Howdy Neighborinos, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail! Today we’re entering new territory and checking out an El Rancho in a former Randall’s. For those not in the know, El Rancho is a Hispanic grocery chain originating out of Garland. An investment was made in the grocer by Albertsons in 2017 while looking to diversify their extensive mainline store operations with something more niche. This began a special partnership, where El Rancho stores would have first dibs on taking over old Randall’s leases and also began carrying Safeway and Albertson’s store brand items. With the first Randall’s conversion opening in 2018. So, it’s about time I finally stopped at an El Rancho! It’s something that I had on the docket prior to the pandemic, but one job change and starting my masters later, I finally made time to check out my first El Rancho! Now I’m going to spoil the ending here, I’m not of fan of how they did this store, and I think it has something to do with my nostalgia for working at a very similarly laid-out store. Before I get too deep into my opinions, though, let’s talk about some of the oddities at El Rancho. Their stores almost all seem to feature a split entrance and exit to deter theft. The remodel seems to have been mostly done on the cheap, leaving some odd bits of store. They also carry a somewhat limited assortment of groceries in exchange for more bulk and international products. Some Randall’s departments are swapped out or modified to more resemble a Hispanic grocery store. While not exactly my cup of tea, the stores offer something new and fresh compared to the decaying remains of Randall’s, which Albertsons seemingly refuses to deal with. As well, the reception within the neighborhood seems to be mostly positive, with a noted increase in business for most locations. This is likely thanks in large part to the lower costs offered by El Rancho compared to Randall’s. I picked multiple items to compare after taking these photos and found that El Rancho comes in around 10-15% cheaper than Randall’s on average, both across name and store brands.
As mentioned before, when I worked for Randall’s years ago, I started out at a location built only a few years prior to this store, which shared a similar layout. One of the best features of the store, was the massive amount of natural light let into the produce section via the large windows at the entrance. In all the remodeling performed by the store, there is almost no natural light getting past the bakery and deli, with none able to get to the checkouts. I understand the purpose of separating the entrance and exit but felt this could have been handled in a more visually appealing way. For example, many stores like Fiesta utilize a gate system to serve the same purpose without blocking natural light. I also took issue with how the renovation was handled. It seems like more money was spent on the service departments than the rest of the store. For what it’s worth, it does seem that a team from Albertsons was responsible for reconfiguring the store, so cost cutting is a given. However, a slightly more sensible layout would have made a massive difference, in my opinion. It is also a bit disappointing that the store has seemingly lost most HBA, along with the pharmacy. While it’s understandable that they wanted to downsize these departments, I feel leasing out a third of the location limits future possibilities. Unlike other El Rancho stores, this one did not convert its Randall’s fuel center, opting instead to demolish the structure prior to opening. Overall, this isn’t a bad grocery store, but its design is somewhat lacking. I’ll need to check out a few other El Ranchos si I can form a more detailed opening.
I have not visited this El Rancho or the Randall’s that was there before, but I have visited the W. 34th & 290 El Randallo and I think it’s a bit nicer looking than this location. Even the W. 34th location has some oddities such as random aisles with concrete floors when most of the rest of the store has vinyl tile. That said, the W. 34th St. location was not subdivided and still has a pharmacy and such. All in all, it looks like the W. 34th St. conversion was taken a bit more seriously and it might be a good idea to visit that location.
I’ve also visited the Greenspoint area El Rancho back when El Rancho first came to town. It’s quite nice as well. There’s an El Rancho in the Copperfield area in an old Kroger Signature store. That one might be an odd sight, but I have not been to that El Rancho yet. I went to that Kroger a few times before it closed.
One thing about El Rancho is that they sell a lot of Signature Select and other Randall’s/Albertsons/Safeway brand products, but they sell them for better prices than Randall’s. At least that was my observation at the W. 34th St. El Rancho earlier this year. If one wants a good deal on Randall’s store brand products, visiting El Rancho might be fruitful.