This former Weingarten still uses Grand Union decor 40 years later!

Howdy and welcome to Houston Historic Retail. Today, we’re driving to Texas City to visit a former Weingarten, largely still wearing its Grand Union era decor! This store is located at 915 6th St, Texas City, TX 77590, and originally opened in 1952. While the store has seen some expansions over the years, much of the original store is still in use. The Weingarten locations of the 1950s used what some consider to be a knock-off of a “Marina Style” Safeway. However, photographic evidence of these arched-roof stores being built by Weingarten can be seen as far back as 1951. This Texas City location is one of the few former arch-roofed Weingarten locations still selling groceries. Surprisingly little has changed since the final remodel this Weingarten received, which was done during the Grand Union era. During the sell-off of Weingarten in 1979, it was the first time a real “inventory” had been taken of their stores. While money-losing, and other problematic J. Weingarten locations were closed, usually being leased to another grocer, Weingarten had been known for keeping some less than successful stores open. Many of these locations were older, smaller stores, which were at the center of Weingarten-owned shopping centers. Many of the first locations to close were these less profitable stores, including many stores in smaller towns. What kept this Texas City store open was the lack of any major competition in Texas City. Designated a “higher priority” location, likely as a result of high sales this location was given a full interior remodel. Updating the store into the latest Grand Union design scheme adding features more commonly found in modern chains. Examples of this include faux skylights, a “stained glass” effect checkout mural, new signage, and a complete coating of wood paneling. As this store was quite old, and small compared to modern Supermarkets of this era, lots had to be left out. Weingarten would also adopt a new “Big Dot W” logo, making them a simple name change away from Grand Union.

However, after a fierce battle between grocers like Safeway, and Eagle, among many others in 1983 Grand Union announced its intent to exit the Houston market. The chain would seek but not find a direct buyer, instead opting to break up its holdings. This would leave Safeway with the largest number of locations, in many cases, Safeway would end up purchasing stores that it had no intention to keep. They would opt to close either the Weingarten or their location and usually sublet the property. As with many other “small-town operations”, this Texas City Weingarten would be picked up by Safeway. While Safeway had built a store nearby in the 1970s, they would opt to keep the much older, but more recently renovated Weingarten store. It also had the “prestige” of being one of the mainstays of downtown Texas City. The old Safeway would sit vacant for 4 years before being leased to HEB, who would remain in the store until around 2014. As for the old Weingarten, Safeway would continue to operate in this location through the AppleTree breakaway, only closing as a part of their 1992 bankruptcy. The close proximity to the HEB Pantry Foods in the former Safeway likely contributed to AppleTree’s decision to shut down. After AppleTree’s shutdown, the store would quickly be leased to a local chain operator Allen’s Food King which already had a smaller store in Texas City. Food King slowly broke up paring off locations to other independent operators, one of which continues to operate this single location. As of 2022, the Grand Union era Weingarten decor is still intact, and Food King is still doing great. I visited in the middle of the day during the week and the store was plenty busy. The prices were also quite good for a local chain. If you’re even driving by Texas City, I’d recommend you make the quick detour over here, and maybe on the way, check out that Speedway location!

5 comments

  1. Speaking of old Grocery designs, someone on Reddit went into an old Kroger greenhouse in La Porte (301 W Fairmont Pkwy, La Porte, TX 77571) that still has the Bauhaus design. That store closed in 1998 and has not been touched ! You should check it out!

  2. Hi! Zachary here from The Market Report / The Independent Edition / Grocery Archaeology in Grand Union’s home state of New Jersey! I’ve definitely read your website a few times before but I don’t believe I’ve commented yet. Really enjoying seeing what else is out there, in an area of the country I’ve never been to.

    I absolutely love this store. I had no idea the Grand Union decor that I’m familiar with in my area, ever made it wholesale into a store this far away from home. The Clean, Fresh, and Good signage is absolutely beautiful, and something I unfortunately have never seen in person. I believe it still remains in an independent store somewhere in the Hudson Valley of New York. In my part of New Jersey, many of the Grand Unions were taken over by Stop & Shop and, well, let’s say lightly remodeled: https://www.marketreportblog.com/2021/01/tour-stop-shop-paramus-nj.html (Paramus just closed recently). But the decor has made its way into a few independent stores in the area: https://independent.marketreportblog.com/2021/01/look-inside-jersey-farmers-market-fair.html

    A few notes on the decor, since I know this decor package rather well. First, the red stripe on the cases is absolutely Grand Union-era. You can see it in a few of the Paramus fixtures, too. The flooring doesn’t quite seem to match the decor package, but my intuition tells me it’s older, not newer, than the GU/Weingarten decor. The grocery shelving, such as what’s seen in aisle 5, is probably GU/Weingarten-era too. The bakery fixtures seem mostly updated, except for that one refrigerator with the red stripe on top. The pastry case with the glass doors does not appear to be GU-era (compare it to this one, and it looks newer anyway: https://www.marketreportblog.com/2019/08/memorabilia-grand-union-bakery-case.html).

    This was a very enjoyable post, and thank you for sharing these great pictures! Now I’ve gotta say I can’t believe the independent stores are so hard to come by in your area, just from my area where we have more independents and small chains than you can shake a stick at. We’ve also got a lot of cooperatives (such as ShopRite, Key Food, and our version of Foodtown) that advertise under a shared name, but are all independently owned. Always love to see what’s going on elsewhere, though!

    1. Zachary

      Thank you for your comment! Yeah while I was not around for the conversion process. I’ve heard that pretty much every Weingarten store received this Grand Union decor, or was shut down by the company by around 1981. What’s amazing to me, is that this decor has survived through many different owners since 1983. When Food Lion dropped out of Houston in the 1990s they had someone continue to hock their leftover decor to independents for years, along with distributors who really loved doing brand wall coverings. As for y’all’s stores, they’re much like a time capsule in my opinion. Perfectly preserved, and well-kept thanks to Grand Union hanging around a bit longer up there.

      As for independents, they’re still around to an extent. However, HEB largely pushed them out with the Pantry Foods concept, which kind of directly took on independents. We lost our last real cooperatives maybe 15 years ago, I think Lucky 7 was the final one. However, for many years they dominated the Houston grocery scene, and there is still an advertising/buying co-op between 10 or so differently named independent stores, the biggest one being Pyburns Farm Fresh Foods. I’m pretty sure this Food King is at least party of the buying group, although they don’t seem to advertise with them. The Houston grocery market is truly an odd one!

  3. I shopped here when this was Weingarten when I was about four or five. The big innovation when it was Apple Tree were the talking cash registers. It was neat to watch. Food King originally opened further down 6th Street in the former Big Chief supermarket. Safeway’s old location in the Tradewinds Shopping Center served as the last location for local merchants Sparky’s Toys (1984) and Simpson’s Shoes during their bank liquidation sales. That space has since been divided between Family Dollar and DD’s Discounts in the wake of HEB’s absence.. This Food King is the last of it’s kind as far as I’m aware. Other Food King locations were bought by Arlan’s Market. The West Texas City Weingarten became Food King and then HEB Pantry. It now operates as Food Rite. HEB bought the former Kmart building and razed it to be in direct competition with Kroger across the street. With Aldi operating in the former Randall’s nearby, the grocery war at this end of Texas City is once again in full swing. Food King has the edge because they are the only grocery store currently downtown.

  4. Even without the Weingarten/Grand Union remnants, this supermarket looks like a great place to shop for groceries! This Food King certainly reminds me of when there were independent supermarket chains in Houston serving the middle of the market. The store looks clean, well-organized, and inviting. It certainly seems nicer than certain supermarkets which have become popular in Houston where the atmosphere is that of a poorly organized warehouse.

    That said, the Weingarten/Grand Union remnants here are great! It’s amazing that these things are still around at a supermarket and still look good. While the checkout lightbox design might look like something from a prior era, the meat department sign does not look like something over 40 years old. It looks like it could fit at a modern supermarket. That said, I do remember these Grand Union decor signs so they certainly are from the old Weingarten.

    I’m glad you were able to check out this little hidden gem. This store is not only a time capsule for Weingarten and Grand Union fans, but also for fans of smaller, older supermarkets from an era where there was more emphasis put on service and friendly store design than today’s supermarkets where they might as well be driving forklifts through the store.

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