Welcome folks, today we’ve got another edition of Random Retail! This week we have a heavy emphasis on a former Wal-Mart, but not enough that it warrants its own post. If you’ve never experienced Random Retail before, well it’s basically a dump of photos I’ve taken that don’t really fit in with anything else I’m doing at the moment. A good portion of these Random Retail photos come from former Wal-Mart #597 at 7075 FM 1960 W., Houston, TX 77069. I had originally planned to go a bit more in-depth on the location, but found myself lacking any good photos of the interior, so instead friend of the blog, Anonymous in Houston, offers some thoughts and memories about the Willowbrook area Wal-Mart:
The former Willowbrook Mall area Wal-Mart Supercenter (Store number 597) is a Wal-Mart that caught national attention in early 2016 when Wal-Mart announced that it was closing the store. The closure of Wal-Mart Supercenters is not all that common and Wal-Mart rarely offers detailed explanations for why these stores close. Those on the outside often like to speculate as to why these stores close. As for the Willowbrook area store, it opened as a non-Supercenter Wal-Mart in early 1995. The history of Wal-Mart #597 actually goes back about a decade prior though. When Wal-Mart first entered the Houston area in the early 1980s, their earliest stores were on the far outskirts of town. Wal-Mart opened the initial Wal-Mart Discount City #597 on FM 149 (later SH 249) near Spring-Cypress Road in 1984. The Wal-Mart itself was really in the middle of nowhere in the 1980s, but there was a shopping center next to it that housed a greenhouse-style Kroger that became a Sprouts. There is now a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the intersection of SH 249 and Spring-Cypress, but that is technically not the replacement store for the 1984 Wal-Mart. The replacement for the 1984 Wal-Mart is the Willowbrook area store.
The FM 149 and Spring-Cypress Wal-Mart was my local Wal-Mart for a number of years even though it was quite far from where I lived. The Copperfield Wal-Mart later joined that Wal-Mart as my other local Wal-Mart later in the 1980s, but we shopped at both Wal-Marts pretty equally and I have pretty vivid memories of the FM 149 Wal-Mart #597 and the orange carpet it had, the enclosed electronics department in the middle of the store, chili dogs and Icees from the snack bar, and all the other typical features of Wal-Mart Discount Cities from the 1980s. After the 1984 Wal-Mart #597 closed, it was converted into commercial/business use. M&R Manufacturing occupies the building now and it still very much looks like a 1980s Wal-Mart Discount City. As for the 1995 version of the Willowbrook area Wal-Mart, one of the oddest features of it was that the store was built quite far back from FM 1960 W. Instead of paving the area in the front of the store, Wal-Mart left it as a park-like greenspace. FM 1960 W is hardly a scenic route so it’s hard to explain why Wal-Mart built the store this way. If anything, it made visibility of the store on FM 1960 W a bit difficult even though there was a sign along the road indicating that there was a Wal-Mart store there. The best guess I have for why the store was built that way was that traffic was a major problem along that part of FM 1960 W in the 1990s. There were even rumors that FM 1960 W might get converted into a freeway due to the heavy traffic on that route. Perhaps Wal-Mart wanted to build a buffer between the road and their store just to offer some protection from them having to give up some land for road expansion. (Continues after photos)
The Willowbrook area Wal-Mart was expanded in very late 1999 to become a Wal-Mart Supercenter. If I remember correctly, that was the first, or one of the first, Wal-Mart Supercenters in Northwest Houston and it was a pretty big deal at the time. Although the store was expanded, there wasn’t a big difference between the Willowbrook area Wal-Mart and other Wal-Mart Supercenters that were built specifically as Wal-Mart Supercenters around the turn of the century. Perhaps one interesting aspect of the store was that the grocery section had an open ceiling, but the rest of the store had a high drop ceiling. As I mentioned earlier, there has been a lot of purely speculative rumors as to why the Willowbrook Wal-Mart closed. I really can’t say why the store closed, but I can offer my thoughts and observations. Although another Wal-Mart opened up closer to me, the Willowbrook Wal-Mart continued to be the main Wal-Mart I visited due to it being located near all the other retail in the Willowbrook area. Even though the Willowbrook area Wal-Mart did have some visibility problems from FM 1960 W, it didn’t prevent the store from being very busy. In the year or two preceding the closure of the store, the Willowbrook Wal-Mart did suffer from some customer service problems. Like a lot of other Wal-Marts even to this very day, the Willowbrook area store started to keep very few manned checkout lanes open once they installed the self-checkouts. This led to very long checkout lines. Also, and this issue seemed especially bad at the Willowbrook area store, Wal-Mart had some problems around that time keeping items on the shelves near where the corresponding price tags were on the shelves. This led to a lot of confusion about what the prices were for certain items. A trip to the price scanner was usually necessary if you wanted to know what a price was on an item.
Although some of these customer service problems might have helped lead to the Willowbrook Wal-Mart’s downfall, I really doubt that’s what did the store in since the store continued to be popular. Instead, the best guess I have as to why the store closed was due to Wal-Mart building a lot of other Supercenter stores in the same general area. A few miles along SH 249 to the north was the aforementioned Spring-Cypress Wal-Mart Supercenter. A few miles to the east on FM 1960 W was the T.C. Jester Wal-Mart Supercenter. A few miles to the west on FM 1960 W was the N. Eldridge Wal-Mart Supercenter. Then, perhaps the final blow was the opening of the SH 249 & West Rd. Wal-Mart Supercenter about a year before the Willowbrook area Wal-Mart closed. It is certainly possible that Wal-Mart thought they were simply competing against themselves with all their Supercenters clustered so close together and so the Willowbrook area store, the location that was in the center of the cluster, was the location that was sacrificed. On a final note about the Willowbrook area Wal-Mart, I am pretty sure I attended the grand opening for the store in 1995. I know for a fact that I visited the closing liquidation sale in 2016. It is hard to forget the scenes from that! Unlike most store liquidation sales which last a month or two, the Wal-Mart liquidation only lasted a couple weeks. In reality, almost everything was sold after just a handful of days. I visited the closing sale about three to four days into the sale. Just finding a parking spot took about 15 minutes! Inside, the store was packed and about 2/3rds of the merchandise was already sold. One nice thing about the Wal-Mart liquidation is that they did not raise the prices before the liquidation so there were truly some good bargains to be had at the liquidation if you were willing to put up with the huge crowds.
The rest of these photos are from small trips I’ve made recently throughout the area. Nothing special, but they should be fun to look at!