Handy Randalls, the store that killed an HEB still here 50 years later

Howdy, folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail! Today we’re taking an in-depth look at one of Houston’s former Handy Andy stores. If you’re not in the know about Handy Andy, let me give you a little background. They were a grocer based out of San Antonio who expanded to Houston in the 1970s. During the initial phases of their expansion, things went quite well with the Becker family, who owned the stores, building four large-format stores unlike anything else they’d ever built. These new stores were much larger than an average grocery store of the time, had a wider selection, and didn’t even really resemble grocery stores. Handy Andy’s point of entry in Houston was not dissimilar from Rice Epicurean. They were absolutely a staple grocer, but they also had a decidedly upscale side too. If this description rings a bit of a bell, that’s no coincidence, as I’m basically describing the glory days of Randall’s Flagship stores, which holds a special connection to Handy Andy. However, after a few missteps in the Houston market, and a fierce price war with HEB elsewhere, the Becker family soon found themselves ousted from the chain they established. Handy Andy would continue a reduced expansion in Houston, before eventually pulling out of the market altogether in 1979. Of the 9 stores built, the 4 large format Handy Andy locations, were purchased by Randall’s, later that same year. Today we’re taking a look at 14610 Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 77079 which started life as a Handy Andy in 1972. Before we dive in though, let’s talk about how Randall’s ended up in this building.

 

Randall’s purchase of the Houston Handy Andy stores was initially done to increase their market share. With the ensuing grocery wars in Houston, Randall’s had to bolster their own numbers or face falling to incoming competition. These new Randall’s stores would proudly sport the ‘Discount Supermarket’ signage above their entrances, but these former Handy Andy’s were anything but discount. Once the Onsteads moved into these buildings, they liked what they saw. During the ousting of the Becker family, the product mix of Handy Andy was shifted from high-class groceries to more general fare that you’d find in a Supermarket. Randall’s would immediately reverse that change and quickly bring back the high-class setup also mixing in a pharmacy and extensive health and beauty section, for which Randall’s had become known. These former HA stores would be an immediate success for Randall’s. Their success was so influential that a program was undertaken to design new stores, which had many of combined many of the features of these Handy Andy stores and implemented them into new Randall’s locations. These new stores were to include both practical influences, like a special “French Bakery”, and deli restaurant both originally found at Handy Andy. Randall’s would also copy a bit of the visual design on the interior, building their new stores with a center sloped roof. Originally only meant to serve as expansion, these stores turned out to be so successful for Randall’s that most of their modern image seems to be built off the back of Handy Andy.

This location was the first Handy Andy to open in Houston, doing so sometime in mid-1972, while I can’t put an exact date on it, the store seems to have been in operation by the end of that July. This was actually the second supermarket in the area. The first to open had been Safeway. While Handy Andy had a relatively easy time building in this neighborhood the same can’t be said for their red and white competitors, who had been subject to many issues when trying to build in Memorial. The chain was constricted into a ~25,000 Square Foot space in a neighborhood shopping center, a very small store for a 1970 grand opening. At the time this location opened, another proposed store further up Memorial was being protested at the state government level. Safeway was also publicly accused by the Houston City Council of attempting to bribe them, in exchange for building storm drains for the store. While these issues may seem minuscule now, they were Safeway’s first PR in Houston, except for a failed expansion plan 15 years earlier. By the time Handy Andy had made it to the Memorial, it was easily clear that most Houstonians preferred to visit the intricate San Antonio-based grocer, as opposed to its tiny national competitor.

 

While Handy Andy had a great start in Houston these times wouldn’t last. The Houston division of the chain was bringing in good money, but the stores were also some of the most expensive in the chain to operate. For a grocer that was otherwise competing with discount supermarkets like HEB, the Houston stores were a bit of an outlier. By the mid-70s pressures from competition in other parts of Texas were bringing problems to Handy Andy. While HEB wasn’t specifically targeting any single grocer, they were taking on the San Antonio market as a whole. This was enough to really bring the hurt to Handy Andy, by the end of the 1970s, the family who founded the chain had been ousted from their positions, and decisions were left up to the shareholders. Without a grand vision for Houston, the decision was quickly made to sell off the expensive stores. Various grocers would be found, but one chain would make a move to purchase the four larger format original stores built by the Becker family prior to their ousting. The Onstead-led Randall’s would find themselves making few changes to these former Handy Andy stores, and even choosing to roll back a few new policies. These new Randall’s stores wore the “Discount Supermarket” banner, just like every other location at the time, but the inside was anything other than a discount market. Lots of upscale charm was restored, although the gifts, and fine cookware were reduced for the inclusion of a Pharmacy and Beauty departments. Later under Safeway’s ownership, this store’s look was dramatically updated. It was given an early Lifestyle Conversion as it was a Flagship location. This renovation would not only give the store a new interior look, but it would also provide a new exterior. Tearing down the front end of the store, and replacing it with a more traditional Randall’s arched exterior. A drive-thru pharmacy was also added blocking the gabled roofline from most vantage points. The store currently sits with a “Lifestyle 1.9 Remodel” (term and research thanks to NW Retail!) a blending of the older early 2000s signage, and modern colors and department signs.

Within a few years of acquiring these former Handy Andy stores, Randalls began including many of the upper scale features in their newly built stores. Really much of the modern image of Randall’s both in selection and architecture was built on the basis of these Handy Andy stores. While you wouldn’t be able to tell it from the outside, the cues were there in every store built up until the late 90s. These stores were some of Randall’s most famous, and when you feel nostalgic for Randall’s you’re likely remembering these stores. Unfortunately as a whole, Randall’s has suffered under Safeway and later Albertson’s ownership. It seems that Safeway regretted its purchase within only a couple of years. It’s not hard to see why they were a semi-upscale grocer in an extremely competitive market. The few Randall’s that remain, do so with a purpose. They’re often the only grocer serving that area. In the case of this Handy Randy, that isn’t really the case. As the former Safeway has played host to multiple outlets throughout the years. The aforementioned issue problems with the store, combined with the diminutive size, are likely the reason this store was killed off prior to the chain’s Houston exit. It never became an AppleTree but did briefly stint as a Discount Drug Mart location and as an HEB Pantry Foods for many years. Due to being bound in by long-term tenants, the store was never able to physically expand despite dropping the Pantry Foods banner. The location closed in 2018, without a replacement being converted into HEB’s first E-Fulfillment center. Making this the only Randall’s to outlast an HEB.

5 comments

  1. My mommy took me to the grand opening of this store. I got a balloon.

    Dang, that was a long time ago.

  2. I recall a hardware/lumber store called a similar name. When I first moved to the Houston area there was a hardware/lumber store at the northeast corner of Shaver and Spencer Hwy in Pasadena. I think they had them in San Antonio too. I wonder if they were related?

    I lived in San Antonio for about 3 yrs and remember the Handy Andy grocery stores.

    1. Ah yes, Handy Dan is completely unrelated to Handy Andy. It was a part of W.R. Grace’s retail division. We had them here in Houston, they lasted around the same time frame as Del Taco all closing by about 1990. They also operated out of Atlanta, and it seems did quite well there, well enough to sinpire former employees to found the Home Depot there.

  3. Happy 50th anniversary to the Memorial & Dairy Ashford Randall’s! Ok, it hasn’t been a Randall’s for that long, but it is 50 years counting the Handy Andy years. Handy Andy must have thought that this area would have made a nice area for an upscale supermarket. 50 years later, they are still correct with that thought even if Randall’s/Safeway/Albertsons is the one providing the upscale experience.

    I shop at this Randall’s on occasion. It’s certainly the sister store to the Handy Andy Randall’s that I normally shop at on FM 1960 W in the Champions area. The Memorial & DA store feels a tad bit bigger to me than the Champions store, but I’m not sure if that’s actually the case. The two stores have more in common than differences, but the combination of Lifestyle v1 and Colorful Lifestyle v2 decor at the Memorial store makes the store look both newer and older than the regular Lifestyle v2 Champions store.

    The staff runs the Memorial & DA Randall’s quite well as far as modern Albertsons/Safeway stores go. The store is quite clean and organized well during my visits. It rivals the Town & Country Randall’s also on Memorial in that regard. The one thing about the Memorial & DA store is that the frozen food aisles are very tight. They feel quite a bit tighter than even the Champions Randall’s. Aside from that, this is a very comfortable place to shop and I enjoy my visits there. The store is small, but not too small. It makes shopping quite easy since it’s easy to move around the store and everything is about where one would expect to to be. The floors look nice and the colorful new Lifestyle decor gives the store a rather vibrant, but still comfortable look.

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