Howdy, folks, and welcome to Houston HIstoric Retail! Today we’re taking a look at a store that has stayed a chain grocer from inception to present, somewhat of a rarity in Houston! Today’s store, located at 7510 Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77061, was the first Safeway location to open in Houston. The first-ever plans for Safeway’s expansion to Houston occurred on the heels of the Dallas division expanding into Austin in the 1950s. While locations were never divulged, Safeway did acquire some properties in Houston and likely planned to build some smaller Marina-style stores upon their arrival, just as they had in Austin. For whatever reason, though, plans were delayed, the properties were supposedly dropped, and when Safeway reentered Houston, that started the process all over again. Except, this may not be the case with this location. Major development of the Bellfort and Telephone Road area had started by the 1950s making this a very attractive area to Safeway. Even if this exact property was not one Safeway was considering in the 1950s, they likely had their eyes on a site somewhere in the immediate area. When planning out their new Houston stores, there were some changes to be made. Namely, the size would be updated to 30,000 Square Feet, larger than most other chain operations at the time, but this would be needed to accommodate the service departments, another modern touch. Also to be changed would be the exterior design, while Safeway had utilized Marina-style stores in other parts of Texas. However, they would elect not to utilize this design here. Instead, opting to build boxy stores with columned awnings, a style that would spread to multiple divisions. By the time Houston began opening stores, Marina was already out of date. Although a few stores would later use the “pointed tip Marina” style, again, this would not be utilized in Houston. Speculation on this stems from the fact that the “pointed tip” ceiling and all glass fronting was a common feature of Weingarten stores, with some locations even featuring round Marina-style roofs. Nevertheless, this store would set a precedent for other Safeways as they began to open. While development had already begun in this area prior to Safeway’s opening, this entire corner lot was vacant prior to Safeway’s arrival. Grocery options did exist North of Sim’s Bayou. However, they could not compare to the grandiose new Safeway. In addition to all the normal trappings of a Supermarket (Fresh Produce, Self Service Grocery, a Butcher), this store would also feature a Bakery, which at the time was common in new stores but often not added to old stores. Most importantly, this new Safeway would feature a deli, a revolutionary addition that not only included sliced meats and cheese but some hot foods, which could easily be taken home and served for dinner. While a modern convenience we take for granted, ready meals in a Togo form were still in their infancy in the 70s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as this area continued to develop, Safeway’s customer base increased.
This Safeway was not, however, without competition. Their closest competitor had actually opened years prior to Safeway. In a theory supporting Safeway’s early interest in this site, Henke & Pillot, under the control of Kroger at the time, chose to build a now demolished location nearby at 6101 Telephone Road. This store would open in 1958, not feature any service departments, and be a fair bit smaller than Safeway. To respond to this, in 1975, Kroger would build a gleaming new store across the street at 6322 Telephone Rd, Houston, TX 77087. This location would be about the same size as Safeway and would feature all of the same services. As an added bonus, the new Kroger would be built adjacent to a SuperRx Pharmacy, making it into a combo Supermarket Pharmacy prior to that concept existing on a wide scale. In response to this, Safeway would commission an addition to this location, adding on 20,000 Square Feet of space, and many other modern amenities, including a pharmacy and video rental store. The new additions would put this Safeway at 50,000 Square Feet, among the largest stores built during the chain’s run in Houston. During the late 70s, the neighborhoods in this area would see a socio-economic decline. As with other parts of Houston, it would have an effect in pockets and not blight the entire area. However, with Kroger and Safeway as the only two grocery stores in the area, the operations continued to chug along. As conditions continued to worsen throughout the 80s, This intersection managed to hold its ground. Even during the transition to AppleTree, this location would continue to be a point of shining pride. While a major remodel was not able to take place under AppleTree, they were at least able to invest some capital in the store, replacing the roof and replacing the older automatic doors with newer ones. However, with their 1994 closure AppleTree was forced to sell its stores, this one included. Fiesta was a quick and willing buyer for this and five other locations. The company was quick to put these locations into service, not giving them much of an initial remodel. The store has received periodic decor updates, but even to this day, the general Safeway layout remains intact. While it’s obvious that Fiesta got their money’s worth of the AppleTree purchases, this store still seems to be living the good life. Lots of little Safeway and AppleTree hints poke through, but this is a good grocery store. I’d recommend you give it a stop if you’re in the area.