Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re checking out another Heberstons, this one at 10251 Kempwood Dr, Houston, TX 77043, if you were here the last time we took a look at an Albertsons turned HEB, it was down in Clear Lake. While we were there we discussed how the closing and relocation of that store was likely for the best. Even with the distaste that modern HEB decor leaves with most shoppers, it was definitely a step up, from what was an under-loved store by corporate. One of the biggest problems in Clear Lake stemmed from a lack of floor space. Albertson’s designed their grocery stores with a much smaller footprint than a modern HEB. Outside of that other problems with the store included a lack of a pharmacy drive-thru, no dedicated space for curbside pickup, and a few other idiosyncracies Albertsons experienced when constructing their Houston stores. However, for the most part, other grocers have been able to adapt these stores into useable spaces. HEB on the other hand was used to having it their way when constructing new stores. In the few cases where they did purchase an existing grocer, HEB tended to rip everything out and start fresh. With a store in such close proximity to the company’s Houston HQ, you would figure this would be the plan. However, the story of how this grocer ended up here is even stranger. Albertson’s was not the first grocery tenant in this spot. Like the company did in other established areas, they purchased an existing shopping center and demolished it only to rebuild with their store as the anchor tenant. The demolition here was of a Handy Andy store which opened in 1974 as the newest of many grocers in the area. The competition was so brutal in this area, that Handy Andy would shut down this store in 1978 a full year before exiting the rest of the Houston market, leaving the former grocery store mostly vacant over the next 20 years. Things would all change however in 1998 with the construction of a New Albertson’s center.
When Albertson’s built this new store, the area had not changed a lot in the past 20 years. Handy Andy’s vision of being Houston’s luxury chain surely would not have worked in this area largely composed of apartments, mixed in with industrial properties, and single-family homes. By the time this store was constructed, Albertsons had shown that they had no trouble “bending down” from their traditional standard a bit to better meet local grocers price-wise. The extensive service departments offered were also another large draw for customers. All things considered, this location should have worked for Albertson’s, there was no strong competition in the area and almost no room for a new competitor like an HEB or a Wal-Mart Super Center to show up. However, this wouldn’t end up being the case. When Albertson’s began to experience troubles due to overextension in the early 2000s, things begin to get a bit dicey. In early 2002 This store was one of 10 which were immediately shut down by Albertsons, with plans to then work on liquidating the remaining locations in Houston. While grocery tenants would come back for some of the locations, many locations were such poor performers for Albertsons they would never hold another grocery store. HEB would reopen this store, just about a year after Albertson’s exited Houston. This store was not modified as much as other HEB locations, keeping many “very Albertsons” features. Such as the walk-in beer coolers, fuel center, and general layout. Over the years the store had expanded to take over one neighboring store where they run curbside for this location. If you’re a regular shopper of the Bunker Hill HEB, maybe give Kempwood a stop. It was a nice clean store, and nowhere near as busy.
While the outside of this HEBertsons does very obviously look like an old Albertsons, there aren’t too many obvious Albertsons touches here on the inside compared to, say, a similar Krogertsons. One thing that does stand out are the blue diamond tiles in the deli area. That is a leftover thing from Albertsons.
All in all, this HEB looks nice for an HEB thanks to the vinyl floor brightening up the spot a bit and covering up the usual potholes, cracks, patchiness, and such HEB has in their concrete floors, but it’s still a really ugly store on the inside. This store probably does offer a nicer shopping experience than the Bunker Hill HEB though as you say.
Part of the reason for that is that I believe it was vacant for a while before H-E-B moved in. Kroger took over the former Albertsons stores almost immediately.
Why would Albertsons have built curbside? That wasn’t a thing till a few years ago.
They wouldn’t have, just that stores using these spaces have to find a way to implement these services into their stores. Kroger and Randall’s seem to be okay with kicking out the bank, or other front end tenants to use. HEB on the other hand seems to want extra space. There are a couple of stores I can think of where they added a temporary building to the exterior for Curbside.