Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston
Those who have been reading Houston Historic Retail for some period of time know that I did a two-part series (Part I and II) in early 2021 about the excellent retail videos available at The Portal of Texas History website operated by the University of North Texas Library. Most of the videos at The Portal were supplied by Dallas-Fort Worth TV station KXAS-TV. Well, another Dallas Metroplex university library, the Southern Methodist University Library, also has a collection of videos in their G. William Jones Film & Video Collection. The bulk of these videos are from the Dallas-Fort Worth TV station WFAA-TV and several clips from the 1960s and 1970s have been posted to YouTube. Since these clips were shot on film, the quality of the clips can be described as being high definition. There is a lot more detail in these clips than in newer news clips shot on videotape from other sources.
Obviously, the majority of WFAA’s clips are filmed in the DFW Metroplex. While HHR’s Houston readers might bristle at having to take in history from a Dallas perspective yet again, we should be thankful that TV stations and universities in Dallas have worked to put so many news clips online on varying topics. This is not something done often nationally and we’re lucky to have so much footage from a place not too dissimilar from Houston in terms of retail at the very least.
I will embed some YouTube videos here within the blog post, but due to the number of videos which will be discussed in this blog post, some will have to be linked via a text link. If you watch these clips on a large enough screen and with a fast enough Internet connection, I recommend setting YouTube to 1080p and watching these videos in full screen mode so you can see these clips in maximum quality. With that in mind, on to the videos!
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my brief time as a guest blogger here at HHR, it’s that HHR readers love seeing inside old supermarkets. Well, you’re in luck because the Jones Film & Video Collection has several supermarket clips on YouTube!
We’ll start with what I believe might be the most spectacular supermarket clip in the collection. This video above contains a clip from 1977 shot within a Metroplex Kroger store with the famed Kroger Superstore décor package from the 1970s. For more information about the Superstore décor package, reference my earlier HHR post about retail annual reports. If there was ever a supermarket décor package which encapsulated the look of the 1970s, it is the Kroger Superstore décor. Also note the level of technology that Kroger was using at the time with their HVAC systems and also with their fairly advanced cash registers for the time.
Tom Thumb supermarkets might not be familiar to Houston retail enthusiasts, especially prior to Randall’s buying Tom Thumb in the 1990s, but Tom Thumb has been a major grocer in the Metroplex for decades. Like Randall’s, Tom Thumb stores historically have been a bit nicer than the average supermarket. With that in mind, check out this 1974 video showing a spinning display of meat at a Tom Thumb store! Also, this 1977 video discussing diet sodas shows various parts of an impressive looking Tom Thumb store.
Another supermarket name which might be unfamiliar to Houston retail enthusiasts is Buddies. Buddies was a major Metroplex grocer which was sold to Winn-Dixie in 1976. Winn-Dixie maintained a presence in the Metroplex until 2002. This video from 1973 discussing how to reduce spending at a supermarket shows various parts of a Buddies store.
Safeway is a name which is surely known by Houston retail enthusiasts. That said, Safeway’s presence in the Metroplex was much lengthier than their presence in Houston. This silent black & white clip from 1962 shows the inside of a Safeway store from the period before Safeway came to Houston in 1969. This B-roll video clip from 1973 inside a Safeway store is from after the time that Safeway entered the Houston market and started having a lot of success, at least initially, in Houston.
This 1975 clip above filmed inside a Safeway store is one of the favorite clips I’ve come across on the Jones Film & Video Collection. It seems that the management of the The Home Interiors and Gifts Company gave their employees shopping sprees inside two Safeway stores as a Christmas present. Shoppers could fill their carts as much as possible with anything except for fresh meat and alcohol for a period of one hour and they could take the contents of the carts home for free. Not only did this gift prove to be a great value, but it was surely a lot of fun for the employees to try to run wild through a supermarket! The clip shows several aspects of a 1970s Safeway store.
If you liked the prior Safeway Christmas shopping spree clip from 1975, you’ll probably also like this 1975 clip from inside a Sears store. From what I can gather, the clip shows the children of Sears employees having a Christmas shopping spree inside a Sears store. The clip mentions that the employees had a company party where they gave away eight cars and $36,000 in other merchandise. While Amazon and Walmart might have replaced Sears as the places where America shops, I somehow doubt Amazon and Walmart give their employees such perks as Sears did half a century ago!
The above video is from the Valley View Center Sears in 1976 and it discusses the hottest Christmas buys for that year. Video games and microwave ovens were certainly cutting-edge in 1976, but with a reputable name like Sears behind those products, Americans were willing to spend relatively large amounts of money to buy them! This clip has several great images of a 1970s Sears store.
We’ll now go back to the early 1960s for the next two clips. First, here is a silent black & white clip from the grand opening of the Oak Cliff Montgomery Ward store in 1961. Also, here is a black & white clip discussing the 1962 remodeling of the Preston Center Sanger-Harris department store. Sanger-Harris might not be a name familiar to Houstonians. Sanger-Harris eventually became Foley’s in 1987, a name surely familiar to Houstonians, and then eventually Macy’s when Foley’s stores became Macy’s in 2006.
Finally, here above is a recent clip added to YouTube by the Jones Film & Video Collection staff. Here, reporter Bill O’Reilly (yes, the modern day political commentator who was once a reporter for WFAA) discusses how electric socks were a ‘hot’ seller at Kmart during Christmas 1975. The clip contains footage initially from inside a Target store, but then the camera moves to a Kmart store where O’Reilly talks to a store manager. Ironically, the part of the Kmart where they are filming has targets in the background!
This silent black & white clip at a Luby’s Cafeteria in 1961 might prove to be the most bizarre clip in this blog post. In this clip, ‘Sahbra, The Swimming Tiger’ is taken inside a Luby’s Cafeteria and the staff acts as if nothing is all that unusual! Surely one would not expect to see something like this at a modern Luby’s!
Houstonians might remember Black-eyed Pea restaurants. Black-eyed Pea actually started in Dallas in 1975. This 1976 B-roll clip shows footage from outside that first Black-eyed Pea location. That original location remained in business until 2016.
The final restaurant clip above comes to us from the Duncanville McDonald’s in 1977. Soviet orchestra musicians were touring the US at that time. After starting off in Houston, they ended up in Duncanville. The visiting Soviets had already had a taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but now they were getting a taste of McDonald’s. Seeing these old McDonald’s locations is always fascinating to me. Just about all the menu items shown in the clip are still on the McDonald’s menu today, but the stores and employee uniforms sure have changed! That particular McDonald’s location is now operating as a Masons Chicken & Seafood restaurant.
Malls/Shopping Centers/Street Views
In some ways, this section of the post will be the most Metroplex-specific portion of the blog post since it will show Metroplex streets and malls, but looking at vintage malls is always interesting to me regardless of where they are located at and many of the retailers who lined the streets of Dallas also lined the streets of Houston. With that in mind, let’s start our mall video tour with this silent video from 1969 showing the aftermath of a fire at the Westcliff Mall in Oak Cliff.
Moving to a slightly happier topic, here is a clip about the 1970 grand opening of Six Flags Mall in Arlington. While those were certainly good days for Six Flags Mall, those happy times would not last forever as the mall eventually struggled and closed in 2016. Je of the Louisiana & Texas Retail Blog has several photos from inside the mall before it closed.
Mesquite’s Town East Mall, which opened a year after Six Flags Mall, has managed to survive. This 1972 clip shot inside the mall discusses whether people would steal an unattended bag at the mall. The bag would eventually be stolen, but only after several shoppers did return the bag to mall or store employees. The clip does have some interesting images from inside a mall from around 50 years ago.
Valley View Center, which was developed by Sears’ Homart Development Company like Town East Mall, opened in 1973 and was once a very successful mall. That success did not last and the mall has suffered a fate not too dissimilar from the fate suffered by Six Flags Mall. Once again, Je of the Louisiana & Texas Retail Blog has covered the demise and redevelopment of Valley View Center. This 1975 clip shows the mall during better times. Specifically, it shows a dancing horse that visited the mall shoppers.
This 1975 clip above comes to us from an unnamed mall in the Metroplex. The topic of the video is what we would now call Black Friday shopping. While things have changed here recently, it wasn’t too long ago that Black Friday meant a trip to a very busy mall and that was certainly the case in 1975!
Now we’ll take a look at some street views of vintage retail. First, here is a 1975 video discussing the Lakewood Shopping Center which shows several retailers including Jack in the Box, Safeway, 7 Eleven, and an El Chico Restaurant.
The next three videos I’ll discuss all come to us from around Lemmon Avenue in Dallas. The above clip from 1973 discusses potential changes to sign ordinances within Dallas. It seems people in Dallas were becoming concerned about the extravagant signs some retailers were using. These signs are visible in the clip. In the clip, we can see signs for many retailers we have/had in Houston including McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and their H. Salt Esquire Fish & Chips division, Toddle House, and Prince’s Hamburgers. We also see rotating signs for Church’s Chicken and Kroger.
This next clip about signs, also from 1973, discusses how the city council passed a new ordinance changing the sign regulations in Dallas. In addition to some of the signs seen above, we also see some signs for Shell and Exxon. Finally, this clip from 1976 discusses research being done to look at the safety aspects of retail signs and road design. We can see some of the signs we saw in the 1973 clips, such as the Prince’s Hamburgers sign, and we can also see a Marina-style Safeway store. Here’s how things look down Lemmon Avenue in modern times.
In conclusion, I hope you have enjoyed this high-definition look at vintage retail! It’s worth noting that the clips in this blog post do not represent all the retail clips in the Jones Film & Video Collection YouTube channel and the Jones Film & Video Collection staff are continually adding new clips to their YouTube channel. Thus, it’s certainly worth digging through and following their YouTube channel to see what gems might be on it.
If you have any thoughts or memories about the retailers discussed in this blog post, please feel free to discuss them in the comments section below!
Lots of awesome stuff in here! I was really interested by the videos discussing the sign ordinances and the effects the signs may have on distracting drivers. I bet there is truth to a lot of that, and obviously these days we don’t see signs like that as a result (in addition to other aesthetic reasons), but the sign proponents who claimed that such ordinances would force sign manufacturers out of business surely also had a good argument, for I believe that did indeed wind up being the case, sadly.
I love seeing videos with experiences, such as the Russians enjoying McDonald’s for the first time, and the employee shopping spree at Safeway. That was a really wonderful event to hold and I wonder if anything like it still takes place today. If not, I wonder if it would still go over well if it did. I have to imagine it would. Groceries are a pretty universal need. That said, covering the full cost of dozens if not hundreds of overflowing baskets certainly is a big ask for a company nowadays.
Finally, of course I loved seeing that Kroger Superstore video! The quality in all these videos was great and I enjoyed seeing them. Your write-up is a perfect fit with the videos as well.
Thanks, I’m glad you liked the post! This was certainly a fun post to put together as I enjoyed watching all the videos. Some of them are real gems like that Kroger Superstore video!
Highly elaborate signs like those in that 1973 video are certainly a thing of the past. I’m sure those signs were not only expensive when new, but they probably also required a lot of maintenance to keep going with all the rotating things, flashing things, and neon. That was certainly good for the sign industry, but in the long-run, I’m sure the retail industry appreciated not having to spend as much on signs as long as they didn’t have to worry about a competitor drawing in all the customers with a flashy sign. At least here in Houston, quite a few businesses and shopping centers have started putting up flashy looking LED video boards in their signs. With that, I wonder if some of the same concerns expressed 50 years ago might become relevant here once again.
I’m not sure if shopping sprees like that Safeway one still happen. I suspect it’s a lot easier for employers to give gift cards out than to book a supermarket and guess at what the total bill will be. Also, with the rise of gourmet food products in the 1980s that continues today, there are probably some very expensive items in stores today which didn’t exist in the 1970s. I suspect those shopping sprees were a good deal for Safeway though as they could ensure that they’d get monster sales as everyone stuffed their carts. Safeway probably gave the employer a small discount over list prices for those groceries, but it was probably worth it to get all those sales and also the publicity of getting on the local news.
What a fantastic post! These videos provide a great look into retailers of the past. Obviously, that Kroger video is visual gold, and very interesting to me at least. The Tom Thumb Diet Soda one is also up there in terms of store footage. It’s odd prior to the Black Friday video I had never really considered the origin of the term, some light research seems its relation to the shopping day is only as recent as the 80s. Also, funny that the Soviets would end up tasting the free market in Houston, years before Boris Yeltsin ever even thought of leaving the USSR! Although with the fact that they had a McDonald’s prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain speaks volumes to their opinion of the humble hamburger.
Well, if you need me, I’ll be watching more old retail videos, thawing out my feet in the electric socks!
Thanks, I’m glad you liked the post. While there are a few videos out there of 1970s Kroger and Safeway stores, I don’t think any of them have the detail that these videos have. I really have not seen any videos of 1970s Sears stores which have the details that these videos have. I really liked seeing these and I knew they had to be shared.
I can remember the day after Thanksgiving being a huge shopping day with the Thanksgiving Day newspaper having tons of ads with after Thanksgiving sales and doorbusters. That said, I don’t think I remember hearing the ‘Black Friday’ name until the late 1990s. It certainly became the popular term for the day in the 2000s. Certainly some of the extreme craziness of the day has subsided a bit with recent retail trends in the last 5 years or so.
The Soviets seemed to be enjoying their McDonald’s stop in Duncanville! I wonder if they liked it better than Kentucky Fried Chicken. It would be interesting to read anything the Soviets wrote to describe their experiences in the US in the 1970s especially as it relates to retail.
.I wonder how one washes electric socks. Perhaps this is something where it is best not to think of such things, lol.