Howdy retail fans, and welcome! Today I have to start off with some delayed “breaking news” Longtime Houston grocery chain Sellers Bros. has been sold! Yes, it’s true, in a quiet move sometime towards the end of 2019, the Sellers family sold their grocery operations to Rafael Ortega, owner of La Michoacana Markets. As of yet, no public announcement has been made of the sale, however, Sellers Bros offices have closed, and all paperwork refers to Ortega as the owner, mostly through LLCs, associated with him. There have yet to be any major changes to the stores, although the website was updated to include the new office address, and remove any reference to the former C-Store chain, which was not a part of the deal. Let’s start off with some clarification though. If you’re like me and primarily spend your time on the West Side of town, then you’ve likely seen a Seller Bros or two, but probably haven’t ever noticed a gas station at one. This is due to the fact that these Sellers Bros gas stations operated on the East Side of town, Sellers Bros densest area, and home territory. While I’m not too detailed on the history of Sellers Bros, I know that they actually date back to the 1940s! This puts Sellers Bros in the running for the longest-lasting independent grocer in Houston. Coming in third behind Lewis & Coker, and Weingarten. Lots of the success of Sellers Bros came with the shift to “Drive-In Groceries”, which we would today consider to be convenience stores. It is my understanding that there existed a “car hop” style system where an employee would come out take your order, and payment, and then bring your items to your car. However, I’m unsure if Sellers Bros used this system or just name. In the late 1970s, the original store would be torn down in preparation for the never-built Harrisburg Freeway. The new store would be a full-sized supermarket (I believe their first) behind an existing drive-in location. Today we’re looking at some debranded Sellers Bros C-Stores, which I was hoping were still signed when I went to take these photos.
Sellers Bros would make most of their moves during the next few decades by saving up and expanding into recently closed grocery stores. Most of these were older regional players like Weingarten or Gerlands. They would also continue to build C-Stores, some in the parking lots of their grocery stores, and some completely on their own. While the C-Stores were expanded upon, the older “drive-in groceries” were continually closed, and grocery stores quickly became the family’s staple. Despite being most widely known for their grocery operations, Sellers Bros continued to build a few new C-Stores even into the 2000s, which is what we’re looking at today. Despite being downgraded from drive-in grocery stores to simply “Food Marts”, all of these locations used the Seller Bros. name, with no distinction from the regular stores. While Sellers Bros had been keen on expansion throughout the 80s and 90s, their grocery stores would stop expanding around the mid-2000s. Serious concerns for the chain’s existence stem back to the 2011 passing of one of Joe Sellers the final founding family member, which left the chain in the hands of the third generation of the Sellers family. By this point, just like many other Houston grocery outfits, this portion of the family is far removed from the business and sees it as a hassle that is worth more selling than managing. To the Sellers family credit though, they were able to hang onto the stores for about nine years before splitting them up. For comparison, the Weingarten’s managed 12 years with their stores before spinning them off to a British concern that also owned Grand Union.
It is unclear exactly why the Sellers family elected not to sell the C-Store side of the business, it presumably must generate some sort of income to have been kept by them. It was also obvious that while the grocery stores were generally nicely kept, and well-stocked, the family wasn’t giving them the attention they had been just a few years prior. Houston is a cutthroat market, and for an increasingly large amount, price is outweighing convenience when selecting a grocer. They haven’t closed many stores over the years, but something you often notice is the Sellers Bros operates wherever the major chains don’t. Often their only grocery competition is Wal-Mart, and even then they still use convenience factors to outweigh their competition, like being the only other option to what is often a madhouse. The bigger question, is what does Ortega have planned for the Sellers Bros stores? I can’t imagine he has a long-term intention to keep the name in use, while it does carry some recognition, it’s not necessarily positive. I can’t really see them becoming La Michocana locations either, at least without trimming down the space and selection. While that may be the intent, I hope it’s not, as Sellers Bros does provide an important service in our community as a grocer of convenience, who formerly was a convenience grocer!
It’ll be interesting to see what the La Michocana folks have planned for Sellers Bros stores. Many Sellers Bros. stores are located near La Michocana stores. In some cases, they are right next door! Merging the two banners might make sense, but then they would have to close a lot of locations and Sellers Bros. stores are more of a traditional grocery store than La Michocana stores are so I don’t know how well that would work. While I do have some appreciation for the retroness of Sellers Bros. stores, some could probably stand to have some modernization done to them.
Seeing how Sellers Bros. stores often serve communities that larger grocery chains aren’t interested in serving, I hope they are able to stay relevant. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing them grow just as La Michocana has grown, but admittedly that might be difficult since any growth would see them compete against other established grocers including Fiesta and Food Town.