Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston
Every so often, someone in the retail enthusiast community will stumble upon great sources of retail history in unlikely or hidden corners of the Internet. Loyal Houston Historic Retail readers will know that in just the last few months, we’ve managed to find a large repository of retail news videos clips at The Portal to Texas History website and we also found a large collection of retail annual reports at the Internet Archive. Friend of the HHR blog and fellow retail blogger South Texas Retail recently let me know about a great resource he found on the Internet named Vintage Aerial.
In some ways, Vintage Aerial is quite similar to known resources such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and Historic Aerials in that it provides old aerial images of the United States. Unlike those websites, however, the historic imagery on Vintage Aerial is extremely high quality. Unlike old Google Maps satellite images from, say, the 1980s, one can really make out fine details in the images that Vintage Aerial has on their website. Although Vintage Aerial has images from across the United States, mostly of rural areas and dwellings, some areas have more coverage than others. Fortunately, those of us in Houston are in luck as Vintage Aerial has some excellent Houston retail photos from the 1980s from within Harris and Fort Bend Counties.
So, with that in mind, enjoy this trip back in time! Do note that due to the copyrighted nature of Vintage Aerial photos, I will have to link to these photo pages instead of directly embedding them into the post.
We’ll start our look at Harris County by starting out in the western part of the county and then we’ll travel east. Our first stop takes us to the intersection of N. Fry Road & Saums Road in the Katy area in the year 1984 where we’ll be looking at an intersection anchored at the time by Your Remarkable Store, Randall’s. This photo on Vintage Aerial gives us an excellent look at what a mid-1980s era Randall’s looked like from the outside when they were new as this Randall’s opened in 1984. Randall’s neighbor within the same shopping center was an Eckerd that can be seen here. In modern times, the Randall’s space has been subdivided and Rising Fitness is now the main anchor in the spot and Katy Bingo resides in the old Eckerd.
On the NW corner of the intersection exists a shopping center that was anchored by Cloth World in 1984. The outparcels in that shopping center in 1984 included a Gulf gas station and a Church’s Chicken. The Church’s Chicken might have briefly operated as a Ron’s Fried Chicken as this was during the short period when Ron’s Fried Chicken operated as a subsidiary of Church’s before Ron’s locations became Church’s . All of these stores can be seen here. In modern times, the Cloth World anchor was a Goodwill Select store that closed in April 2021. The Church’s Chicken is still around and the Gulf station was torn down and replaced with an Advance Auto Parts.
Speaking of auto parts, the SE corner of the intersection once housed a Fischer’s Auto Parts store and a Stop-N-Go gas station with an attached Pilgrim Cleaners in 1984 as can be seen here. The Fischer’s became a Hi-Lo Auto Supply after Hi-Lo bought the Fischer’s chain in 1989. The Hi-Lo eventually became an O’Reilly Auto Parts after O’Reilly bought the Hi-Lo chain about a decade after the Fischer’s purchase. The Stop-N-Go is now a Circle K/Valero combo.
While our journey through Harris County historic retail will take us east on I-10, let’s first take a distant stop in NW Harris County to the heart of Tomball in the year 1988. We’ll be looking at three buildings at the corner of FM 149 (now SH 249 Business) and FM 2920. The first is the Hexagonal Shell gas station seen here that was on the NE corner of the intersection until the last decade when it was turned into a small shopping center anchored by The Mattress Firm. Interestingly enough, there was another Shell across the street on the NW corner of the intersection for some years after the Texaco on the NW corner became rebranded as a Shell. Now, neither is a gas station. Next to the aforementioned NE corner Shell is a McDonald’s. In 1988, the McDonald’s seen here was a typical for the time mansard roof McDonald’s. That McDonald’s has since been replaced with an ‘eyebrow’ McDonald’s. Lastly, here is the Tomball Home of the Whopper, Burger King, as it looked in 1988. As interesting as the Burger King itself is, pay close attention to the shadow by the playground with the diamond shaped sign with a roundel on the top. Yep, that is the shadow of the Safeway sign that stood proudly there at the time. Actually, the same sign is still standing today, but now it advertises the HEB that is at the shopping center!
Now we will finally head to the eastern part of Harris County. Our first stop in 1984 will be to see the United Jewelers & Distributors catalog showroom store and General Cinema seen here that was in the Goose Creek shopping center across from the San Jacinto Mall. Also, check out this Furrow Building Materials (Payless Cashways) store seen here in the Jacinto City area! The Furrow is now a flea market.
Here’s one for the Toys R Us kids in the audience. Here’s a look at the Toys R Us in Baytown across I-10 from San Jacinto Mall in 1988. Je of the Louisiana & Texas Retail Blog chronicled the last few days of the Baytown Toys R Us before it closed in 2018. This building is now a Big Lots.
Fort Bend County
Mike of HHR recently took a current look at the Mission Bend Fiesta at the corner of Highway 6 & Bellaire Boulevard. Here, we’ll be taking a look at the Mission Bend area as it looked in the year 1984. A lot of the same buildings are still around, but their tenants are quite different now! The first buildings we’ll be looking at at the United Savings and Pizza Hut buildings split on both sides of Via Del Norte Drive on Highway 6 which can be seen here. The United Savings is now a Tasco Auto Color and the Pizza Hut is now a Mr. Trompo Tacos & More.
Next to the old United Savings were a series of restaurants. The building closest to it was a Chili’s seen here that is now an EZ Pawn that still very much looks like a Chili’s. Next to that was a Cattle Company Restaurant seen here that was in front of a Luby’s Cafeteria. The Luby’s building is now abandoned and the Cattle Company Restaurant was torn down to make room for a Walgreens. The Walgreens moved from down Bellaire Blvd. from this old location here at Winkleman Road. Finally, just past the Highway 6 intersection on Bellaire Blvd. was this Mr. Gatti’s Pizza seen here that is now a reception hall.
Our last stop on our tour takes us to Avenue H in Rosenberg in the year 1985. Let’s start on the west side of town at Penkert Tire Supply, a family run affair, the Penkerts were locally famous for founding the Rosenberg Railroad Museum. The tire shop would be shutdown after the family leased the property in 2018, it would retain the original look sans gas pumps until then.
The next photos we’ll look at are of the Fiesta Mart seen here and Kmart seen here that were right next to one another. The Fiesta Mart is still in business and is mostly unchanged from 1985. The Kmart has been subdivided and one of the main tenants there now is the Family Thrift Center.
To the east a bit on Avenue H is this former Wendy’s seen here This location closed in 2013, when the franchisee moved to a former Starbucks at Highway 36 and 59. The building still stands, with the metal cladding removed, it has been vacant since 2013. Near to the Wendy’s is a Whataburger with an interesting story. If the building looks strange for a Whataburger (what those of us in the Houston retail community call an Oddaburger), it is because the building used to house a Del Taco before Whataburger moved in. Now, the building is a Lonestar Title Loans.
Next door to the Oddaburger is an old Sutherlands hardware store here on Avenue H. Sutherlands is long gone and now an indoor baseball batting cage center named Extreme Sports lives on in the old Sutherlands building. In front of Sutherland’s lumberyard, sits the Lamar Corner Shopping Center. While Payless Shoes is long gone, original tenant Hunan Garden is still there as of 2021.
Finally, making our way into Richmond still along Avenue H, now at the intersection of Thompson Road aka FM 762, we find a Hexagonal Shell Station. Marking our last stop, this Shell was replaced by a Chevron station, although the original building is still in use. The drive-in next door, Jamie’s Dairy Treat, is also still operating out of the same structure.
The images from Vintage Aerial on this post are certainly not all the retail images from the Houston area on the site. This is just a selection of some of the most interesting photos I found. I encourage our readers to go to the Vintage Aerial page and find anything else which might be interesting from a retail perspective. Those who find anything interesting, or those who have comments/memories about the stores mentioned in the post, are encouraged to share their thoughts with us in the comments section below!