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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 1983. At 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.
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.
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.