3 Retail Minis: The 2nd Chili’s in Houston, The Future of Krogering, & What West Oaks could have been

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This Chili’s gets busy, and that sign is not just outdated information.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?

About

My Name is Mike! I'm the founder, and owner of Houston Historic Retail. I love retail, and I love Houston. Please give any feedback you have!

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4 comments on “3 Retail Minis: The 2nd Chili’s in Houston, The Future of Krogering, & What West Oaks could have been
  1. Aaron J. says:

    Arguably, West Oaks Mall was more upscale in its department store offerings with the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. However, it lacked the more common stores like Sears and JCPenney. I could’ve sworn that Barton Creek had a Macy’s prior to the Foley’s takeover, with them promoting Hotel Connection bedding. Perhaps it was at the former Scarborough’s space (which I assume is the small second Dillard’s store), but I really don’t know.

    • Jackieflash says:

      West Oaks did have a Sears and a JC Penney. It never had Saks 5th Avenue.

      • Aaron J. says:

        The Sears used to be a Saks originally during the 1980s. Originally, the building was much smaller, enough to the point during the early 1990s Sears used it as a prototype that only sold clothing before they expanded it later.

  2. quikmantx says:

    Regarding Kroger, providing the scanning tech is probably a better idea. Not everyone has a smartphone and even those that do could have their phone broken, stolen, lost, or even run out of battery. Even then, not everyone wants to have to download yet another app, including the author of this website. Plus smartphones can have connection issues and other additional problems that will only monopolize employees’ time troubleshooting. It’s not a bad idea if they allow a smartphone option, but it shouldn’t be mandatory for people to have access this to this shopping option.

    I find the complaint about Kroger’s system for user sign-in to be not a typical issue for regular Kroger shoppers. You either have your barcode on your key ring or you know the phone number (or whatever digits) you provided to Kroger. You’re actually able to change the digits for system recognition, just FYI. Go to the customer service desk to update it. It beats having to depend on smartphones all the time to do even the most basic of things.

    Regarding West Oaks Mall, I haven’t been to Barton Creek for a valid comparison. However, I think each mall has it’s own story, and what worked for one mall, won’t necessarily work for another mall, even if they have a few similar characteristics. One of the common catalysts for a dying mall is a loss of affluence. As you pointed out in this post, the area around West Oaks got poorer, while the area around Barton Springs managed to stay the same.

    West Oaks Mall, and other dying malls, can possibly stay alive by doing almost anything to land tenants until they reach a certain occupancy level. That means giving mega competitive rents, friendly short term leases, or whatever that’s possible. I would love to see the science back it, but once a mall starts the real aging process and is occupied at a certain percentage or lower, things will likely go downhill from there if big changes don’t happen. If people don’t have multiple reasons to step in, good luck keeping these tenants alive. The actual big competitors to these dying malls isn’t necessarily online shopping or nicer malls nowadays, but the high abundance of strip/power centers. Unfortunately, people are generally lazy and demand convenience for everything, including shopping. It’s sad, but I believe people who drive a lot tender to prefer strip/power centers because they’re closer to the road network and they don’t have to walk as far if it’s busy.

    Last time I was at WOM was maybe about 9 months ago. The food court was eerie. I went to Northwest Mall a lot before it closed, and there were plenty of open restaurants and activity compared to WOM. I did like Hill Country look though at WOM. Too bad I’ve only been there once. Maybe I’ll try to visit again soon.

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