A look into Houston's retail past

The Ghost of Sears Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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