Howdy folks, welcome back to another edition of Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re taking a look at an HEB at 200 W Hopkins St, San Marcos, TX 78666 that, while not in Houston, was once part of the Houston division of Safeway and AppleTree stores. Located in San Marcos, it lost its Houston affiliation with the 1994 purchase by H-E-B. The store was built in 1984, to replace an older location on the same property. The first Safeway in San Marcos originally opened in 1972, built on most of a city block that was purchased from various homeowners and other small businesses. There was however one holdout family on the block, who stuck around on their corner with the new Safeway surrounding them. However, by the 1980s the family moved out, and the remaining parcel was sold to Safeway, who began preparations for a new store. However, this presented an issue, as there was only one Safeway in town, and the company likely spent “beau coup cash” on the remaining house on the block, so they were staying put. The solution was instead to build a brand-new store in the parking lot of the operating location. The new store would be built with everything needed to open except for the products, close for a night and move everything over. Then, after opening the new store, auction off the old equipment, and then demolish the old location. A pretty ingenious solution that is still used by modern chains who are expanding on their own property.
Safeway’s investment in a new store, after only about 10 years in town, was somewhat of a reflection of how well they had done in San Marcos. For the most part, Safeway had benefited from a lack of major competition. Unlike the Houston area, which was experiencing the worst of the grocery wars throughout the 1970s. The only other real competition Safeway here being a long-standing H-E-B. Although all this started to change in the early 1980s. However, the real reason for this new store was Kroger announcing their intent to expand into San Antonio and the surrounding areas in the 1980s. They had chosen San Marcos as a hub of operations, building both a new warehouse, and one of the first Kroger stores in the area. Safeway’s new store was a response to increasing competition, which within a few years would also come to include a new H-E-B location, in addition to the Kroger. San Marcos was likely the only market in Texas where Safeway, H-E-B, and Kroger all directly competed with each other. It wasn’t meant to be this however, as Safeway began preparations for a San Antonio expansion in 1981, although wisely they would be abandoned by 1983. It would take Kroger nearly 10 years before they would shut down their stores, which were being slaughtered by H-E-B.
This Safeway on the other hand was a constant seller. Early on, many of those customers were likely drawn to the store based on the fact that it carried alcohol while H-E-B didn’t. Next, its location (in the center of town) brought in college students, who were very interested in one-stop shopping, especially when it included beer and wine. Even through the AppleTree days, it maintained a consistent customer base. Once the AppleTree meltdown occurred, this was one of 12 “Austin” stores that were quickly purchased by Randall’s. The Austin name dating all the way back to Safeway, when it was considered a division within the Houston “branch”. While the store displayed the name Randall’s on the outside, these “AppleTree Randall’s” locations were slightly different from the traditional stores. For example, they were likely the first Randall’s stores to sell alcohol, a tradition adopted after the merger with Tom Thumb-Page. After Kroger left San Marcos, Handy Andy quickly stepped in and attempted to make a go in their old store, however this would last less than a year. Unfortunately, it seems that under Randall’s this store was not nearly as successful. With their emphasis on quality over price, and in one of their first direct battles with what was to become a major foe, Randall’s bowed out of San Marcos in 1996, selling this store to H-E-B. The second location was justified by the new Wal-Mart Supercenter planned to open the same year.
Over the years, the store has been updated by H-E-B to better reflect the demographics which it now serves. Most folks who were driving in from outside San Marcos to shop here did so because this was the only grocery store in the area. With Wal-Mart opening up Super Centers in other neighboring communities, this drove traffic away. Most customers who lived in town were willing to drive to the existing larger H-E-B to avoid the higher prices Randall’s was infamously known for. For the most part, the store had a core base of college students, and tourists. As one of the closest stores to the San Marcos river, this store is a must stop for beer drinkers while studying, or toobin’.