A look into Houston's retail past

This Week in Demolition: Marching orders given for a 1930s bungalow in Rice Military

Welcome back to This Week in Demolition! This week we have an almost completely residential mix with some real gems that should have been saved and a few that needed to go. Let’s start by taking a look at some of the demolitions of note from the week. The cover story is similar to last week, 4617 Gibson is another 1930s home that has been kept tastefully up to date. A house that was less tastefully updated is 2038 Banks while the exterior is quite nice the split level kitchen with obscured headroom is a dealbreaker for me. 703 Timberline on the other hand is a house that needs to go, it is a row of townhomes in the former Forest Cove neighborhood in Kingwood. The number of houses in the development had steadily dropped over the years due to flooding but was really finished out by Harvey. While some homes are still owned by individuals, most of the sites have been sold to the Harris County Flood Control District and it seems mostly empty as of 2020.

When the weather is nice this porch must be great. Photo Source: HAR

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

Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: Marching orders given for a 1930s bungalow in Rice Military”

What Happens when a Valero doesn’t become a Circle K?

Today, we’re taking a quick look at a gas station in an unusual situation- a former Valero Corner Store that was not selected to be converted to Circle K. This location was built in Fredericksburg, TX in 1985. Based on the exterior features, it seems to have been a Corner Store from day one. Diamond Shamrock’s rural stores contained far fewer services compare to their urban counterparts, but they were still comparable to their ever expanding competitors. After a series of take overs, mergers, and sell offs, what was once Diamond Shamrock’s Corner Store concept was sold to Circle K.

One year after the sale was completed, the first Circle K conversions began in 2018. As this began so did divestment of locations such as a failed Stop n Go prototypes, Corner Stores that were too close to existing Circle K locations, and many other stores that just did not fit the new image the company was aiming for. As such conversion from Corner Store to Circle K was extremely slow. While the remodel process was hinged around updating the stores, the biggest change was obviously the branding. As of 2021, there are still some former Corner Stores in the Houston area that operate as Circle Ks but have not received new exterior signage.

While the changeover took place, former Corner Store locations continued to operate as normal. The parent company, CST Industries, still produced private label goods to be sold in stores, while cups, lids, etc.. continued to say Corner Store. As more stores became Circle K, the private label products were dropped, and the Polar Pop branding was applied to cups and soda fountains. The sign still said Corner Store but this was a lobotomized version of the old store. By 2020, a change had to take place, and this Corner Store is a perfect example of what happened when a store wasn’t selected to convert.

The exterior of the convenience store is completely unchanged- except for the updated signage. As you can see from the outside, this was a very small store. Using the pictured pickup as reference, the building is about three trucks long.
These gas pumps are a Diamond Shamrock dead giveaway. The center number with the circular border was unique to them. Notice that the wide format double ad holders are still in place. This was a problem towards the end of the Circle K changeover in Houston with many spots going blank.
As the Corner Store brand was originally owned by Valero, their logo was combined together where possible. As the the gas station is still selling Valero-branded gasoline, no effort was made to cover up the Valero logo.
The blue and brown paint and Corner Store decor were all still in place inside. Notice the former Corner Store sign behind the chef’s hat on the wallpaper. Not every store covered that up. The store was in the process of being restocked by one of the two employees when I was there, which explains the mess.
This chip section would normally be setup for Corner Store or Circle K products. Obviously, without any affiliation, corporate branded products were replaced.
The signage above the coolers actually dates back to Diamond Shamrock. It was added during the Corner Store transition.
This long shot of the store shows about 2/3rd of the total space. This location was smaller than a normal Corner Store but was not the smallest I’ve visited.
The product selection was on par for what you’d expect to find in a Circle K. One thing I did find that felt out of place were the hats behind the cash register.
This is actually an updated Circle K condiment holder, meaning that this was replaced or added after 2018 when the transitions began.  The condiments were not stocked at the time due to COVID.
A quick shot of the counter shows another somewhat unusual feature. 2 liter bottles and boxed sodas in a small cooler. The POS system had been upgraded in the past few years to accept chip cards and seemed to be similar to other Corner Store systems.

 

All in all this turned out to essentially still be a Corner Store in all but name. Looking at county records it seems that this location along with a few others were sold to the franchisee in 2020. Interestingly the location is still on the Circle K website and the features listed are even all correct. Who knows in a few years this may end up like the old Stop n Go’s in Houston that became “Stop and Go” or Circle K’s that became “Korner Store”.

This Week in Demolition: Bulldozers to a 1938 Boulevard Oaks Bungalow

Happy “Demolition” New Year! This is the first post of the year to contain demolition permits issued in 2021. This week we see an uptick in the number permits issued for pre-1950 homes, mostly in great condition. Along with two art deco apartment buildings in the medical center. Some of the homes worth taking a look at this week include 3445 Wickersham a two story home in the heart of River Oaks including a garage apartment, 927 Lamont a well maintained 1948 single story home with a gorgeous backyard, and of course our cover story this week 1920 Banks. The demolition of this charming Bungalow is made worse by the fact that in addition to tasteful updates many original features of the house were intact. Including what was likely original 1930s stained glass in all three upstairs windows.

Photo Source: HAR.com

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

Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: Bulldozers to a 1938 Boulevard Oaks Bungalow”

Retail News: Disco Kroger Closes, On Cue Opens, and Bill Miller has their eyes on West Houston

Happy New Year loyal reader, and welcome to another edition of retail news. This month we’re taking a look at a few different developments throughout the city.

Disco Kroger Closes

Let’s start with a bit of a letdown. Unfortunately, the Kroger at 3030 Montrose Boulevard, more affectionately known as Disco Kroger, is set to close tomorrow January 7th. I visited December 30th and the pharmacy along with most full-service departments had already been shut down. Shelves were still being stocked with what seemed to be overstock from nearby stores, but supplies were dwindling. Based on supply levels when I visited it seems possible that the store may not make it all the way to the 7th. When Disco Kroger opened in Montrose, they were far from the first supermarket in the Montrose area. That title goes to the first Houston Minimax. However, it is one of the longer lasting stores in the area. With the next oldest store being the demolished Fiesta that was closed in 2012, followed by the nearby Midtown Fiesta which shutdown last year. Kroger’s official statement for closing the store indicated that it was losing money and had been for some time.

The closure of this Kroger leaves Montrose with one less grocery option. Now only H-E-B directly serves the Montrose area. It seems likely that most Kroger shoppers will shift to H-E-B. With the lack of affordable grocery stores in the area you may wonder why Kroger is unable to make a profit. Kroger expanded this store in the 1980s after demolishing the final house on the block. It seems that the original property owner never sold the land to Kroger but rather leased it to them. This expansion helped Kroger stay current but was essentially the final update this store received save for some cosmetic remodels which exposed some great Disco Kroger remnants. With the developments such as the tower next door, it’s likely the price of the lease plus limited floor space really does have this Kroger stuck at a chokepoint.


OnCue Opens

The Kaleidoscope Center was demolished over a year ago after the property was purchased by Phillips 66. The petrochemical company conveniently has their headquarters a few blocks North of Westheimer and supposedly wanted a flagship store to flaunt their brand. This however presented an issue as Phillips 66 is mainly a refiner, and doesn’t have an established connivence store brand. They called in Stillwater, Oklahoma based OnCue Express who seems to have a partnership with Phillips 66. The store was constructed by The Riverside Group which based this store off the OnCue prototype they developed in 2004.

As Phillips 66 does not maintain their own line of convenience stores this location was developed in partnership with OnCue, and marks their entry in to the Texas market. The store is nice, very modern, and the staff are all very polite.


Bill Miller’s Eyes has their eyes on West Houston

Any Houstonian worth their salt has driven passed a Bill Miller Bar-B-Q with a bit of arrogance. Different areas of Texas have always been preferential about our drive-thru BBQ joints. Houston has been a battlefield of sorts with Pappas reigning king over smaller chains like Goode Co, killing competitors like Luther’s and holding their own against newcomers like Rudy’s. According to an interview in the Houston Business Journal with Bill Miller’s CEO Jim Egbert they have the company may soon join the battle as they have their eyes on expanding in West Houston and Katy.

The newer building design used by Bill Miller will likely be what the Houston and Katy are based on Source: Google Streetview.

This is not the first time Bill Miller Bar-B-Q has discussed plans on expanding in Houston, in a 2018 interview with then newly promoted CEO Egbert it was said that the company wanted to be able to transition to new markets like Houston, Waco, and College Station. This time around the plan is to supply the Houston locations via trucks from San Antonio while previously the CEO had envisioned building a second commissary and bakery to serve Houston based stores. With new stores opening further North on the I-35 corridor Bill Miller has shown they could handle the range, the question to be answered is can they handle Houston’s market.

This Week in Demolition: Sticking out like a sore thumb

Welcome back to another edition of This Week in Demolition! This week the Oak Forest massacre continues with three more houses biting the dust. Other items of interest on the list include some older Houston houses  This includes 1340 Waverly a 1920s shotgun house, 2142 Chilton a 1935 Original River Oaks Home, and 2005 Brun a 1935 home which doesn’t quite fit the neighborhood anymore. This house is dwarfed by the multiunit structures to the right, and looks downright out of the past. From the window units I remember growing up, to the power and phone just cutting through the yard this is the Houston I remember as a child. Not the bland stucco on top of multistory monstrosities.

Do you ever feel… out of place? Photo source: HAR

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

Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: Sticking out like a sore thumb”

Why the newest Target in Houston was actually an early Christmas Present

With all the craziness this year I haven’t had much time to tend to my blog. I was hoping to have this post out much earlier, but today we’ll be talking about why the newest Target in Houston is so special. With the holiday season wrapping up, there’s a good chance you’ve been to a Target lately, or at least in their parking lot. Target has an old history in Houston, they were the second of the large national discount department chains to arrive following Kmart.


Some photos of the building in its post Randalls pre Traget phase in June.

 

 

Target’s first Houston store opened in 1969 and resembled a modern Hypermarket, including a full grocery store. While novel at the time these features helped Target gain a foothold in what later became a two chain race. By the early 2000s Kmart was out of the picture, Target fell behind Wal-Mart in many aspects. For example their stores were much smaller than most Wal-Marts around town. Also, outside of Super Target locations most stores did not carry fresh foods. Finally, Target had been cutting down many departments, and eliminating some entirely. While Target did try to make up for some of this with constant remodels and their P-Fresh grocery expansion, it was small compared to what Wal-Mart was willing to try in the Houston area.

 

I had a chance earlier this year to stop by the new Target in Shepherd Square. This was actually a few days before the grand opening in November. The store was open to the general public without any announcement.
The facade was updated by Target to accommodate their signage, but otherwise looks just like Randall’s did. Going so far as to use the original dual entryway corridor. The parking lot also remains unchanged, specifically lacking a Target “pickup tower”.
The former Randall’s restaurant entrance is being used as a secondary entrance with access to Customer Service, and the grocery side of the store. At the moment this is the only option for drive-up. I’m guessing Target’s lease does not allow modification of the parking lot. The patio cover is original as well.
Once you step inside though any sense of Randall’s familiarity is lost. It looks just like any other Target you’ve seen in the past few months. Target has always been pretty good about uniformity in their design and styling. This is the beauty section.
Next is the health and pharmacy department. This surprised me as the section is just about as big as most other Target locations. With six short aisles in front of CVS.
Right behind me was the home goods section of the store. Pillows, Rugs, Etc.. This along with clothing was probably one 1/3 of what you would see in a normal Target. For home goods and clothing there was a decent amount of choice and selection, but limited stock of most items.
Flipping back to the pharmacy side, you can see that the Health and pharmacy selection appears to be pretty standard for a Target. They even had an endcap dedicated to lip balm.
This whole section was dedicated to men’s beard and hair care. At this point we hit the back right corner of the store. To the left is Electronics, Sporting Goods, and Toys. These were the final departments being stocked and as such I was unable to grab any photos.
While I couldn’t get any direct photos I wanted to show how large these departments were. The baby department borders toys which is made up of about six aisles with sporting goods mixed in. Electronics had a large wall mounted TV display, along with its own service counter, and electronics displays. They had half height shelving and locked cases just like mainstream Targets.
Turning back around we can see the far left corner of the store. The backroom is located behind the toys, sporting goods, and electronics. From this point to the back left the aisles approximately double in length. These larger departments are baby, cleaning supplies, pet, and some grocery overstock.
This close up shot shows how deep the rear aisles were. The aisles are bisected with a walkway about halfway through. Without the walkway these aisles would be just above a standard Houston Target. The selection and stock in this corner of the store was also pretty close to a normal Target.
Moving closer to the far left corner, there is a large “dent” into the building that seems like more backroom space but is actually the wall of the building which is bound by a preexisting rear neighbor.
The rear of the grocery section is much smaller than the front. As such selection and stock are more limited. While the fresh grocery has a decent selection, canned and boxed goods were in limited supply compared with a normal Target.
About halfway down the grocery section the aisles open up. Selection is still quite limited on most fresh foods when compared to Randall’s but is not far off from the Galleria Target.
The coolers to the left are meant for Beer and Wine but were empty as I believe the TABC permit was tied to the grand opening date.
I believe this is where the pharmacy was during Randall’s but I can’t be positive as I hadn’t been to this location in years when it closed. Most aisles could contain two carts side by side, with the grocery section having a slightly bigger clearance.
The back stock in grocery was good compared to other departments. While I know that regular Targets have some backroom space for grocery I have been told it is one of the smaller departments.
This photo shows the selection of things like juices, and drink mixes. I’m guessing these are items that Target is expecting will drive people into their store.
These are the two aisles of frozen food to the right. It is about equivalent to what is in the Galleria Target. Directly forward is the second entrance along with Guest Services, Starbucks, and Order Pickup.
The front corner of the market provides a look at the entire Refrigerated section, along with most of the produce to the left. This was one of the busier sections as people seemed interested in what groceries the store carried.
With the business of this section of the store it was difficult to get any good pictures. The tables to the right are the extent of the fresh baked goods. From here you can also see the Guest Serbives, and self checkout a bit better.
The produce and fruit at this store is very limited. While there were a few items I didn’t get photos of in a cooler to the right it wasn’t much more.
The grocery section did feature a large amount of dairy, and dairy substitute products. Again I’m thinking these are one of the items that will draw business in.
The meat case was much smaller than most other Targets in the area. Specifically putting items like butter, cream cheese, bacon sausage, and ground beef all in the same case.
The grab and go case had some prepared meals and sandwiches, very limited but still a nice option for customers.
The front of the store consists of the cards and party section seen here, office supplies, and the seasonal section. With the exception of seasonal these sections are never terribly big in a Target.
The party and office supplies are evenly split into six short aisles, with each department taking three. To the left you can see the clothing section of the store. As with any other Target women’s clothing takes the lion’s share of the space.
In the office department the selection is about half of what you’d expect to find at a regular Target, but stock levels seemed pretty good. This was also in the final stages of being stocked, as I think some of these items are located in electronics in a full line Target.
Many Targets now feature multiple seasonal sections. With generally at least 2 per store. One is the larger display with fixed shelving towards the rear of the store, the second generally being moveable shelving near the entrance. This Target had what seemed to be a combo of these two ideas. It wasn’t a very large space but it was densely packed.
Moving past seasonal we return to the Entrance/Exit and find the checkouts. The second entrance has only self-checkout so this is your only option for larger purchases. There are also a few extra self checkouts on the far edge here.
One last shot to close us out shows that even the checkout counters in this store are designed to save space.

Houston seems to rarely be a test market for most national companies. I think we’re seen as being easy to adapt to other markets’ preferences. I’m no market researcher though… In the 2000s Wal-Mart had multiple test stores throughout Houston. For example Mas Club, a Hispanic version of Sam’s Club, along with Supermercado de Walmart, a Hispanic version of a Neighborhood Market, and Sam’s Club Business Centers which were tailored for small business owners. While these prototypes were eventually closed they did provide Houston a chance to provide influence and input for a national chain.

When it was announced that Target would be taking the former Randall’s space in Shepherd Square I assumed this would mean a full teardown of the shopping center. I envisioned everything from the former Randall’s to the right would be torn down and rebuilt as a two story Target. Once details emerged that the Target was not only to retain the original Randall’s footprint, but the building too I was somewhat shocked. I still figured things like the entrances would be reconfigured, and possibly expanded somewhat. It was only when I drove by the Target that I realized not even the brick facade had changed (save for the new sign).

After walking through the store I realized that the product selection had been very carefully crafted. The grocery selection wasn’t as extensive but provided a decent selection on par with Randall’s prices, and necessities would be well within reach for those who needed them such as the pharmacy and baby sections. This Target is an early Christmas Present not because it was the brand new two story behemoth I imagined, but because it was designed around our community and to fit our needs.

This Week in Demolition: The Most Dangerous Gas Station in the World

Welcome back to another Demolition Report. I’m trying a new format in which I compile the entire week into one post. Let me know what you think in the comments!

This week we see more commercial properties, and some expensive new houses. Maybe some demo permits were issued as Christmas presents. Anyways, one building that caught my eye was the former Valero off of Highway 6. This gas station is about halfway between Westheimer and I-10 on Highway 6. For many years it was the only gas station on this stretch of road. As the years went by the gas station gained many competitors and eventually shutdown after Hurricane Harvey. It has sat vacant with the store, canopy, and pumps all still in place since 2017. The small dirt hill behind the gas station is actually the Barker Reservoir, and the main gates are only a short distance North. I would assume that this has something to do with the gas station’s inability to sell. At least according to flood insurance maps this would be the most dangerous gas station… in the world.

While obviously not directly dangerous, I would guess high property insurance rates are part of the reasons for closure. Photo Source: Loopnet

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

Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: The Most Dangerous Gas Station in the World”

This Week in Demolition: What’s Pappa’s Plan?

Welcome back to another Demolition Report. I’m trying a new format in which I compile the entire week into one post. Let me know what you think in the comments!

This week we see a far wider selection of homes, with Demolition permits coming in from all around the city. One house that stuck out this week is what appears to be an original 1930s house with a second story addition from the 1950s. Interesting enough in its own right, it seems that it is the final piece of a now demolished block that holds Pappa’s Warehouses. The question is, what’s Pappa’s Plan? The lot is too small for a restaurant, and wouldn’t add much in terms of warehouse space. My guess would be to expand parking.

The lot contains just the house, garage, and small patio. The garage directly backs up to the warehouse, or as described in the listing “no neighbors!” Photo: Har.com

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

Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: What’s Pappa’s Plan?”

This Week in Demolition: The Heights loses a Theater

Welcome back to another Demolition Report. This time I’m trying a new format in which I compile the entire week into one post. Let me know what you think in the comments!

This week we see a large number of older houses on the South side being purchased by individuals. As well we take a look at the single commercial demolition from the week.

The former Stude Theater will be torn down and replaced by another big white building with no windows.. huh. Photo Credit: Patrick Feller / CC 2.0

 

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the week before this post.
Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: The Heights loses a Theater”

The Ghost of Sears Past | Willowbrook Sears dresses up for Halloween

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!