Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston with the photos being taken by Mike
For close to 50 years, the supermarket featured in this blog post has been one of, if not the, most upscale supermarkets in all of the northern half of Houston. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that this supermarket is truly remarkable! This remarkable store, the Randall’s Flagship store at 5219 FM 1960 W and Champion Forest Dr., started life out as a Handy Andy Supermarket when it opened on April 8, 1974 in the Champions Village 3 Shopping Center. As Mike from HHR has discussed before, this store was one of Handy Andy’s attempts at building high-end supermarkets in the Houston area. This Handy Andy had three other sister stores in the Houston area with a similar high-end exterior and interior design. The first of these to be opened by Handy Andy opened 50 years ago in 1972 at the corner for Memorial Dr. & Dairy Ashford. Mike recently covered this store for HHR and that blog post is certainly recommended reading for those interested in this subject. The other two sister stores were located at Westheimer & Gessner and S. Voss & Woodway. Handy Andy later added some other Houston stores, but these had a more conventional design.
Unfortunately, although Handy Andy had some great locations like this Champions store in a booming 1970s Houston, Handy Andy had a tough time in Houston and sold the four high-end stores to the then-small and local Randall’s chain in 1979. For information about the history of Randall’s, I highly recommend Mike’s extensive guide on the history of Randall’s. Randall’s opened in the old Handy Andy on May 29, 1979 and interesting photos from this opening can be seen at the bottom of this newspaper page. Although Randall’s existing stores in the 1970s were pretty nice by the standards of the 1970s, these new ex-Handy Andy stores took the chain to a new level.
The Champions area has long been considered a higher-end part of Houston with several very stately homes located near the Randall’s location. Although the 1980s were not kind to Houston in general, the 1980s were a good time for the part of Northwest Houston where Champions is located. For one, the construction and opening of Willowbrook Mall in 1981 helped launch a large expansion of retail along FM 1960 W between Jones Road and the North Oaks Mall area. Furthermore, Compaq Computers’ global headquarters was located not far from the Champions area and gave the area a booming non-oil sector employer. To get a sense for what Champions Village 3 was like in the 1980s, check out this store directory map of the shopping center from 1985. All one needs to know is that Randall’s was rubbing shoulders with Sakowitz!
Given the high-end growth of the area, the Champions Randall’s was the perfect candidate to be upgraded into a Randall’s Flagship store. When Champions ‘Special Remarkable Store’ opened on December 2, 1987, it was the third Randall’s Flagship store after the store’s sister store at S. Voss & Woodway and the Weslayan Plaza store which started out as a Weingarten. The other two Handy Andy sister stores also eventually became Randall’s Flagship stores. The S. Voss & Woodway store closed in 2013, but the other two sister stores are still operating today. It should be noted that the Westheimer & Gessner store was completely rebuilt from the ground up by Safeway in 2011 and so the Memorial & Dairy Ashford store remains the only true sister store the Champions Randall’s has left.
While the pre-Flagship Champions Randall’s was already an upscale store, the Flagship treatment turned this Randall’s into a true destination store. Like the other sister stores, this store was expanded somewhat during the Flagship upgrade to make the stores competitive in terms of size with other 1980s supermarkets. A second story balcony called the Balcony Cafe was opened up with breakfast, lunch, and dinner dining options. The store had a traditional soda fountain with ice cream at the snack bar. The store sold gourmet foods, prime meats, it had a French bakery headed by French pastry chef Jacques Royer, and a traditional New York deli. In addition to that, the store also had upscale features that most Randall’s stores had such as a large video rental department, full-service floral, pharmacy, and beauty consultants.
As Texas Monthly pointed out in 1988, the Champions Randall’s Flagship store proved so popular that traffic guards were needed to control traffic. As someone who lived in the area at the time, it was always a special trip to shop at the Flagship store compared to the regular Randall’s stores which were closer. All of Randall’s stores at the time were good looking, well-run stores with emphasis on quality as Boris Yeltsin discovered while visiting a Randall’s store in Clear Lake. As an example of Randall’s emphasis on quality, Randall’s used double-lined paper grocery sacks in the late 1980s. Flagship stores took this luxury one step further by putting handles on those double-lined paper sacks.
Given the importance of the Champions area, competitors did try to get a bite of Randall’s success in the area. Rice Epicurean briefly operated a store across the street in the 1990s where The Container Store is today. Although the Rice Epicurean was a very nice store, perhaps even nicer than the 1990s state of Randall’s Flagship stores, Randall’s decisively won that battle as Rice retreated after operating in that spot for just a few months. Kroger has had better success when they opened one of their first Kroger Signature stores on Cypresswood & Champion Forest in 1993. That still remains a nicer-than-average Kroger even today. Kroger also continues to maintain a Greenhouse store which opened in 1981 nearby on Veterans Memorial.
Safeway took over Randall’s in 1999. At least early in the Safeway years, Safeway did put some money into renovating some of their Randall’s locations and the Champions store was one of them. The Champions store received a new front façade, which can be seen in Mike’s Weingarten Realty’s Annual Reports post, which now makes the store look more traditional in the front as compared to the gable façade the store used to have since the Handy Andy days. The interior now sports the common Safeway Lifestyle v2 décor package. While it has been around for a while now, Lifestyle v2 still continues to look good in my opinion. Unique features the store once had such as the balcony dining area have long been closed and walled over, but Safeway did add a drive-thru pharmacy in order to modernize the location. One thing about this store which clearly remains, like at the Memorial & Dairy Ashford location, is the pitched roof which gives this store a very unique look inside compared to other supermarkets in the area.
Randall’s continues to call the Champions location a Flagship store, but in reality, there’s no longer any difference between Randall’s Flagship stores and regular Randall’s stores in Houston. Although Randall’s Flagship stores no longer have the ultra-high-end feel that they had in the past, Randall’s stores do still feel at least a little bit more high-end than HEB and Kroger stores in my opinion. If nothing else, the store is smaller than most modern supermarkets built in the 1990s onward and easier to shop at because of that. The warm colors of the walls and floor covering at this location gives the store a more distinguished, welcoming feel than many competing supermarkets with industrial designs.
Randall’s store count in Houston has continued to dwindle since Safeway started closing local locations in 2005. Today, the Champions Randall’s is the only Houston Randall’s store left in all of the northern half of the Houston area except for the Barker Cypress & Clay Rd. Randall’s in an old Albertsons which is just north of I-10, the north-south dividing line in Houston. Of course, Safeway and Randall’s are now under the Albertsons umbrella of companies. Due to all the Randall’s closures since 2005, the Champions Randall’s is now my local Randall’s and it’s a store I try to shop at as frequently as possible even though I have to drive past several competing stores in the Northwest Houston suburbs to get to this location.
There is some question about the future of the Champions Randall’s. The Champions Village shopping center was recently listed as being on sale and, indeed, the center does now have a new owner in First National Realty Partners. When the property was being sold, one of the sales documents stated that Randall’s lease at this location ends in 2024 and that Randall’s is currently paying below market rent rates. Presumably, Handy Andy signed a 50 year lease when they opened this store in 1974 that was taken over by Randall’s and now that is expiring. The center’s new owners has expressed interest in retaining Randall’s. Having a supermarket anchor is important for a shopping center. Given the age of the building and that there is limited room and parking space at the center to put a new grocery anchor for a different chain, it probably makes sense for the shopping center to try to make a deal to try to keep Randall’s if Randall’s would like to stay. We’ll have to see how that goes, but in my opinion, it would be a big loss for north Houston’s only remaining Randall’s to close especially given the history of this location.
We hope you have enjoyed this look at the Champions Randall’s. Do you have any memories of this store, this store’s sister stores, or any other Randall’s stores? Do you have any memories of the Champions Village shopping center? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below. We love to read comments from our readers!