Howdy, folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re taking a look at the last Safeway to open in Houston. Now, it should be noted that while it was the last store to open, it was not the final location built. Rather, this store has an interesting history tied into larger troubles at Safeway that, other than the creation of AppleTree, had very little direct effect on the Houston Division. Today’s store at 10902 Scarsdale Blvd Houston, TX 77089, first opened in 1983. The location in the heart of the Southbelt/Ellington neighborhood was meant as a replacement for an existing location at 11600 Hughes Rd, Houston, TX 77089, which had opened all the way back in 1971, prior to the construction of that portion of the Beltway. While the store was planned with the freeway in mind, it was undersized and essentially bound on all sides for any meaningful expansion. Instead, Safeway would build a new location, which would create the question of what to do with the Hughes Road store. Rather than sell a profitable location, Safeway would convert the old store to a new concept, Drugs for Less. While DFL is better known in Houston for being the concept assigned to unprofitable Safeways, in this case, this Drugs For Less would do well. The new Scarsdale Safeway would hold its grand opening in mid-1983, with the old store reopening under the DFL banner shortly after. The new Safeway would include all the trappings of a modern store, including a pharmacy! While Safeway’s move South was following the traffic flow during the time, the company’s new location was adjacent to something they could have never predicted. The Brio/Dixie Oil Refining Superfund site was located only a few hundred yards from the new Safeway. While the store itself was in the clear as far as contaminated land went, the housing market in the area soured quickly. The neighborhood that sat between the Safeway, and former refineries would be deemed ‘safe’ by the EPA, but further development would stop. By the mid-80s, residents began moving out of the neighborhood on their own, shrinking what was already a smaller customer base than Safeway had left behind for DFL. In June 1987, this store would close along with 15 other locations that year.
The closures weren’t completely unexpected for Safeway. The company had ballooned in size in the Houston market with their acquisition of Weingarten’s. Cutting these 15 locations would keep the store count right around 100 in the Houston area. The cuts were framed as part of a larger restructuring of Safeway, however, in reality, these were the brush strokes that were creating AppleTree. The locations cut were based around the lowest performing stores, including 15540 Farm to Market Rd 529, Houston, TX 77095 (the final location built). Other major chains had steered clear of the area, with Randall’s prompting to build their store further North on Fuqua. Only one other grocer would even attempt the area early on, independent Texas Super Foods, who would later merge their store into Holiday Foods. The location was specifically meant to take on Safeway and included a pharmacy and video store. However, around the time of Safeway’s exit, Holiday Foods began to dissolve as a concept, and the future AppleTree executives quietly took note. In June 1988, one year after the Scarsdale Safeway had closed, the buyout of the Houston Division of Safeway was announced. While Safeway had managed to lease some of their closed stores, no tenant had been found for this spot. After sitting vacant for over a year, the Houston division was able to secure what was likely a ‘sweet’ deal compared to most of their other Safeway leased properties. At the time, the company possessed a license to use the Safeway name, logo, etc.. for multiple years. As such, in September of 1988, Texas Supermarkets Inc. (the legal name of their company) would open this store as a ‘new’ Safeway (also take a moment to appreciate how awesome Tori Mask’s blog is!) With new owners, fixtures auctioned away, and employees laid off or transferred, this was considered by Texas Supermarkets to be a grand opening of their first new store. The decision, however, would pay off, and this store would stick with AppleTree until the end, being one of the locations picked up by Gerland’s, who would operate it under the Food Fair banner for many years. Eventually, converting it to a franchised Food Town location, which was included in the transfer of stores from Gerland’s to the Lewis family who now owns the location. As of 2022, it is one of the only grocers holdouts in the Southbelt area, along with Krogerstons along the Beltway.