The best Food Town I’ve ever been to: The Grocery Palace

Howdy folks, and welcome to Houston Historic Retail! Today we’re taking a look at a grocery store I’ve been waiting to bring to you for a while! This store is the second in my “best” category, calling back to the original Foodarama post.  This doesn’t mean it’s giving an outright superlative ranking as this chain’s “nicest” location. Rather, it’s the best that I have visited thus far. Today’s Food Town is located at 2770 North Sam Houston Pkwy W, Houston, TX 77038. It is in a former Albertsons and has been operating continuously since the Lewis family took over the closed store in 2003. Like other Food Towns in former Albertsons locations, this store received very little in terms of decor updates when changing over brands. What makes this store unique, and the best Food Town I’ve been to is the amount of Albertson’s Grocery Palace decor left behind! For those unaware Grocery Palace was an Albertson’s decor theme used mostly in the late 90s and early 2000s, and really looked as such. It featured gigantic “props” like pasta dishes, rotating chef’s heads, and giant Coke Bottles all suspended from the ceiling. The stores were full of details, including a barn facade around the dairy case, and many other unique touches, it’s no wonder why it also had the nickname of “Theme Park” decor. While a couple of stores in Houston were built with the Grocery Palace decor, it was a bit on the later side in terms of implementation. The few stores that did get it were so new that it was easy to offload them to chain competitors like Randall’s and Kroger who would quickly erase most touches.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An mid-2000s capture of an Albertson’s Grocery Palace in Florida

This Albertson’s however was an exception. Opening November 11, 1998, this store was one of the first examples of Grocery Palace in the Houston Division, with the now HEB 10251 Kempwood Dr. Houston, TX location. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the atrocities committed to that decor in another post. While a few other locations did open prior to these two in 1998, they were all using the older “Green Banners” decor as seen in the Meyerland Food Town/Albertson’s. Another distinction for the North Houston location would be the fact that it was built on its own without any adjacent retail. In an unusual break from tradition, this would be the first Albertsons on its own in Houston. Prior to this store, locations had usually been built into a strip center or a built-in set of shops along the side. This store would Albertsons to really stretch their legs, with this location topping over 60,000 Square Feet, dedicated solely to the grocery store, related departments, and a Bank of America branch. In addition to all the normal grocery store fare, when this store opened it also featured a full line pharmacy, full line florist, video rental store, and even a Starbucks, making Albertsons the first chain in Houston to sell out to the Seattle Coffee Hucksters.

While this new Albertson’s was impressive in every sense of the word, it wasn’t exactly what the company felt they needed in the Houston market. While this location had been on the right path management would attempt to build even larger stores, implementing more general merchandise, and adding stores with massive Garden Centers by 2000. These new megastores would see a failed push throughout the South, reaching all the way to Florida. While the Southern stores would last a bit longer in some places, Albertson’s would exit the Houston market in 2002. They would sell most of their stores to Kroger, with other chain grocers picking up the “riff-raff”. Initially, Food Town would “save” only one Albertson’s location, transitioning it to their name, but otherwise keeping everything else intact.  After the chain shut its doors, Food Town would purchase two more locations by the end of 2002. While these stores had closed, their contents had yet to be auctioned off, and Food Town bought them swapped the signed, and turned the lights back on. Even in 2019 when this location received its update, very little from the Albertson’s era was removed or changed. If you have a chance to stop by this Food Town I’d highly recommend it, because it’s the closest you’re going to get to an Albertson’s in Houston!

One comment

  1. Although this probably is the nicest Food Town around, I will say that there are a few others that are quite nice as well. The Blue & Green Awnings Albertsons Town in Pearland is certainly one: https://goo.gl/maps/tzkRpWtCCLCfYNb27

    And, of course, the West Beltway 8 Food Town in the old Auchan is certainly something worth seeing even if the majority of Auchan remnants are at the front of the store: https://goo.gl/maps/AyLusvJ35VJeM1Kd9

    The local Albertsons to me, now a Krogertsons which many leftover Grocery Palace elements, used the Grocery Palace decor and I’m still not sure what to make of the decor…especially the big hanging elements from the ceiling like the Coke bottles (which can be seen in Beverage Boulevard at the North Beltway 8 Albertsons Town), the chips and dip, and the chef in the deli. It was a bit neat in a way, but also quite over the top in design. Given Albertsons’ perception problem in Houston, especially after the turn of the Millennium, about having high prices, perhaps Grocery Palace sent the wrong message. Grocery Palace didn’t look like decor of a grocer who was serious about cost-cutting.

    Furthermore, after grocers took a bit of a whimsical twist with their decor in the late 1990s (see Kroger’s Millennium decor as an example), things pivoted towards the understated side in the mid-2000s (see Safeway’s Lifestyle v1 and v2 and Kroger’s Script decor as examples). Grocery Palace was the total opposite of understated and so it stood out as being dated even when the decor wasn’t that old. That said, this Food Town looks great and it doesn’t look dated. I think it has just enough Grocery Palace decor to look good and not a bit over-the-top like a real Grocery Palace Albertsons looked.

Comments

Email optional, only needed to see replies.