Love thy HEB Neighborhood Market

These days in Houston a vacant grocery store doesn’t tend to sit for too long. While we don’t have a huge number of chains running around town these days to pickup the empty stores, we do have some independents. Even locations that have hit the end of their useful life as grocery stores, are often converted into other types of stores. We’re a town of opportunity, and lax (not non-existent) zoning laws help allow for easy transitions. However, that’s not to say you can’t find any unoccupied supermarket buildings in Houston. If a building is not being reused there are often invisible factors at play which have forced this to happen. Maybe it’s issues with a lease, maybe the building is in poor shape, or maybe it’s no longer suited in size or layout for use by a grocer.

Today we’re taking a look at a former HEB Pantry Foods. The store located at 5417 S Braeswood Blvd, Houston, TX 77096 has an interesting history. Originally opening in June 1964, as a Rice Food Market, the store was a prototypical 1960s supermarket. Coming in around 20,000 square feet, this Rice was about on par with most other grocers in Houston at the time. However, by the 1980s, Meyerland was a losing market for Rice, who faced stiff competition from larger chains, and tried to combat this by focusing on cut price stores, in areas that really needed them. By mid-1983 Rice would shutdown this location, and with its diminutive size, had trouble finding a grocery replacement tenant. By this point, chain stores were focusing on getting larger and larger with some Safeways of the mid-80s at or above 50,000 Square Feet! To salvage this property in 1984 an unlikely tenant would be found, Miller’s Outpost. A clothing store that was famous for their Anchor Blue line of Jeans. Miller’s time in the space would be short, only operating out of the former Rice for about 2 years. In 1986, the store would close and be unable to attract another tenant for many years.

Fast forward, six years, and another grocer was looking to enter the Meyerland area. Unfortunately by the 90s essentially anything in the area that could be built out, had been. However, this was no normal grocer. It was HEB Pantry Foods, who were seeking smaller stores, in areas of high need. This former Rice would be the perfect spot, and by December 1992, HEB was further into Houston than they’d ever been before. The store would serve H-E-B well for many years. Even after Albertsons vacated their nearby store on Fondren, HEB made no attempt to move from their digs, until the floods came. While no doubt dealing with draining water had long been a problem for anyone in such close proximity to the bayou around 2010 the flooding frequency and severity jumped. In 2017 after Hurricane Harvey HEB announced they would give up on the old store, with a new two level location to be constructed in the parking lot of Meyerland Plaza.

Photos of the store from late 2019 early 2020

Over the next few years the remaining pieces of the store would be dismantled and removed, with the new HEB finally opening in 2020. During the time the old store was being broken up, a farmer’s market began meeting in the parking lot. By the start of 2020 the farmer’s market announced plans to renovate the former H-E-B for use as an indoor space. Construction on the new indoor space start November 2020 with the expectation of the building being fully in use by 2021. While some build out did occur, it’s obvious that the Love Thy Neighbor Market is not fully complete. It does appear that it was used at least once to house the farmers market due to weather conditions, but it seems to have dropped off around early February. While the post does not go into detail about why the project was abandoned, the property was sold in early 2021 to a commercial investment firm. Chances are once long standing leases end, like Old Hickory BBQ, this old market will be demolished, and replaced with something much taller.