Taking a shopping trip to stores of the Past (Part 2)

Editors note: This is a guest post by commenter Anonymous in Houston. Be sure to check out Part 1 here.
Welcome back folks! Today we’re finishing up the second part of our journey through The Portal to Texas History. As mentioned in the previous post the portal is a website operated by the UNT Libraries. As the school is in Denton, the majority of material is from DFW. However we have a great shared retail lineage with our neighbors to the North. So much in fact that with the help of Houston Historic Retail, I have compiled a Shareable Spreadsheet that I will continue to update with new content as I find it.
This photo of a Marina style Safeway from Abilene was featured among other grocery stores in part one.
So far I have found not only videos and photos on many major stores such as Sears, Montgomery Ward, Safeway, Kroger, etc.. I have also found media of some obscure retailers too. For example Docktor’s Pet Stores, and Sound Warehouse, and the Southwestern Bell stores are all on the edge of my memory and are nearly impossible to find many photos of online. The database features videos filmed inside all three of these stores. The superior quality and unedited cuts of the master tapes also provide a better overall viewing experience. In the mean time I invite you to fire up the Retail-tini and watch the pictures fly through the net as we move on to the main attraction.

Dillard’s/Joske’s

In Houston, we did not get Dillard’s department stores here until they took over the Joske’s chain in 1987.  However, in the Metroplex, Dillard’s entered the market in the early 1970s through various acquisitions.  News clips from the Metroplex about Dillard’s allows us to take a look into Dillard’s stores before they even got to Houston. Here is a video from 1977 which not only shows a new Dillard’s department store in Ft. Worth, but it also shows the work of another retailer, Tandy, and their Tandy Center mixed-use shopping mall in downtown Ft. Worth.  The Dillard’s here ultimately did not last all that long as it was gone by the mid-1990s.  Nonetheless, it was a nice store when it opened as one can see in the video

This 1983 video from a Metroplex Dillard’s is one of my favorite videos in the Portal. Compact Disc players had just hit the market and Dillard’s had them for sale. Younger readers might be surprised to learn that Dillard’s ever had electronics, but they most certainly did even in the first few years after Dillard’s entered Houston via the Joske’s buyout (Joske’s likewise had a nice electronics department). Anyone who knows anything about quality vintage Hi-Fi will surely be impressed by the Marantz gear being sold by Dillard’s at the time! It seems that in 1983, not only did Dillard’s have electronics, but they also sold major appliances like refrigerators as well as they can be seen in the background of this video. Also, Texas Instruments computer software and games, likely for the TI-99/4A system, can be seen in the background of this video.
Here is a video from 1987 discussing Dillard’s purchase of the Joske’s chain the question is brought up of what would play out at malls which have both Joske’s and Dillard’s stores.  The video has some footage from inside a Joske’s store at what is presumably the Town East Mall.  It also includes some interviews with clerks at the Joske’s store on their future job prospects.

Foley’s/Sanger-Harris

The two Foley’s and Sanger-Harris videos below will actually be somewhat similar to a couple of the Dillard’s videos from above. The first video shows the glitz and glamour at the opening of the Hulen Mall Sanger-Harris in 1977. This video absolutely shows department stores were in a different era back decades ago.
The next video comes to us from a decade later in 1987 when Foley’s took over the operations of Sanger-Harris.  This video shows how much stronger Foley’s was then Sanger-Harris within the Federated Department Store structure, and it also previews in a way Macy’s taking over Foley’s a couple of decades later:

Incredible Universe/Radio Shack & a Sears Electronics bonus

One might expect that the Portal would have a lot of videos about Radio Shack and various other Tandy store formats given that Tandy was based in Fort Worth.  However, that’s not really the case.  That said, there is a video from 1994 showing the inside of the Metroplex Incredible Universe.

One Radio Shack video on the Portal website that I found particularly interesting shows competition between Radio Shack and a somewhat unlikely competitor, Sears. The video is from 1990 and discusses how Radio Shack and Sears hoped to fill the expected large demand for personal computers in the 1990s.

At that time, Radio Shack was selling Tandy’s own brand of computers, most of which were IBM compatibles by 1990, and Sears had a computer department that had a few prominent brands including IBM. Sears might seem like an unlikely place to buy a computer, but the reality is that Sears had a large computer department at one time. In fact, this 1984 KXAS video from the Portal shows a Sears Business System Center which was a store dedicated to selling business PCs, copiers, phone systems, and pagers.

Oddly enough, Tandy stopped making their own computers in the early 1990s and focused on selling computers mostly through their big box format stores like Computer City, McDuff, and Incredible Universe.  Sears downsized their computer selection right before the Internet boom.  While it was possible to buy computers from Sears and Radio Shack even in the late 1990s, the reality is that they had stopped being computer stores by then and most people looked elsewhere when buying computers.

JCPenney

Just as younger readers might find it hard to believe that Dillard’s ever had electronics, younger readers might find it hard to believe that JCPenney once sold electronics, tools, and had auto centers just like readers might remember Sears and Montgomery Ward selling.  It was in the early 1980s when JCPenney decided to eliminate hard lines from their stores and here is a video about that.

Mervyn’s

In the early 1990s, a famous Mervyn’s commercial had a woman lining up at the store several hours before opening time while chanting “open, open, open” to get some great sale prices. That commercial always made me laugh because the thought of someone lining up at a Mervyn’s seemed rather unlikely.

Ah, but the Portal has the power to make the unlikely into reality! Here is a video from 1983 discussing the grand opening of several Metroplex Mervyn’s stores. Included in the video is a large crowd of shoppers who were lined up to enter one of the stores as it opened. I can’t hear them saying “open, open, open,” but I assume that they were saying that!

For most of Mervyn’s time in Texas, they were owned by the Dayton Hudson Corporation which also owned Target and has since taken the Target name. Mervyn’s was an anchor tenant at most of the major Houston malls. In cases like Willowbrook Mall where they weren’t a mall anchor, they were located close to the mall. The video does a good job describing what Mervyn’s was and who their intended customer demographic was. Mervyn’s was never the most fashionable place to shop, but it was a place where a lot of people bought their school and work clothing. In many ways, they replaced what Weiner’s was for decades in the Houston area as Weiner’s started to fade away.

Pacific Stereo

There were many electronics specialty stores which came and went very quickly in the 1970s-1990s. Some of them, like Federated, are easy to remember for those of us who were around in that era due to their catchy marketing, but many of the chains have faded from pretty much all consciousness. One of those chains is Pacific Stereo. That said, Pacific Stereo was a great store for Hi-Fi gear back at a time when people actually put a lot of money into Hi-Fi gear.

Here are two videos that KXAS did about compact discs in the mid-1980s which show off Pacific Stereo stores. The first video is from 1984. It introduces viewers to the brand-new realm of Compact Disc Audio! This report shows off the features of new CDs and features both customers and sales staff commentary on the new technology. Check out that awesome Technics SL-P10 CD player! Of course, it was playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as almost every CD demo from that time did! In 1986, KXAS re-visited a Pacific Stereo to discuss the reduction in prices in CD players and discs:

Sakowitz

At one point in time, luxury shopping in Houston meant shopping at Sakowitz.  Sakowitz decided to try to see if they could run a department store in the Metroplex in 1981. The reference to crosstown rivalry if of course because Neiman Marcus was founded in and still operates out of Dallas.

Now that we’ve discussed mid and upper-level department stores and specialty stores, let’s take a look at discount stores.

Gibson’s Discount Center

Now that we’ve discussed mid and upper-level department stores and specialty stores, let’s take a look at discount stores. One of the more memorable discount/variety stores in Texas were the Gibson’s Discount Centers. These stores competed with the Woolworth and TG&Ys of the world for those who were on a tight budget or who wanted the lowest prices on basic items. While the chain shutdown during the 1970s Gibson’s still has a couple of independently owned stores in Kerrville and Weatherford, Texas. I believe the people behind Gibson’s are also behind the Drug Emporium chain of large pharmacy stores that still operates a handful of stores across Texas. They were in Houston during the 1990s. Here’s a look inside a Gibson’s Discount Center in 1979.

Here’s a video from a year earlier discussing the Blue Laws that were on the books in Texas until 1984 that restricted retailers from selling a random list of items consecutively on Saturday and Sunday (they could sell the prohibited items one day but not the other). For a long time, retailers stayed closed on Sundays because of the Blue Laws. However, in the years leading to the change in the law, many retailers started to open on Sundays and sold items illegally. Given all of this, the laws were mostly changed, but some Blue Laws still exist regarding alcohol and car sales. This is why car dealers in Texas are only open on Saturdays or Sundays, but not both. Here is Gibson’s talking about their opposition to the Blue Laws. The video includes lots of nice views of the interior and exterior of the store.

Kmart

On the topic of Blue Laws, here is a 1984 video about Blue Laws as it relates to Kmart.  There are also some images from inside a Kmart store.  Some great shots from the Kmart electronics department can be seen in this video.  Also visible in the video is a 1980s version of an outlet mall.  Malls like this were popping up all over Houston, typically in the form of Deauville Fashion Malls and Buyers Market Malls (a couple of the latter were turned into Garden Ridge Pottery stores here in Houston).  These malls often defied Blue Laws which boosted business.  Once other retailers started opening on Sundays illegally and after the laws were changed, these malls lost their advantage.

We’ll stay in 1984 with the next Kmart clip. You might have heard of Sears’ ‘stocks & socks’ strategy of selling financial (Dean Witter and Discover Card) and real estate (Coldwell Banker) services that they owned at their stores in the 1980s. It seems Kmart was trying to experiment with ‘stocks & socks’ strategies as well and their entry into the Texas market is the point of this video. Some scenes from inside the Kmart are also visible.

Now we will step back into Christmas of 1983At least one Metroplex Kmart was experimenting with senior citizens shopping hours on Sundays (probably in defiance of Blue Laws) so that seniors could shop in peace.  Some great images from inside the Kmart are visible in this video.  I sure do have a lot of memories of shopping inside Kmarts with that orange stripe interior!

Now that we’ve had a look at 1980s Kmarts, let’s take a look at the earliest days of Kmart. When the first full-sized Kmart opened up in Garden City, Michigan in 1962, the S.S. Kresge company already planned on opening three Kmart locations with Kmart Foods locations in Houston by the end of 1962. These locations opened in Baytown, Pasadena, and Spring Branch (the Spring Branch Kmart was famously built around the Hillendahl family cemetery). Finally here is The Baytown Sun newspaper issue for November 7, 1962 in which there is significant coverage of the opening of the first three Houston-area Kmart locations including photos, ads, and details about the stores.  The information about Kmart is on pages 20-32.

Sam’s Club

It didn’t take long for Sam’s Club stores to make their way into Texas after the first Sam’s opened in Oklahoma in 1983.  By that same year, Sam’s had a store in the Metroplex and that is the feature of this 1983 video.  Membership club stores wouldn’t have been new to Texans at the time.  Stores like Gemco and FedMart had existed in Houston for many years previously, but the idea of the warehouse store selling items in bulk was still pretty novel at the time.  In this video, you can see how first generation Sam’s Club stores looked.  Also, Sam Walton himself is interviewed in the clip.

Fast Food

We’ll now briefly take a look at restaurants and fast food.

Here are a couple of general fast food videos which show multiple fast food restaurants. All of these fast food restaurants had locations in Houston at least one time or another. The first video is from 1982 and shows the interiors, exteriors, and signs of various fast food restaurants, including Taco Bell, Del Taco, and Long John Silvers.

Here is a video from 1981 where several new fast food menu items are taste tested.  Images from outside these fast food establishments are also provided. This video contains many segments used in the previous one, alongside lots of new footage. Some of the chains featured in this video include, McDonald’s, Whataburger, DQ, and Del Taco.

Here are a couple of not-so-flattering videos about Jack In The Box restaurants in the early 1980s. There were two situations, one in the very early 1980s and one in the very early 1990s, which caused Jack In The Box a tremendous amount of embarrassment. First we have a 1981 video discussing how Australian horse meat labeled as beef was used at Jack In The Box restaurants. Probably the more famous of the two was in 1993 when four children died and several hundreds were hospitalized about an E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. While, I couldn’t find any videos about that in the archives there is an excellent 11 minute Retro Report on the outbreak. Finally for Jack, here’s a video about a Hepatitis scare at a Metroplex Jack In The Box in 1984.  Jack In The Boxes, at least the one in the video, certainly had more upscale interiors back then.

Now that we’ve discussed Australian horse meat, E. coli, and Hepatitis at Jack In The Box locations, let’s take a look at a video about a more contemporary fast food problem, unhealthy food. This 1977 video from KXAS discusses the potential health pitfalls of a fast food diet. Surely this isn’t news to anyone reading this 40+ years after this video aired.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the interior of the Burger King restaurant in the video and also at the distinctive uniforms the employees wore. These are the same uniforms that were featured in the famous “Have It Your Way” commercials that Burger King aired in the 1970s.   Also, the video contains outdoor scenes from a Taco Bell and a Whataburger.  There might also be a brief indoor scene at the Whataburger at the very end, but all we can really see is the booth.

Full Service Restaurants

Finally, we’ll conclude this look at retail videos from the Portal with a couple more 30 minute interviews from the Abilene Christian University TV station.  The first video I’ll present is a 1985 interview with Lynn Packer, chairman of the board for Wyatt Cafeterias.  Packer talks about the history of the chain and talks about the differences between his cafeterias and fast food as we typically know of it.  Wyatt Cafeterias were once quite popular in Houston.  They were similar to Luby’s and Piccadilly.

Houstonians might remember Grandy’s. Although Grandy’s has not been in Houston for quite some time, they’re still around. In Texas, they are mostly in North Texas these days, but there is a restaurant location in Victoria. For those who don’t know, Grandy’s was a cross between traditional fast food chicken and diners. Although I think their food was quite good, they obviously didn’t manage to stick around in Houston. Here is a 1986 interview with Ed Johnson, co-founder of Grandy’s. He talks about the history of Grandy’s and he talks about how he distinguished Grandy’s from traditional fast food.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some retail videos from The Portal to Texas History website. There’s a lot, lot more on the Portal which I did not post. I encourage everyone to visit the Portal page and search for retail videos and other resources. If you find something interesting, feel free to post about it in the comments section. Also, since things are continuously being added to the Portal, who knows what great resources might be added in the future. With that in mind, this keep an eye out for possible future installments! In the meantime check out my Live Spreadsheet which contains a database of videos I have found and I plan to continue updating it with new content as I come across it.

8 comments

  1. What I would give to time travel and spend a week in the early 1980’s. These videos surely bring back that era for us to see again. So many of these businesses are now lost to time and could have been forgotten without this kind of documentation.

    You know I thoroughly enjoyed the electronics department and Incredible Universe footage. Especially since I made my first visit to the same building just a few weeks ago.

    The JCPenney hardline removal was a sad time for consumers, but they were probably the weakest hardlines retailer at the time. Little did we know at the time, just about every other department store did the same thing.

    The Kmart video was especially amazing, there are just not a lot of color photos online of those interiors.

    I remember Mervyn’s being a big deal when they opened. I still have a thick jacket that was purchased at the Mervyn’s at San Jacinto Mall. It has held up very well over the years.

    The fast food videos were a nice addition to the article. I can’t say I recall the old Taco Bell logo on any locations I saw in person. There were still a handful of mission style Taco Bell locations around town, but I believe all of them have been replaced now.

    This was a really well done series Anonymous. You certainly put a lot of work into research and we thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. I’m glad that you liked the videos, Je. I figured you would like those electronics stores videos. I didn’t realize when I wrote this post out that you would be visiting the Fry’s that opened up in the Metroplex Incredible Universe. That’s neat that you’re able to see this video not long after actually stepping foot into that building. Given the closure of Fry’s, it may not be possible to step foot in that building again so it was good that you were able to get in when you could for the fixtures liquidation.

      The funny thing about JCPenney pulling the plug on electronics is that at around the same time that they made that decision, Montgomery Ward was starting to have great success with their decision to move away from store brand electronics and start selling brand name electronics. Perhaps if JCP knew the kind of success that Wards would have with Electric Avenue, maybe JCP would have rethought their decision to eliminate electronics and other hardlines. That said, between Wards, JCP, and Sears, it was JCP’s MCS Series Hi-Fi components that had the best reputation. Still, even if MCS Series components got good reviews and probably outperformed a lot of brand name stuff selling at higher prices, most people wanted those brand news like Pioneer, Sony, and Technics.

      Speaking of San Jacinto Mall, be sure to read the spreadsheet linked at the top of this article. In there, I have links to the Baytown Sun article covering the grand opening of the mall. I know you were a big San Jacinto Mall fan so you’ll want to see that for sure. Check out the grand opening coverage of the Baytown Kmart in 1962 that’s in the spreadsheet as well.

      Taco Bells were a bit thin on the ground in this part of Houston until the 1990s so we had to settle for eating take-out from Pancho’s Mexican Buffet for a long time instead, lol. I know some people aren’t fans of Taco Bell, but Taco Bell was a pretty big upgrade over Pancho’s. Of course, I’d probably take a Pancho’s taco before a Jack in the Box taco and that’s not even considering some of the Jack in the Box issues that were discussed in those videos!

  2. Sometime just before their bankruptcy, Pacific Stereo changed their name to just Pacific as part of their product line broadening (there’s a commercial, search ” ’80s Ad Breaks Vol. 8″ by VCRchivist, 5:20 in).

    I enjoyed that first fast food bit. I never knew about that elaborate, old Taco Bell sign, a full covered drive-through for McDonald’s (visible only in stores nowadays that they cut loose from the chain years ago),

    Interesting that they say that “almost every fast food chain in the nation is represented in Dallas”, and during the 1980s, between Houston and Dallas, that might have been true…just not all at once.

    1. I’m glad you liked the fast food video. It seems I forgot to include an interesting video from the Portal in the spreadsheet. It’s from 1977 and talks about the increase in taco fast food places in the Metroplex. I’ll add it to the spreadsheet now, but here is the link to it. There’s some great images within this video: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1131500/m1/

      I wouldn’t expect there to be very many McDonald’s with drive-thru canopies left especially with McDonald’s aggressive re-construction plan of the last 15 years or so. That said, some examples may still exist elsewhere in the country. Here’s one example in Indiana from 2018: https://flic.kr/p/KrMpqS

      And here is a McDonald’s Classic in Ohio. This is a retro oddball McDonald’s, but the photo is from 2019 so maybe it’s still up: https://flic.kr/p/2iiVSa3

      Unfortunately, there isn’t a wealth of information about Pacific Stereo on the Internet. That’s a bit odd as they were a pretty prominent Hi-Fi dealer during the golden era of Hi-Fi stores. Oh well, what I can tell you is that CBS (yep, the TV network) owned Pacific Stereo from around 1972 to about 1983 or so. They certainly had prominent ownership, but according to this article, they had been losing money since 1979: https://www.nytimes.com/1986/06/30/business/end-of-glory-days-for-pacific-stereo.html

      That’s a great Pacific/Pacific Stereo commercial you found. I’d like to have those Celestion speakers they have in the commercial! Pacific did branch out into TVs and VCRs. That was a natural extension since stereo VCRs were starting to become popular in the mid-1980s and those were useful as both video and audio equipment. Sometimes people buying stereo VCRs would buy a stereo system to go along with it for an early example of home theater. TVs were a natural extension of that. Unfortunately, there were just too many competitors in the home electronics field at that time and there were many casualties. It’s a shame that Pacific Stereo was one of them.

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you liked the videos. Be sure to check out the spreadsheet. There’s a lot in there which I know you will like including 1970s-1980s Target interior videos, Kroger Superstore decor, and some new Kroger Bauhaus interior videos which were not in Part I.

  3. What a treasure trove this portal is! Love seeing that original Macintosh in the Sears Business Systems Center video. And always fun to see the old Mervyn’s sign and décor instead of the silly Mervyn’s “California” rebrand they used in their final days. I had a bright orange fleece windbreaker from Mervyn’s (their Cheetah brand) as a kid that I wore incessantly for a good three years until it got too ratty to wear anymore.

    Interesting to see that Pacific Stereo survived the hi-fi supply glut and statewide economic challenges of the mid-80s that shuttered a lot of other stereo chains, including Houston-based Custom Hi-Fi.

    1. I’m glad that you liked the Sears Business Systems Center and Mervyn’s videos, thanks for checking them out. The funny thing is that those were both late additions to the article! As you can tell from the size of the spreadsheet, I had a lot of things to choose from in deciding what to feature on the blog. I did think the Sears Business Systems Center and Mervyn’s videos were quite good and were worth featuring in the blog post. There are some more computer store videos on the spreadsheet if you’re interested in more vintage looks at computer retailing.

      I do remember Mervyn’s and their Cheetah brand. I know I had some of their own brand High Sierra jeans back in the 1980s and 1990s. I also thought the Mervyn’s California rebrand was rather odd. I suppose they were going for that Frederick’s of Hollywood type cache, but I don’t think that was ever going to happen. Probably Mervyn’s best days were before they did the rebrand, but it’s hard to say for sure. My local Mervyn’s was the Willowbrook Mall area store that was not actually at the mall like so many other Houston Mervyn’s locations and it was also only one-story. The location is now a Rooms To Go furniture store in the Fiesta shopping center. At one time, a Weiner’s clothing store (I have some Weiner’s newspaper ads in the spreadsheet) was in the same shopping center. At one time a long time ago, there was a Designer Depot store in that shopping center which was more or less Kmart’s attempt to run a TJMaxx-like chain.

      That last Pacific Stereo video from 1986 came from near the end of the chain. They filed for bankruptcy that year and faded away. There were a lot of great Hi-Fi stores in the 1970s-1980s that faded away. Custom Hi-Fi was one of them, but there were many others like CMC Stereo (the one I remember was in front of Town & Country Mall), Home Entertainment, Colonel Audio & Video, and many others really. There were also stores like Federated, Highland (there’s a video about them on the spreadsheet), McDuff, VideoConcepts, and even Conn’s used to have a lot of Hi-Fi stuff. I really do miss stores like that since I’m still a Hi-Fi fan.

      I don’t know if you remember the Olson Stereo store. They had a location near Memorial City Mall and they had a couple other Houston area locations. Here’s their catalog from 1974 with a listing of locations if you want to take a look back at a great era in Hi-Fi: https://worldradiohistory.com/Archive-Catalogs/Miscellaneous-Manufacturers/Olson-1974-Catalog.pdf

What do you think?