Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 as well!
Bonjour, folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail for one final installment at our beloved former Auchan. In our first installment, we talked mostly about the history of Auchan and how they ended up in Houston. Our second session touched on the experience of Auchan and their reach in our community. For our final installment, we’ll talk about what happened to our own Hypermaché and what the building has been used for since. As a true-to-form Hypermarket, Auchan’s size was just as much a cause of its demise as it was its feature. The huge floorspace of Auchan was likely a bit of a one-up towards Hypermart USA, beating them out by 10,000 Square Feet. While the tilt-wall concrete building was not modified, additional metal warehouse space was built alongside the main building. The store’s massive sales space allowed for a huge assortment of products to be stocked and sold. This wide assortment of options meant that stocking Auchan was a multi-hundred-thousand-dollar business. Initially, Auchan had little trouble keeping up with its competition, oftentimes undercutting them with better merchandise. While margins were thin, their volume made up for it. However, as competitors like Wal-Mart grew, they continued to lower prices through scaling. Auchan would attempt its own scaling with a second Houston store. However, this location would be short-lived and apparently did not see comparable business to the West Beltway location. Looking to keep prices down, Auchan began to cut down on the quality of its merchandise. To their credit, the groceries were largely unaffected. Unfortunately, though, the GM side of the store quickly became stocked with goods often lower quality than Wal-Mart. The huge variety of merchandise made it necessary to find the cheapest possible options. It only made sense then that when Auchan closed, it would end up subdivided.
When Auchan left the United States, they held a lease on their South Loop property and owned the entire lot their Alief store sat on. The South Loop store would sit vacant with the status of the lease unknown; in 2008, the building would be used as a temporary shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Auchan was quick to market the Beltway property, listing it as having multiple uses and purposes, such as a warehouse or manufacturing facility. After only a couple of months on the market, the building was sold to a local property investor. The deal was made in agreement with Food Town, which was represented by Grocers Supply Corp. The building would be split in half, with the investor planning to “mall” half of the property and Food Town to occupy the former grocery side. Food Town would mostly remodel from Auchan’s grocery layout. Adding new walls to cover former service departments, although somewhat oddly adding a Seafood Department in the former French Bakery. The mall plan would only be partially implemented, a few suites would be constructed in the front left of the former Auchan. The back half would remain mostly intact, playing host to a Restaurant Supply Company. The mall portion would later be repurposed as an After School Center and now as a Banquet Hall. The freestanding Auto Center remains open as of 2022. Over the years, the building outside of Food Town began to degrade in quality. A few years back, Grocers Supply Corp purchased the entire building from the property investor and has picked up on maintenance for the most part. If you’ve never been to Auchan, do yourself a favor and drive past the place. If you’re feeling up to it, check out the Food Town, too. I believe it’s their biggest location. They don’t build Hypermarkets like they used to!
Auchan, at least the West Beltway location, had a large electronics department. In the early days, they mixed some higher-end merchandise with mostly discount store fare somewhat similar to what one would find at a Kmart type store. There were good deals to be had on some of the discount store type fare and not all of what was sold was low-quality stuff even if it might have seemed low-quality given some of the brands. Some of the Funai TVs sold at low prices were very good quality. LG might be considered a good brand now, but when the company was known as GoldStar, they weren’t as respected. Auchan sold a lot of their stuff and some of it was okay. Not all of it was reliable though.
As for the other hardlines departments, it was a similar mix of mostly discount store type stuff with some higher-end stuff mixed in to fill out the large space.