As part of Amazon’s restructuring of their retail arm, two Houston area retailers will soon close their doors. Amazon Books and Amazon 4-Star will be phased out of Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations. Each store has one branch in the Houston area. With Amazon Books at Baybrook Mall, and Amazon 4-Star in Deerbrook Mall. This will leave Amazon’s physical presence in Houston to only Whole Foods. Prior to the writing of this article, the Amazon-associated retailer I had stepped foot into had been Whole Foods. I had been plenty of times prior to the buyout as well, and never really developed a taste for them. If I really needed something that hoity-toity Central Market probably had it, and Amazon’s ownership has not particularly improved my view of the company. While I do see the novelty of discounts for Prime Members, I’m not an Amazon member, so this ticks a negative box for me. I expected my outlook of Amazon Books to be equally dissatisfying, not putting too much faith into the e-commerce giant to pull off retail right. While it’s easy to imagine the basics of what this store sold, the reality was much broader. It wasn’t a bookstore, it was a gadget shop, an electronics outlet, and a toy store, all crammed around a wide selection of books. I’d recommend going through the photos to get an idea of what Amazon Books sells.
In the end, I was relatively impressed with my visit to Amazon Books. While the existence of the Prime Deals, was a big turn-off to me, the overall low prices were a big benefit. Most things seemed close to, if not matching actual online pricing. The books were extremely cheap and likely the best argument I can make for this store’s existence. The gadgets and a small selection of toys definitely have their place in even a normal bookstore, but it’s overdone here. For the literary community, it’s a shame that these stores didn’t seem to catch on. While I have not yet had a chance to visit a 4-Star Shop, I’ve read that they are similarly “randomly stocked” with some of the highest-rated goods on Amazon. While I want to try and stop by before it closes, I’m not holding my breath. If you live near one of the malls, I’d recommend going and snapping a photo of the Amazon store inside, it will very well be a novelty that only a few folks have 15-20 years down the road.
The Amazon 4 Star at The Woodlands Mall reminded me a lot of a Sharper Image or Brookstone. The prices were better, of course, but the product selection was the same kind of unfocused assortment of fringe department store hard goods, heavy on gadgets. Fun to browse but an uneven generator of sales, I’m sure, as you really don’t know for certain what you will find there.
It’s basically the brick-and-mortar equivalent of a Skymall catalog. I’m no Amazon fan, but I kind of liked the store for that reason. If even Amazon isn’t willing to subsidize our physical Skymalls, who is?
Please forgive the off-topic comment, but I would like your perspective.
I discovered today that Half Price Books is closing the North Oaks location. The last day is April 4, IIRC.
The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I have been a loyal shopper at that location since it opened in the summer of 1997. When it opened, my family was excited that we had a HPB near us. I walked out with an armload of books, not the last time that would happen. I try to visit the other Houston locations at least twice a year but I always considered North Oaks to be “my” HPB.
This is the third location to close in as many years. The Rice Village store closed in early 2020, just before the lockdown. The Montrose store was shut down a year later due to the strip center being bulldozed for a new development. The note posted at North Oaks was identical to the Rice Village closure-rents got too high and they were unable to find another space nearby. I believed the former because of how upscale Rice Village is, particularly in the last few decades. I doubt the latter, though. North Oaks is full of vacancies. The old Staples has yet to be filled and the spot occupied by TJMaxx (who moved down the street to Champions Village) is still empty. The theater was a casualty of the pandemic, as was Willie’s. There has to be something else going on here that isn’t being made public.
For now, I’m just saddened that the number of HPB locations in Houston has dropped from 9 to 6. It’s been ages since another one opened that wasn’t a relocation. I understand that bookstores are a dying breed but the thrill of browsing, discovering new, and finding some hidden treasure isn’t something that can be replicated on the internet.
No apologies for the comment! I’m equally as worried about HPB as you are. I actually was unaware of the North Oaks closing until you mentioned it. While the multiple closings within such a recent time frame aren’t a great sign, it doesn’t seem Half Price Books is in dire straits either. The last Texas location to open was in 2017, and the recent Texas stores have all been outside of Houston. Chainwide, it seems that the two newest stores are from 2020, which is not unexpected with the Pandemic.
As for the reason for closing, it’s not unimaginable that a rent increase could be driving them out. The former North Oaks Mall is being put up for auction, likely in relation to the recent Kimco buyout of Weingarten Realty. A long-term lease was likely up and the price was beefed up with the pending auction.
Thanks for the update, Michael. I find the news about the North Oaks Half Price Books closing to be very sad. Although I suppose I have two local HPBs with the North Oaks location and also the Copperfield one, the North Oaks one is the older of the two and it’s one of the biggest remaining HPBs in Houston along with the Humble one. It’s much larger than the Copperfield location. It’s very sad to hear that the North Oaks location is closing because I shop there quite frequently and have bought a lot of music, books, and even used software from them back when they sold used computer software.
As Mike points out, North Oaks Mall is currently for sale under auction. Given that, I doubt there are any concrete plans for the center as things stand right now. Perhaps Half Price Books was priced out on lease negotiations, perhaps HPB is losing faith in the location given some of the vacancies, perhaps the location just wasn’t doing well. It’s hard to say. HPB looks like they are in decline in Houston given a couple of previous closures, but hopefully HPB will replace this location with a new location somewhere else in north Houston at some point down the road. Even if they do, it’ll likely be with a smaller location. A new location or locations near The Vintage or Spring/The Woodlands would make a lot of sense.
If HPB continues to retreat from Houston, perhaps Books-A-Million can try expanding 2nd & Charles further into this area.