Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston
We aim to give you, the loyal reader, nothing but the very best content here at the Houston Historic Retail blog. With that in mind, here is the first entry in what could well be a new series where we will explore some vintage retail ads that are interesting and perhaps even relevant to Houston retail history.
I thought it would be a good idea to examine some of the ads in a newspaper issue of the past to see what interesting retail history might lurk within the pages. Although the Texas History Portal does not have modern issues of the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post, they do have some newspapers from around the Houston area such as The Baytown Sun. Baytown had many of the retailers that were in Houston itself, but they also had some unique retail that makes them especially interesting to study.
With that in mind, we will be looking at the August 10, 1983 issue of The Baytown Sun that is available to read at the Texas History Portal.
NOTE: The embedded newspaper reader from the Portal below may not work on all browsers or platforms. If it does not load for you, try using the text link above or the text links on the page numbers in the headers below to read the newspaper pages on the Portal website itself. That should work fine on all browsers.
While many of the retailers that will be featured in this post need no introduction, AIM For The Best Stores is probably a retailer that needs a fairly lengthy introduction as they were a rather obscure and short-lived retailer. AIM For The Best Stores had a sister division under the Household International Inc. umbrella, TG&Y, which is likely to be better-known to many readers. By the 1970s, variety stores like TG&Y were on the decline as large discount stores like Kmart and Woolco, which were both formed by the variety store chains Kresge and Woolworth respectively in the 1960s, were gaining traction as places to shop for those looking for low prices on household goods. Although TG&Y already had their larger TG&Y Family Center stores in addition to their normal variety stores, these stores really did not offer the shopper much advantage over the even larger discount stores like Kmart.
With that in mind, TG&Y needed to change their TG&Y Family Center stores so they could develop some kind of advantage over the crowded field of discount stores. At the same time, shoppers in the early 1980s were becoming wary of inferior goods and service at discount stores as compared to department stores even though the economy was struggling at the time. Due to these issues with discount stores, a number of discount stores were struggling or even going out of business as shown in this 1982 video from KXAS-TV in Dallas-Ft. Worth via the Texas History Portal. Household International’s idea in 1982 was to form a new chain, AIM For The Best Stores, that would be a bit more upscale than traditional discount chains. The plan was to convert the TG&Y Family Center stores to AIM For The Best Stores in addition to opening several new AIM For The Best Stores. The goal was to have more than 400 AIM For The Best Stores by 1986 with the newly opened stores being 60,000 sq. ft. or larger and the converted TG&Y Family Center stores being 40,000 sq. ft. or larger. The first bunch of AIM For The Best Stores were to be put in Florida, California, Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.
The aim for AIM For The Best Stores was to offer higher quality brand-name softline and hardline merchandise and service than what was being offered by the likes of Kmart. In that regard, AIM For The Best Stores were like discount versions of Sears, JCPenney, or Montgomery Ward department stores than traditional discount stores. AIM For The Best Stores sold merchandise from respected brands such as Nike, Calvin Klein, and Botany 500. Brands like that most certainly were not being offered by stores like Kmart in the early 1980s!
However, the AIM For The Best Stores concept was abandoned in 1984 after just 13 stores opened. Customers at the TG&Y Family Center stores were not buying the more expensive AIM merchandise that was being rolled into Family Center stores. Also, TG&Y was suffering from a revolving door of executives and allegations of corporate fraud.
One of those 13 AIM For The Best Stores that opened was at 4026 Decker Drive in Baytown and it opened on August 11th, 1983. Thus, the August 10th issue of The Baytown Sun has a lengthy ad for the grand opening sale. Page 3 (or Image 3 if you are using the embedded viewer) has an ad with an overview of the store. The advertised specials start on page 37. On page 37, we see a variety of products that seem like standard discount store fare especially during the Back to School period of the year.
The cool kids in the 1980s had locker answering machines, but the really cool 1980s kids had AIM For The Best Stores stickers in their lockers like we see on Page 40! Page 42 interestingly has a tube of Aim brand toothpaste in the ad. I’m sure that product placement was not unintentional! Page 47 of the ad shows AIM For The Best Stores promoting Glidden brand paint. Glidden Paint is a discount store staple. Kmart and their Builders Square stores sold it for many years and now it is sold at Walmart and Home Depot.
Page 48 discusses how He-Man will be at the grand opening of the store on August 11th. He-Man was most certainly a popular character at the time and it surely meant that a lot of Baytown’s children wanted to visit the grand opening! Page 50 shows that AIM For The Best Stores had Mattel Intellivsions on sale for a very low price, but that was towards the end of the run for that console. AIM also had an RCA VFT450 VHS VCR for a whopping $400 off, but the sale price was still around $500. VCRs were certainly a luxury for most homes in 1983!
That four pack of unbranded audio cassettes certainly brings back a lot of memories for me. Those cassettes were marketed by a company named Swire Magnetics and I used some of those cassettes back in the day. Those cassettes were lousy and were only suitable for voice recordings. As bad as those cassettes sound, I still have some of them and they are still playable so at least they had some level of durability.
As crummy as those Swire Magnetics cassettes are, AIM For The Best had a really awesome Pioneer stereo system for sale on page 51. The 1980s were certainly the era of rack stereo systems. While most of the rack stereos looked better than they performed, the Pioneer system in the ad seems like the real deal with an actual integrated amplifier and a direct-drive turntable. I actually have the Hooked on Classics cassette on page 52 and I bet it would have sounded pretty awesome on that Pioneer system!
Photos of AIM For The Best Stores are pretty elusive on the Internet, but here is a photo from inside one of their toy departments. Although this isn’t much of a good look at the store, it’s easy to tell that these were more upscale stores than, say, a Kmart.
TG&Y Family Centers (Pages 66-67)
Now that we’ve discussed AIM For The Best Stores, we might as well discuss the TG&Y Family Centers ad on pages 66-67. While the idea of a smartphone with a stopwatch function may not seem odd in modern times, the idea of a corded landline phone with a stopwatch seems totally strange in any era! But, yet, TG&Y had one on sale for $17.96! Perhaps the stopwatch might have been useful for timing long-distance calls since those calls were an expensive luxury at the time!
Montgomery Ward (Pages 57-65)
When I first flipped through the pages of this newspaper, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Montgomery Ward grand opening sale that was being advertised in The Baytown Sun. My first reaction was to scratch my head and wonder which Houston-area Wards was having a grand opening sale in 1983 because I am not aware of any Wards stores in Houston that opened during that year! Well, it turns out that the grand opening being celebrated wasn’t even in Houston at all, but it was instead in San Antonio! Wards was celebrating the opening of the Mercado Square (Westlakes Mall) store. I’m sure Baytown and Houston shoppers in 1983 were happy to see any sale since it seemed the sale prices would have also been at Houston-area locations, but I wonder how many of them made the trip west on I-10 to see this brand new Montgomery Ward store in San Antonio!
Walgreens (Pages 68-73)
For the most part, this Walgreens ad looks quite similar to any Walgreens ad from the 1980s, 1990s, or even the 2000s. I would like to point a few interesting things in the ad though. First, check out the desk and bookcase for sale on page 71. It’s not too often that people go to Walgreens to buy furniture! Also, check out the Tozai brand electronics on page 73. Tozai was Walgreens’ house brand for electronics. Generally speaking, Tozai electronics were very cheap and poor quality. I dare to say that most people who had Tozai electronics regretted buying them! I know that from personal experience! Je from The Louisiana & Texas Retail Blogspot and I often refer to cheap, poor quality electronics as being ‘Tozai-grade’ for that reason!
Sears (Pages 74-81)
This particular Sears ad is mostly uneventful, but one interesting bit is at the bottom of page 74. Sears has a listing of Houston area stores on there, which is interesting itself, but one thing really stood out to me. It is interesting to me that Sears didn’t consider their Baybrook Mall store to be a Houston metro area store, but rather a general Houston area store along with the likes of the Baytown, Lake Jackson, and Beaumont stores. I find that to be a rather puzzling decision.
Furrow Building Materials (Page 18)
There really isn’t anything amazing about this ad from Furrow, or Furrow’s as they were often called, but Furrow is mostly a forgotten retailer so they are worth mentioning. Furrow was the local name for the Payless Cashways chain of home improvement stores. Furrow had several locations in Houston in the 1980s and 1990s, but their stores could not compete with chains like Home Depot who had larger stores. Nonetheless, I quite liked shopping at Furrow so it’s nice to see their name in the newspaper.
Conn’s (Page 33)
In recent years, Conn’s has become a national retailer with a focus on furniture and appliances. Their biggest selling point to customers is their in-house financing. However, prior to about twenty years ago, Conn’s was an electronics and appliance dealer that focused a lot on higher-end products. I was a fan of Mitsubishi TVs and VCRs back in the day and Conn’s was the go-to place for those higher-end Mitsubishi products. With that in mind, this Conn’s ad has listings for Mitsubishi TVs and a VCR as well.
Foley’s (Page 6)
Page 6 shows us a very 1980s looking Foley’s ad for Lee Jeans. Not only do our fashionable shoppers have a choice of denim and corduroy styles, but check out that very 1980s slogan of “Program Your Wardrobe at Foley’s!” Foley’s was certainly celebrating the computer age with that slogan!
Kroger Family Center (Pages 23-24)
Modern Kroger shoppers might be familiar with Kroger Marketplace stores which sell clothing and the Kroger-owned Fred Meyer stores out west that are hypermarkets. However, these were not Kroger’s first attempts at selling everything under one roof. Some of the outer areas of Houston, including Baytown, had stores called Kroger Family Center stores which sold all the groceries you’d expect Kroger to sell, but they also sold clothing, sporting goods, electronics, and automotive items. Page 24 has some advertised products that you would not normally see at a modern Kroger, but Kroger Family Center stores sold them like Shakespeare fishing rods, spray paint, power blowers, and Kraco car stereos. This ad also contains Kroger’s special 100th anniversary logo that they were using in 1983.
Safeway (Page 21)
If you flip through this issue of The Baytown Sun, you’ll quickly realize that Baytown had a lot of supermarket competition in 1983. In addition to the aforementioned Kroger stores, Baytown also had many other supermarkets including several which placed ads in this issue of the newspaper: Safeway, Minimax/Texas Super Foods (pages 53-56), Super Warehouse Foods (Pages 34-36), Weingarten (Page 26), Hathaway’s (Page 27), Lyons (Page 20), Food King (Page 22), and Super O Foods (Page 10). With all this competition, supermarkets could not afford to have noncompetitive pricing. With that in mind, Safeway took an ad out showing their reduced prices at Baytown stores on several common grocery items. It’s interesting to look at this and see what things used to cost back in 1983!
Various Other Ads
There are some other ads from this issue of The Baytown Sun which are worth looking at even if I can’t find much to say about them:
- Crafts, Etc. (Page 2)
- Bealls (page 5)
- Various movie theaters and restaurants (Page 8)
- Eckerd (Page 16)
- JCPenney (Pages 82-89)
A Quick Look at the Next Day’s Newspaper
It is probably worth also posting The Baytown Sun issue from August 11, 1983, the actual day of the Baytown AIM For The Best grand opening. This issue not only has ads for the store on pages 3, 20, and 21, but there is also a TG&Y Family Center ad on page 10 and a TG&Y variety store ad on page 20.
NOTE: The embedded newspaper reader from the Portal below may not work on all browsers or platforms. If it does not load for you, try using the text link above or the text links on the page numbers to read the newspaper pages on the Portal website itself. That should work fine on all browsers.
Other ads of note in this issue of The Baytown Sun include the Lowe’s Home Improvement ad on page 5. Yes, you might be surprised to learn that Lowe’s was in the outskirts of the Houston metro area well before the mid-1990s when they started making a larger expansion into Houston itself. Although this ad does not show it, Lowe’s stores at the time in the 1980s also sold electronics.
Montgomery Ward has an ad on page 11. I like how microwave ovens back then had a rack in them for cooking things like turkeys. The expectations for how people would use microwave ovens certainly changed a lot from the early 1980s to the late 1980s when microwaves became common in almost all homes! Bealls and Kmart have an ad on page 13 and The Fair has an ad on page 14. I like the Jay Marks Chevrolet and Baytown Datsun ads on page 27. The Datsun ad is of significance as this was around the time that Nissan was starting to use their own name instead of the Datsun name in the United States. We see some more ads for electronics and appliances from Conn’s on page 28.
Pages 29-33 have an ad for United Jewelers & Distributing, a similar catalog showroom type retailer as Wilson’s/Service Merchandise and Best Products. Page 32 has some good electronics on it, but also a lot of ‘Tozai-grade’ electronics from such luminary brands as Lloyd’s, Sonic, Certron, Keystone, and Yorx. Yep, I have experiences with all those brands. I did have good luck with Certron blank VHS cassettes bought from Toys R Us stores of all places in the early 1990s. I used to go to Toys R Us just to buy those cassettes at low prices! Anyway, as low-grade as that Yorx boombox probably is, it is pretty awesome that it doubles as a Walkman-type portable cassette player!
Target has an ad on page 22 and it has a listing of all Houston-area locations. With all the talk about aiming and now talk about a Target in this post, maybe it isn’t a surprise that this Target ad is for shotguns. Then again, that might be a big surprise for many of you as it’s been a long time since Target has sold such things in their sporting goods departments. Of course, such products were sold commonly at discount stores and even department stores like Foley’s a few decades ago.
Finally, movie buffs will want to see the Showtime Video ad on page 12 and the Bill’s Video ad on page 18. Also check out those Mr. Gatti’s and Pizza Inn ads on page 18! Anyway, both the video store ads mention video discs. Bill’s Video was even giving members free RCA CED VideoDisc Players if they rented their videos from Bill’s. These are not to be confused with LaserDiscs. RCA CED discs were video discs that were like vinyl music records and were read by a stylus! The format was, as you can probably guess, a massive flop, but it still had relevance in 1983. Speaking of CEDs, here’s a teaser photo of CED VideoDiscs, such as the Airplane II disc, from a local retailer that will be part of the subject of a future Houston Historic Retail post regarding getting to the bottom of a mystery about another former obscure Houston-area discount store. Keep an eye out for that post, you won’t want to miss that one!
In conclusion, I hope these looks at retail ads from August 1983 issues of The Baytown Sun proved to be informative and entertaining. If anyone has thoughts, information, or memories about aiming for the best products at AIM For The Best Stores, or any of the other retailers mentioned in this post, please feel free to share them with us in the comments section below! We love to hear these things from our readers!