 2 stories or even a Wholesale Club catered specifically to Hispanics. Houston has made strides from its image of a barren food desert populated by former Safeways to a unique mix of local chains and a limited selection of national chains. One of those high tech innovations is the self-scan or “Scan Bag Go” option at Kroger. It’s important to know these devices are still in the testing phase.

When I stopped at Kroger, I was doing so out of convenience, and did not know this was an available option. While Kroger is likely not the first name to come to mind when asked about high tech stores, they do generally out preform Randall’s who actually removed their self-checkouts 3 years ago only to go back on that decision earlier this month. Eager to try out new technology I grabbed one of the “Scan Bag Go” devices thinking it would be faster than going through the self-checkout.

Before you can get started, you are required to enter your Kroger Plus Card information. Entering this was a bit annoying as I don’t shop at Kroger regularly and haven’t had a card since three phone numbers ago. Has anyone else noticed that Kroger is the last store REALLY pushing the physical card/phone number route instead of an app, even Sams Club lets you utilize an app based card.  After struggling to remember an old unused home phone number I finally unlocked the device.

For the most part when scanning items I had the device in one hand and the product in another. However this proved difficult when taking photos. Kroger’s handheld unit offers a variety of buttons. Most buttons are self explanatory, however A-D were not used when I tried the device. For the most part, I only used the Scan button to activate the device’s built-in laser.

Immediately after scanning an item your “Estimated Total” is updated. The savings on the left reflect whatever Plus Card discounts you’re getting. The total items count at the top right updates with each new item. However, you’re limited to viewing one item at a time. The scroll buttons did allow me to look at other items. Despite the name the estimated totally did turn out to be my final total, and honestly that felt a little dishonest on Kroger’s part.

The carts had plastic mounts attached to hold on to the scanning devices. While these were convenient the placement puts the screen away from the shopper when pushing the cart. Maybe this it to prevent people looking at the screen of the device while pushing the cart. Eventually I just put it face up in the basket. I could see this inconvenience causing shoppers to walk out without realizing the device was in their cart.

When finally making it up front, you’re required to scan into one of the self checkouts. You use the payment terminals there to complete the transaction. One side note, the “Running Total” varied wildly from the Estimated Total. The difference in price was great enough (about double my original total) that I asked for help before realizing you need to hit the Pay Now button to have all discounts reapplied.

Overall I didn’t enjoy using the device. It didn’t make my shopping trip any faster. It just changed when I did my scanning and bagging. To pull the Sam’s Club comparison again, this could have easily been done with an app on my phone. At least then linking it to a Kroger card would make a little bit more sense.

What West Oaks Mall Could Have Been

In a discussion I had with a friend of mine a while back we wondered what West Oaks Malls would have been like, if the West Oaks area never took an economic downturn. What started as an extremely high class mall including the nicest anchors in the area, has devolved to a shell of itself. In the conversation we made comparisons to Barton Creek Square.

Immediately there were some basic similarities. Mostly that Barton Creek was a nice area, and was developed around the same time as the West Oaks area. Some other similarities include the placement of a Greenbelt park very close to the malls (although Houston’s really is a reservoir it is the closest we’ve got to a Greenbelt park) and both areas are similarly distant from the downtown of their respective cities.

Not knowing what to fully except I circled the mall to try to get a feel for it. One of the first things I noticed was that this mall had also gone through what looked like a mid-2000’s “Hill Country”-esque remodel similar to West Oaks.

While researching earlier I had found some comments that said Barton Creek Square had low traffic and was on the verge of becoming a dead mall. This made me even more excited. Generally when a mall dies out, the anchor will see a steep decline in business. This wasn’t the case at Barton Creek where the anchors seemed to be doing decent business.

I noticed a former Sear which had only closed a few months ago. This was Austin’s final Sears location and like many others was not closed because of performance issues, rather its lease was up.  The fact that the parking around Sears was taken put the final nail in the coffin for the dead mall idea. It seemed what I found had were overzealous comments saying that Barton Creek Square was “next on someones list” to become a dead mall.

Looking inside they were still disassembling the store fixtures. It seems that the new tenant has plans for whatever is going in here.

Moving around the exterior of the mall I found new development . A nicely equipped AMC theater and a Cheesecake Factory make this mall seem almost apt for comparison to First Colony as opposed to West Oaks. However, these additions look to be from around the same era as the Edward’s theater/lifestyle section that replaced the former Mervyn’s at West Oaks. The additions in Houston were also supposed to bring fine dining to West Oaks, but only ended up attracting an Applebees which closed recently.

Nordstrom, is a high end department store in a suburban mall. Our first hint of luxury really, while West Oaks never played host to a Nordstrom their equally nice level of stores at the start does help to draw some comparisons. Something interesting to note is that this Nordstrom replaced a Montgomery Ward location, meaning the tenants in the mall have become more upscale overtime.

The Dillards had a unique look. Even from the doors you could tell this location is much healthier than its Houston based counterpart. The trees were trimmed, and the doors were not covered in shutters. The West Oaks location was converted into a Clearance Center a few years back, and is now run more like a Ross than a department store.

My last outside shot should be a familiar scene for anyone who has been to West Oaks mall. This Macy’s was originally built as a Foley’s, around the same time as the West Oaks, and Greenspoint Mall locations. Meaning all three locations, look pretty much the same. I did try looking for the terracotta hand print tiles West Oaks has, but could not find any.

The interior of the mall was relatively busy. I tried to do my best and wait for photos without anyone in them, but this really limited what shots I could take. Notice here the original tile being pulled up from under the carpet upstairs. This mall is owned by Simon and it seems that they’ve done a complete 180 with their renovation strategy, going from patchwork pieces to complete tear down.

I had to get a shot of this mirror wall entrance to JCPenney. While this mall is far from dead, there are some 80s design elements alive and well. Unfortunately due to time constraints I didn’t get to go into JCPenney

Finally a shot of the makeup department and elevator from the former Foley’s. For the most part these stores were exact copies of each other. There was even a little bit of parquet flooring left upstairs here. While Barton Creek Square does have many difference to the actual physical design of the mall, such as a second floor, and completely different layout. I think a comparison to West Oaks is fair, and does help to drive the point home a mall’s success is just as dependent on what’s around it versus what’s inside of it.

Well that’s it for this edition of Retail Mini’s. If you liked this, please let me know so I know to keep doing them. Feedback is what keeps me going! By the way did you know we have a Facebook and YouTube?

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Take yourself back to the early 2000s, now try to remember, were there any Walmart locations inside the Loop? There was a location just where the canceled Bay City Freeway stub jabs in to 610, but that was on the outside of the loop. In fact, until the 2012 opening of the Heights Super Center, there was no Walmart presence inside of Loop 610. That meant if you needed clothing, a TV, and snacks all in the same trip, you were stuck with going to Target. While over the past few years Walmart has increased their inner loop presence, they still don’t match the number of Targets within 610. With the large number of Targets, and lack of any real competition. Target’s Inner-Loop stores aren’t exactly the nicest.

The exception to this rule has always been The Galleria Target. While not actually located in the mall, the reputation of the Galleria as Houston’s premier shopping district this location means this location gets spill over traffic. While some of the customers do live in the surrounding “River Oaks” areas, a large portion of traffic comes from international shoppers hitting up The Galleria.

The exterior of this location received its first major exterior update since P-Fresh added a dedicated grocery section in the early 2010s. Target seems to be going very minimalist with their new design.

Almost all text has been removed from the building, however you’d have no issues identifying this as a Target. Some small text based signs do still exist for “Order Pickup” and “CVS/Pharmacy” but those are hidden off to the sides and under other design elements.

The plastic carts are on the way out! Target was one of the first retailers to introduce a completely plastic cart. While they preformed well initially, the bodies were subject to cracking which rendered them useless.

The new carts look somewhat similar to the carts Target had prior to the plastic ones. They use a Metal frame with a plastic body.

Entering the store you can immediately tell that something has changed in this store. It look me a bit to figure it out, what exactly was different here. Many of the full size floor to ceiling displays in the girls section have been removed allowing a view all the way to the back wall.

Across from the Dollar Spot, we find the former Food Avenue. During the P-Fresh Remodel a separate Starbucks counter was added. After the most recent remodel, the Food Avenue was removed. The Soda and ICEE machines are still there and operating. The Starbucks counter might sell the cups for those, but it was too busy to get a picture.

Right outside of the former Food Avenue, and in what was Women’s Clothing, is the new location of Target’s Seasonal Merchandise. For many years the Galleria has had their Seasonal selections all the way in the furthest corner of the store.

 

Notice the new flooring replacing the carpet. This flooring is just used the Seasonal Section, to help with the fact that the displays are all static and can be moved.

Stepping out of Seasonal and looking to the back of the store, notice that what used to be Women’s Clothing all the way back and to the right, is now Kitchen Supplies. Women’s Clothing does continue to take up the space on the left side of the aisle.

This back corner of the store was once the Fitting Rooms. However, with clothing no longer occupying any space on the exterior edges the Fitting Rooms had to go too.

This back wall display is REALLY big. Especially for something you’d see in a Department Store. You wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to reach up and grab the plants on the top shelf, but I guess Target wants to build a tall clientele.

The “Bat Phones” have survived another remodel at Target. The last time I needed to use one, the associate informed me that they are timed as soon as someone picks up the phone. Presumably trying to guilt me in to never using it again.

The Toy Section received something I haven’t seen in a while, Toys mounted for play! Not just the obvious buttons and spinners on the shelf, but the yellow and pink voice transmitting pipes. These used to commonplace in Toy Stores, good to see places like Target picking up the slack.

Pet Care has been moved next to the Hardware department, both of which were given new signage. This signage was first rolled out to the Super Target locations, and is now being implemented on all remodels.

This was taken with my back towards the groceries facing down the center aisle. The lights and displays are all new, it looks a bit cluttered from far away. Although close up it’s not that bad.

The central displays help me to make the case that Target is stepping up their display game. They’ve always been ahead of the curve, being one of the first stores to introduce “body positive” mannequins, back in the late 2000s. Now they’ve upgraded their displays to something you’d see at a mid-level department store. At this point, it honestly looks better kept than the last couple of Palais Royals I’ve been to.

Heading around to the front of the store, the path breaks into two forks near the Pharmacy. The makeup selection at this Target has always been upscale, but it looks like they’re going for a store-in-a-store feel.

The reason the path breaks into the aforementioned forks is to make room for another central display. However the one in the photo above is actually from back in the center aisle.

Heading out to the checkouts, notice everything has been replaced. From the belts to the lighting. The only original elements appeared to be things like the battery holder, and drink coolers.

 

Going to this Target was an experience. It felt more high-class then I had felt at a Target in the past 15 or so years. It felt more like Target did when I was a kid, with the glaring lack of a Snack Bar. It makes me greatly sad that I can’t get popcorn at Target anymore, but the future does look nice.

 

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The Astrodome served as the first home for Houston’s one and only MLB team from 1965 to 1999. As far as baseball stadiums went, it was incredible at the time. The Astrodome was fully enclosed, air conditioned, and provided a ton of food options for hungry stadium goers. At the time of construction, the Astrodome helped set the standards for modern baseball stadiums.

In 2000 The Astros made the decision to move from the Astrodome to the newly built Enron Field. Just as the Astrodome had nearly 50 years earlier, Enron Field was full of innovation, including a retractable roof, outdoor A/C, and increased retail opportunities.

I recently had occasion to catch an Astros game. While I’ve been to Minute Maid Park a few times before, most of my memories the Astros are in the Astrodome. Making the trip up to our nosebleed seats provided many opportunities for surprise. As I learned that retail operations in baseball stadiums had changed from the simple Hot Dog, and Beer Stands I remembered as a child.

One of my first surprises was Shake Shack! A newcomer to the Houston area, the New York based chain has been beloved by many. Growing from a single Galleria location in 2016 to four by 2018. Constantly compared to In-N-Out Burger, who has yet begin any construction in Houston as of May 2019. The menu has most of the normal Shake Shack offerings, but is not complete.

Directly across from Shake Shack was a Pluckers. An Austin transplant, both Pluckers and Shake Shack are extremely popular with younger crowds. While the overall attendance at Minute Maid is mixed in age, the customers in this area skewed to the younger demographics. Pluckers was extremely busy which made it difficult to see the menu.

Located above Shake Shack and Pluckers was Torchys. While the sign might look incomplete the “T” on the left was so bright, that I couldn’t fully frame it in the photo. Located in a small corner the area is dark, this along with the bright signage help to match a typical Torchys.

I was able to catch a picture of the menu at Torchy’s. Showing that the menu is somewhat limited compared to the selections at a normal location. Although since it is a Torchy’s one has to wonder if they have any secret menu items.

 

One of the things I wasn’t expecting was the numerous carts around the stadium. I mostly remembered carts as selling only alcohol for those who didn’t want to wait in a food line. This is no longer the case, and in addition to selling alcohol many carts now sold food that was exclusive to the carts.

A great example is, Bahama Buck’s a familiar sight to anyone from Lubbock has been expanding their presence in the Houston area over the past five years. They had multiple stands around Minute Maid. All of which shaved their own ice. While the selection of flavors is limited compared to a normal Bahama Bucks, they have more than you’d expect!

Box Frites, Box Frites! Your parents cut you off!

This house brand sold fries, and for those like me who can only afford nosebleed seats, it’s one of your only options for fries on the top level. The name did remind me of Red Cow Entertainment’s BoxMac.

This was a big surprise to me. The La Michoacana Meat Market chain of stores, began in Houston. While they’re relatively well know for as a grocery store, I was unaware that they sold ready made food. This stand was located on the Concourse of the former Union Station.

Now with all the options available to a retail connoisseur such as myself, you might be surprised to learn that what I really wanted to eat was just a normal hot dog and some popcorn. Part of this is due to the enormous up charge all of these chain establishments take on when entering any kind of closed venue. Part of this was also nostalgia for Dome Dogs, which are not served at Minute Maid.

While some standard concession stands exist in the park, many have been updated. With half of the stalls being replaced by Order Kiosks and the other half a pickup stand. As far as I could tell there was little to no consistency between locations. Some of the hot dogs were Nolan Ryan Beef, some weren’t. It was just luck of the draw wherever you ended up.

One of the stands even used H-E-B Bake Shop Hot Dog Buns. I wasn’t expecting this and chose to buy my hot dog from this stand. Figuring that a store brand bun would be slightly better than whatever the default offering was. Unfortunately, my hot dog did not stand up to a Dome Dog. It could have been rose tinted glasses ruining my hot dog, but I’m guessing the quality just wasn’t that great.

 

Overall this proved to be a fun time, even though the ‘Stros lost, and the hot dog sucked. Going to a baseball game is fun because of the people you’re around. Not the food you eat! If you’ve liked my Facebook Page you had some idea that this post was coming. If you haven’t liked it, consider doing so. My Facebook page gets some extra content.

Growing up on the West Side of town meant when you wanted to go shopping you generally had to drive a bit. Around the time I entered Middle School my family moved from rural Richmond, to a suburb near Clodine. Driving in East on 1093, meant we would usually end up in one of the many shopping centers around Highway 6 and Westheimer. My family moved again shortly after I started college giving me little reason to visit the area. I took some time to visit the area, and see how things are going.

Originally an Eckerd later a CVS, the prime location helped attract a new tenant quickly.

 

This was one of the first Stripes locations in Houston. At one point Stripe’s owned the Ice Box brand as well. Notice the original atm sign.

 

Most of the decor in the store remains unchanged from this store’s days as a Stripes.

 

The former Laredo Taco Co. remains mostly unchanged although they now go by the name “Jack’s Taqueria”

Due to living in the city now, my journey began heading Westbound. I noticed the former Eckerd turned CVS at Westheimer and Eldridge has closed, and is in the process of being converted to La Michocana. I also got a chance to stop at what was one of the first Stripe’s locations I ever saw. It has since been converted into an Ice Box location, but still mostly resembles Stripes.

Once a Big Kmart, after a decent vacancy Burlington moved in. They closed in early 2019 moving to Eldridge.

 

The Builder’s Square was subdivided with Floor and Decor predating the Trampoline Park by at least 5 years.

 

These buildings were an Office Depot on the left, and a Service Merchandise on the right. The S.M. later became a Conn’s which moved across the street when Academy expanded.

Making it to Highway 6, we begin with the shopping center at the South East corner. This shopping center has seen major changes with no original anchor tenants from it’s late 90’s opening surviving past the mid-2000s. The three restaurants, and some smaller tenants are original. However, they recently lost Party City and Burlington to the newer center on Eldridge. With the Burlington replacing a Gander Mountain.

The label scar from Circuit City still remains to this day.

 

Across the street the Sears Auto Center sits abandoned.

 

This started life as a Pier One, later Goodwill moved in. They would stay here until Office Depot vacated.

Moving down Highway 6 a bit, vacant commercial space is abundant. Strangely for the most part the vacant spaces shown here are newer. Vacancy at most of these shopping centers hit its peak in the early 2000s. While it’s not at the level it was back then, things are noticeably light.

I spent many evenings at this Joe’s Crab Shack. It was a fun place for my parents to get cheap drinks, and feed us essentially for free.

 

The former James Coney Island, was recently vacated. Some time in late 2018.

The Northern side of these shopping centers has always been very food focused. With the exception of Chili’s, pretty much every food choice on the North side has changed. It was fun to go back and visit somewhere I had spent so much time at during my youth. Some aspects haven’t changed, but many have. For the most part the changes mark the changes in the neighborhood.

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Where have I been? Where have you been loyal reader? I’ve been out and about visiting Broken Chains, like House of Pies. In fact, I’d recommend visiting that link I left above. It has a direct connection to Houston, and me. In fact, here it is one more time. http://actionsdower.blogspot.com/

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When the new year rolls around, it invites a certain amount of reflection. Unfortunately I’m a procrastinator. Which means I didn’t really think of a New Years resolution until the end of January.

This reflection led me to realize that this blog is no longer and un-monitored sub project of mine. Rather, I have at least a couple of regular readers linked via click-throughs from other blogs. So I wanted to extend a thanks to everyone who not only reads my blog, but especially to those who return to check for updates. I know they are somewhat sporadic, but I do can only work on this website as my schedule allows. If you’re looking for a slightly more modern way to check for updates, I ask that you give Houston Historic Retail a like on Facebook. I’m going to resolve to have more regular updates on Facebook to make up for the occasional downtime here.

In the mean time, please enjoy another addition of Random Retail!

Over Christmas, I was invited by a friend to visit Mobile, AL. I happened upon this Golden Arches McDonald’s by accident, while trying to visit a “Dirt Cheap” location across the street.

Most of the photos I took, were spur of the moment. Anything I hadn’t seen before that caught my attention. I’m not sure if the McDonalds was an original Golden Arches that was remodeled, but the building had the long layout most modern stores have.

Near our hotel was a Winn Dixie. While they never made it to Houston proper they maintained a few locations South of town.

I can’t ever recall having stepped foot inside a Winn Dixie. They had a measurable Texas presence, albeit focused more towards Dallas. This location was very near our Hotel, in a suburb of Mobile known as Tillman’s Corner. The area is quite low income. This particular store features a “Dollar Shop” Which was just an extremely wide aisle, with shelving removed selling this at a Dollar price point. Honestly, if I wasn’t in dire need of some ibuprofen I likely would not have bought anything there. Despite their location, and obvious target demographic with the Dollar Shop, most items were extremely expensive.

This Rite Aid was recently closed, due to the failed merger of Walgreens and Rite Aid.

Rite Aid is another chain that I have never been to. As far as I know, they never made it into Texas. There were many former Rite Aid locations in Mobile. I believe that all were purchased by Walgreens after their failed merger. Many locations are in the process of being remodeled. However, Walgreens already had a presence in Mobile. Meaning there were some duplicate locations which were closed.

Despite it’s updated Walgreens signage, this still looks very much like a Rite-Aid.

 

This staggered checkout, looks almost like a Walgreens out of the late 70’s or Early 80’s.

 

I do miss Krystal, they have been in and out of Houston a few times. Never really catching on here.

You better believe, I did stop and get some delicious steamed hams, pardon me steamed sliders. This proved to be a more difficult endeavor then you would think. Requiring a trip to a second location, as this one had run out of buns. Then arriving at the second location, only to find it highly understaffed to handle the rush caused by the bun shortage.

There are many former Stuckey’s locations throughout the South. They can be identified by their distinct architecture.

Trying to fit in a stop by Frostop on the way to Mobile meant that I wasn’t able to really make nay other retail based stops on the drive-in. On the way back, I decided I wanted to try and seek out a Stuckey’s I hadn’t been to before. I had the perfect spot in mind. A newly opened location, converted from an independent C-Store with Exxon gasoline. A while back I had a discussion of, What makes a Stuckey’s a Stuckey’s with my friend Zap Actiondowser. We found that new Stuckey’s locations were being built. I had noticed a billboard in Louisiana touting this location as Stuckey’s return to the state.

In reality this store was just an Exxon, which sold some Stuckey’s branded merchandise, hot “food”, and trashy souvenirs.

 

Gator Heads are common at places that sell souvenirs in Louisiana. The only other Stuckey’s I have a memory of going to was in East Texas, and they had them too.

 

For the most part the prepackaged Snacks looked like normal gas station fare. Not everything was Stuckey’s brand though.

 

I was tempted to buy a Stuckey’s Mug. I was split between the old fashioned one, and the billboard one. In the end my indecisiveness led me to not buying one.

 

Located in an unassuming strip center, the original Raising Cane’s is easy to miss.

One other stop I made we made was the original Raising Cane’s location. It’s located in a small strip center just outside the North Entrance to Louisiana State University. Reflecting its LSU heritage the outside of the building is adorned in Gold and Purple, and the interior features luxurious tiger skin seating.

I really liked this Chicken Fingers sign. I’m not much of a drinker, so I would totally hang this in a man cave as opposed to a Budweiser sign. Not pictured was a modern “Open” neon sign.

 

The old Wolf Bakery Sign sits out in the open. This is featured in modern Cane’s locations via a Cane’s mural in the same theme, and a small plaque explaining the inspiration.

To round it all out I wanted to include a picture of the North Main Sears from while it’s still around.

I was recently able to collaborate with Youtuber Scott Dailey who has made some interesting and unique videos around the Houston area. We made a trip out to Simonton where an old San Antonio and Aranssas Pass bridge still stands, providing a connection to a railroad which was abandoned nearly 20 years ago. I was able to provide some history, and got some footage using my drone.

The bridge, and rail line were purchased in 1992 by Metro with plans for commuter rail.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

To kick off the new year, let’s try something new. We’re going to take a look at a Broken Chain. I was inspired to do this by my friend Zap Actiondowser who runs the blog Broken Chains, which I highly recommend all my readers go check out. A while back he featured a blog post on the Frostop Root Beer chain of restaurants. Admittedly I had never heard of the chain prior to Zap’s post. After reading his description of their root beer I was immediately hooked on the idea of getting my hands on some. I was able to try and love the bottled version sold at Rocket Fizz, I knew I had to get some from a fountain.

The Frostop in Baton Rouge

As luck would have it, my fiancee and I were invited to Mobile, Alabama to visit some friends over Christmas. The drive to Mobile required us to drive through Louisiana, and thus a stop at Frostop was in order! Checking Google Maps I found that there was Frostop was right off of I-10, in Baton Rouge. This would bode well as we had a deadline to meet for hotel check in. Approaching the building, I noticed that this particular location was still sporting their original mug sign. You could tell that the place had seen better days. While scouting out the location, pictures from earlier this year indicate the signage was in better shape earlier this year.

Maybe a bad storm dented the cup?

Making my way towards the building, I noticed something peculiar. Rather than an exact date the signage sports a “Since The 1950’s”. Frostop Root Beer has a history on its own website tracing the company back to 1926. While I understand that this location may have originated in the 50s, I still found it odd. Looking around the building, exterior features had been updated in a patch work fashion. Only giving attention to the spots that truly needed it. This would make it easy to believe to the casual passer by that Frostop was not a chain, but rather a single restaurant.

We made it to Frostop at around 4:30 PM. The inside was pretty quiet, with only a few diners. The menu features some curious additions to suit local tastes, namely the Po-Boys and Fried Fish dinners. Which I doubt showed up at the original Springfield, OH location. To keep things simple, I ordered a Chili Dog and my fiancee order a Chili Cheese Dog, we split an order of fries, and a large root beer. The order was taken and put into a modern POS system. Which printed a receipt at the grill for the cook to start. Despite the luddite-esque exterior the interior was jammed pack with technology, including multiple tablets for Uber Eats and the like. We were given our root beer told to have a seat, and that our number would be called shortly.

For Decoration Only

I tasted the root beer, which despite the photo above, was served out of a modern Coca-Cola Fountain. The root beer was served from a mostly unlabeled dispenser, which someone had cut a Barqs tag for leaving only “Root Beer” behind. I was immediately concerned about not being served the authentic Frostop Root Beer. There was something different about it from the bottled root beer. The flavor was still the same. However, it did not come across quite as strong as the bottled. I’m guessing this is down to someone not properly setting the syrup to carbonated water ratio.  After waiting for a few minutes, I got antsy and in the interest of time decided to take some quick pictures of the dining room, rather than waiting until after the meal.

This is called Terazzo flooring, and, I had to look the name up.

With plenty of time to wait, I found bits and pieces of the old restaurant starting to show through. There were many decorative root beer barrels, one of which was pictured above. However, none were original Frostop barrels. The laminate tiles were worn down in places like the front of the counter, and near the doorways. The seating was tired and torn up. Being just a few blocks North of LSU you would think that this was a popular college destination. However, for the most part we only saw small families or single diners throughout our time here. After about 20 minutes, a family who had ordered after us, received their food. Upon going to the front counter to find out where our two chili dogs were, I was told they had “completely forgotten about that”, and they’d get it out ASAP.

Well ten minutes later, our food finally emerged. Spending 30 minutes at Frostop was definitely something we did not plan for. Meaning I had to wolf this chili dog down. The Hot Dog, and the bun were delicious. The Hot Dog tasted like it may have been a full beef dog, and the bun was toasted on the griddle. The Chili however was another story. It tasted basically identical to any other fast food chili you could imagine. The closest analogue would be the hot dog chili served at fellow root beer based competitor A&W.  We ended up taking the fries to go, they were just standard kind of chunky fries. They could have absolutely used some salt.

Sitting in our booth in the back corner of the restaurant gave me some time to admire the view. The parking lot of Frostop literally backs up to these two houses. I also noticed that this location may have been possibly converted from a drive-in into a diner. My reasoning behind this is the distinctive slanted roof that Frostop used on their other drive-ins, and although I didn’t get a picture of it the bathrooms were very obviously originally outdoors as evident by the windows, and heavy doors.

Sadly the sign no longer rotates, although considering how often we get hurricanes in the Gulf Coast it’s surprising it’s still standing.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience chronicling a broken chain, and while I wouldn’t necessarily make a trip out to Baton Rouge, just for Frostop. I could see myself stopping to get some root beer. Once again, I would like to give a shout out to Zap Actiondowser and his blog Broken Chains. I really recommend checking it out, along with his Facebook page.

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Greetings loyal reader, I’m glad you’re back! It’s been too long since I’ve written an update for the blog section of Houston Historic Retail. Fear not, as more blog updates should be on the way soon. However, that isn’t to say that updated have not been made to Houston Historic Retail. Most of the updates made were located in the pages section. You can access them through the menu above.

The updated include, a new database system that allows you to search locations of various chains, updates to information on certain pages like Rice Epicurean, Incredible Universe.  The creation of three new pages, Souper Salad  Kip’s Big Boy, and H-E-B Pantry Foods. Along with numerous updates to the back-end software which runs the site.

Go ahead, and have a look around. These are not the only updates made, but are the most major. If you have something you’d like to see featured on Houston Historic Retail, or just want to pass on some words of encouragement I always appreciate a comment or two! Also keep an eye out for what’s coming up next.

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