Arlan’s a modern take on the Traditional Independent

Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail! It’s been a while since we have done a grocery (2 weeks in fact!) store post, so make sure you’re buckled up for this one! We’re taking a deviation to the South of Houston to find out about one of Houston’s most respected independent grocers, Arlan’s Market. Now, if you’ve been around HHR for any length of time, you’ll know that overall I like independents. In the realm of the blog, I tend to focus on Food Town and Foodarama as they’re arguably the most present independent operators supermarkets in Houston, with the exception of Sellers Bros. and a few more limited ethnic grocery chains. Nevertheless, our independents in Houston are somewhat limited in scope. The stores rarely feature service departments, and when they do operate, they are run by third parties. The decision to omit these departments is usually in a bid to help keep overhead costs manageable in the cutthroat Houston market. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t stores that can’t make a Deli and Bakery work, like this independent running out of a former 60s Weingarten. Arlan’s is also an example of an independent who has been able to bring a bakery and deli to many of its stores. These touches are reflective of the area which Arlan’s serves, which is mostly outside Houston proper. Today’s store at 4614 E NASA Pkwy, Seabrook, TX 77586 could rightfully be considered Houston’s Arlan’s location, despite it not being within city limits. This wasn’t always the case however, the first Arlan’s was actually in Houston, a few blocks over at 18295 Upper Bay Rd, Houston, TX 77058. The building had served as a Weingarten until the chain’s exit in 1983. Ames Arlan, the founder of the chain, opened this first store in 1991. In between his entry and exit, the building had briefly served as a branch location of Pyburns Farm Fresh Foods. Arlan’s new store would be decidedly nicer than the previous Pyburn’s. Arlan had gained his grocery experience working seemingly his entire career with Cox’s Foodarama before branching out to his own store. This experience led him to understand how to build a neighborhood grocery store and led to great success, gaining a second location later that year. In 1993 with the impending exit of AppleTree, today’s location was put up for sale. Initially, the buyer that stepped up was now defunct independent Big Chief Foods of Santa Fe. However, for unknown reasons, Big Chief backed down, and Arlan’s instead stepped up. Opting to move their Upper Bay operations into this store rather than take it on as a third location.

This new Arlan’s would take advantage of their highway frontage and updated facility that Safeway had chosen over Weingarten years back. Arlan brought with him not only the updated product selection and cleanliness of his old store, but he also brought high-class service. All of these things are hallmarks of what helps Arlan’s to stand out against a sea of competition. Arlan’s would continue to grow over the next few years, slowly acquiring other independents, growing from smaller chains like subfranchisees of Gerland’s, with stores mostly in the Galveston County area. In 2012 the company had its largest acquisition to date when it purchased the remains of San Antonio-based Handy Andy. The purchase of these stores, along with some unrelated independents in Austin, helped to secure a future for Arlan’s in the hearts of San Antonio, Austin, and many of the cities in between. While some locations have closed, these have mostly been changes to follow the economics of an area and not a reflection on the chain as a whole. In keeping up with modernity, Arlan’s has added Curbside pickup to some of their stores. While I have yet to find a location featuring self-checkout, unlike Food Town, the Arlan’s stores have the benefit of generally being much nicer than the independents in town. While Arlan’s would have difficulty maintaining a large presence in Houston, it is tempting to think that they could take on a Rice-like role of operating a single of a minimal number of locations within town. I feel like there is a demand in Houston for a store like Arlan’s, especially on with the slowly dwindling Randall’s. I’m not sure we’ll see Arlan’s taking over a Randall’s spot anytime soon, but one can dream. If you’re out in the Seabrook Area, then I highly recommend you stopping to take a look at our own little Arlan’s.

3 comments

  1. Yes, the first thought that came across my mind when seeing these photos is that this store looks a lot like the independent supermarkets we had across Houston through the 1990s which still had a full set of service departments and were serving the middle and upper grocery tiers. There are a few independents like this left, like the aforementioned Food King in Texas City, but they are certainly not as numerous as they used to be years ago. It’s great to see that Arlan’s is hanging in there with a few stores like this. It certainly looks like a pleasant place to shop.

  2. The facade was added by Arlan’s a while back when they slightly expanded the store on the eastern end and in front. Back in the Safeway days, there were pneumatic doors on original east side as well as in front, but they’re long since gone. Nice store inside. Prices are a little high but they do have items that other stores don’t carry.

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