Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail. We take a lot of time to investigate retail remnants, bits, and pieces of former stores left behind, they’re always interesting to find. Whether it’s an old drive-thru post still in use by Burger King, or the arches of a Safeway store proudly fronting a Fiesta. Finding these retail remnants is almost like finding bits of a story. One of the reasons I so greatly enjoy maintaining this blog is because while researching, I often run across retail remnants, that I didn’t know still exist. Today’s store at 5708 S Gessner Rd, Houston, TX 77036 is one of those examples, starting out in the late 70s as an Eagle Discount Center Supermarket this designation would only last a few years. Ever since then, an ever-changing list of international grocers has made up the tenant list of this building. Eagle Discount Supermarket, originally hit the scene in Houston in 1970, as an attempt by Lucky Stores Inc. to take on the local grocery market. Eagle was not invented for Houston, but rather a Mid-Western chain co-opted and twisted to fit our locality. Eagle’s goal was to take on California compatriot, Safeway. To help create a customer base, Eagle focused on building slightly larger stores that combined a traditional grocery store with a small but well-stocked General Merchandise selection. In addition to gaining popularity for this new style of store, Eagle earned a reputation for being squeaky clean and an overall pleasant experience. Houstonians largely backed this new store, and the Lucky chain saw Texas as a way to build out stores between California, and Chicago. By the end of the 70s, Lucky made plans to build a new Houston distribution center, capable of serving hundreds of stores across the state. To help justify this massive new facility, Eagle would need to build stores not just in Houston, but across the state. With Eagle in such a rush to expand its store count, not every location would end up being “stellar”. Locations that looked good during development, would not end up fleshing out due to a multitude of different issues. By this point, Lucky’s experiment to expand to other cities had landed them in, Austin and San Antonio. Finding mostly hardship outside of Houston, Lucky would double down on their expansion here.
Today’s store is an example of the pressure to expand that led to mismanagement. It would open in what Lucky thought would end up being a relatively high-end area however, after a rocky start in the early 80s Houston’s economy continued to weaken with the West Side of town bearing the brunt of the damage. By the start of 1985 facing external pressures from other markets, Lucky began looking for buyers for their Houston Division. Unfortunately with the recent exit of Weingarten, none of the chain grocers in town were looking to expand. Instead, Eagle would be split up among local chains like Gerland’s, and Fiesta. However, most stores would end up with Rice. While most Houstonians remember Rice more for their Epicurean stores, the regular old “Rice” locations operated in some tough areas. This store would be one of 11 Eagle locations picked up by Rice, however, this store would prove to be too tough for even them to handle. Rice would close the store by 1987, quickly selling off the remaining equipment. Oddly with this location, it wasn’t that the area had not developed, instead this portion of town was experiencing a second boom as the start of Houston’s new China Town.
What began largely as a collection of seedy shops along Harwin Drive, morphed into tons of legitimate Asian businesses, who had already begun fleeing the conditions of the 2nd Ward for Alief and the surrounding areas. After Rice shut down, Hong Kong Food Market quickly moved in. Rice had obviously invested little in the store, as the Eagle decor remained by the time Hong Kong Market arrived in 1988. Hong Kong Food Market would eventually build another location as an anchor tenant in their own mall further west, selling off this location in 2009. It would operate as Mama Food Market from 2009 to 2017 almost completely untouched from its Hong Kong Food Market days. Mama closed, around 2018 reopening this time as iFresh Market (which provided some great photos). After iFresh left in 2019 Foods International moved in and began somewhat of a remodel. They would separate off the front left quarter of the building, subdividing and leasing the space to external tenants. This would also see the first removal of Eagle Decor since the Hong Kong Food Market days in the late 80s! It was only when researching Eagle during the pandemic did I learn about this store. Foods International had closed at the time, and I feared the worst after finding photos showing the old decor. Late last year, the store reopened once again as Sun Wing Supermarket, and while the aforementioned chunk of the store is missing, the rest of the Eagle decor remains. It’s also worth noting that Sun Wing provided a decent number of interesting good snacks. I would highly recommend making the trip down Harwin to visit this store!
One of the other issues following Eagle’s departure from Houston was that the stores were too small. I read an article once (I may have it somewhere) that Fiesta was interested in two of the stores but what Fiesta was looking for even in the mid-1980s was too small for what Eagle had to offer.
Of course, in the end, Albertsons bought Lucky (which had similar stores in California) while their own stores were in the 50k-70k square feet range.
Eagle’s average store size seems to have been just around 35,000 Square Feet. Granted this includes the stores they started building in 1969, these stores would have been slightly larger compared to an average Safeway at the time.
Between this old Eagle and the old Grand Union Weingarten operating as the Food King that we saw on the blog a few weeks ago, I’m quite amazed that parts of decor that is around 40 years old is surviving as well as it is here in the Houston area! This store very much looks like the Eagles I have faded memories of and it’s also quite amazing that Fry’s Electronics baskets have been re-homed here. I suppose two dead retailers from California are kind of living on at Sun Wing!