Vintage Ads: Finding Bargains at North Oaks Mall and Elsewhere in 1989

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston

Longtime readers here at Houston Historic Retail might remember our Vintage Ads series of posts. It’s been a while since we’ve posted a new Vintage Ads post so it seems like a good time to make a new installment in the series. This installment of the series will look at retail ads from the August 16, 1989 issue of the Houston Chronicle. The thumbnail images included in the post might be too small to read, but simply click on the links below the images to see full-sized images of the ads.

First, we’ll take a look at a couple of retailers who had locations across Houston, but both of these retailers had locations at the North Oaks Mall shopping center on FM 1960 W. In fact, the first ad we’ll be looking at is for the grand opening of the North Oaks Mall Drug Emporium store. The North Oaks Mall Drug Emporium was not in the mall part of North Oaks, but rather across Breck Street in the old Handy Dan spot. Today, the old Handy Dan/Drug Emporium spot has been subdivided and houses an empty former Anna’s Linens storefront and the 99 Cents Only store.

Drug Emporium might be a retailer who is unfamiliar to many of our readers. Although Drug Emporium’s three Houston-area locations all closed in the 1990s, the North Oaks location closed in 1995, Drug Emporium is still around elsewhere in Texas. Je of the Louisiana & Texas Retail Blog has made posts about the Drug Emporium stores in Waco and Longview. Those posts should give one some idea of what Drug Emporium was like when they were in Houston as Drug Emporium has not changed their look much at all over the years. The best way to describe Drug Emporium otherwise is to say that they were a lot like Phar-Mor, another chain that had just moved into Houston in 1988 along with Drug Emporium. Phar-Mor and Drug Emporium were basically supersized pharmacy stores that were two or three times the size of a modern Walgreens. They bridged the gap between pharmacy stores and discount stores while having pricing that was closer to discount stores. In some ways, Drug Emporium is similar to the old Sav-On Drugs chain we had in Houston in the 1970s.

I enjoyed shopping at the North Oaks Drug Emporium during the 5-6 years that they were around. If you happen to be near one of the Drug Emporiums that’s still around, I suggest visiting the store because many of them still have a 1989 type of feel to them. The modern Drug Emporium stores seem to have strong user reviews with a great reputation for customer service. With that in mind, it would be great if Drug Emporium made a return to Houston, but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen.

The next retailer we’ll be taking a look at is one which is still around under a different name, Pic ‘n’ Save. Pic ‘n’ Save is better-known to modern Houston shoppers as Big Lots. Before it was Big Lots, the chain was known as MacFrugal’s. Although the name changes may imply some instability, in reality, Big Lots has been one of the most stable retailers in the Houston area as many of their locations today date back to the Pic ‘n’ Save and MacFrugal’s era. Pic ‘n’ Save came to Houston in the late 1980s, like Drug Emporium, and one of their first locations, which is still around today, was at North Oaks Mall. Unlike Drug Emporium, the Pic ‘n’ Save and MacFrugal’s, which was in an old TG&Y spot, did have a mall entrance. In fact, the MacFrugal’s signage was visible at North Oaks Mall for years after the chain became Big Lots as is seen in this Louisiana & Texas Retail Blog post about North Oaks Mall.

Although Big Lots has transitioned from being a closeouts store similar to Ollie’s to a general discount store, the Pic ‘n’ Save era was most certainly when the chain was a closeouts store. Like all closeouts stores, some of the products sold are rather odd things. This has to describe Dunkin’ Donuts Cereal. Although there has been a modern attempt at Dunkin’ Cereal, the modern one uses coffee flavors. While that’s a bit odd, it’s probably less odd than the late 1980s Dunkin’ Donuts cereal which came in chocolate and glazed donut flavors! Yes, a glazed donut cereal! It goes without saying that this product did not last long. Unsold inventory of it was surely sent from supermarkets to Pic ‘n’ Save and that’s what we see featured in this ad!

Interestingly enough, the Pic ‘n’ Save name has resurfaced in recent times in California. A new Pic ‘n’ Save location in Anaheim, CA is currently operating and uses the same logo as the old Pic ‘n’ Save. Old Pic ‘n’ Save fans who don’t like what Big Lots has become might want to make a pilgrimage to California!

Of course, these two ads for North Oaks Mall retailers aren’t the only two retail ads of note in this 1989 issue of the Houston Chronicle. Other interesting ads will be described in the captions below.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Vintage Ads! If you have any thoughts or memories about the retailers mentioned in this post, please feel free to post about it in the comments section below. We love hearing from our readers!