Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston with the photos taken by Mike
In last month’s The Year of Kroger entry, we explored a very early Kroger Signature store built in 1993, the Cypress Station store. In this month’s The Year of Kroger post, we will explore another early Kroger Signature store, Kroger HO-311, the Jersey Village/Steeplechase store located at the intersection of Jones Road & West Road in the northwest suburbs of Houston. While the 1993 and 1994 Kroger Signature stores have more in common than they are different, we will explain how a small change Kroger made to the Signature store layout has a profound difference on how shoppers experience the stores.
Those who have read previous The Year of Kroger entries here at HHR know that at recurring theme in the posts has been that most Kroger stores open today are replacement stores for older Kroger locations given Kroger and Henke & Pillot’s long history in Houston. This, however, is only partially true with the Jones & West Kroger. The history of Kroger in the Jones Road and FM 1960 W area begins in 1978 when Kroger opened a Greenhouse store, HP-171, at the new shopping center at Jones Rd. & FM 1960 W, 10951 FM 1960 W, Houston, TX 77070 to be exact, that was co-anchored by Kmart and Weiner’s clothing store. Within a few years, this Kroger and the existing Eagle (Lucky) were joined at the Jones & FM 1960 intersection by another major supermarket, Grand Union Weingarten in the ex-Target shopping center currently anchored by Ollie’s.
However, none of these supermarkets, including Kroger, would stay at this intersection for very long. When Grand Union threw in the towel on the Houston market in 1984, the Jones & FM 1960 W store was sold to Safeway. Safeway only operated out of that spot for a couple of years though. Lucky likewise gave up on the Houston market in 1985. Their former spot later turned into another discount grocer, King Saver, but then King Saver also had a short life. The former Eagle then turned into Freshville Foods, but this was also short-lived. The intersection would not see another grocer until 1995 when Albertsons opened one of their first Houston stores next to the Target in 1995, but Albertsons relocated this store in 2000 to the intersection of FM 1960 W. & N. Eldridge in a spot that eventually became a Kroger in 2003.
As for Kroger, the Jones & FM 1960 store lasted until 1985. The location later turned into Pic-N-Save, MacFrugal’s, and now Big Lots. The Big Lots still retains the Kroger Greenhouse design. The store was essentially replaced by a newer Greenhouse Kroger, HP-341, just 1.8 miles north at the corner of Jones Road and Millridge North, 12340 Jones Rd., Houston, TX 77070 to be exact. In a future The Year of Kroger post, we will examine the difference between a ‘Superstore II’ Greenhouse Kroger, like HP-171, and a ‘combination store’ Greenhouse Kroger like HP-341. HP-341 itself was replaced with a newer Kroger Signature store, Kroger HO-371, at a new shopping center next door in 2002. Kroger did not completely abandoned the part of Jones Rd. closer to the established middle-class areas of Jersey Village and Steeplechase though. After all, Randall’s was dominating that area with a store at the corner of Jones & West and Food Lion would build a new store at the same intersection in 1992 to offer a discount alternative to the Randall’s. Kroger owned land at the corner of Jones & West where Aldi is now, but Kroger did not build anything there and eventually the land was sold. Kroger did eventually build the Signature store as we know it, Kroger HO-311, in 1994. The grand opening for the Jones & West Kroger Signature, 9330 Jones Rd., Houston, TX 77065, was on November 16, 1994.
Unlike the Champion Forest and Cypress Station Kroger Signature stores mentioned in the previous The Year of Kroger post, the Jones & West store has an exterior with an entryway featuring columns. While this is a pretty significant difference, the biggest difference would be noticeable to shoppers as they enter the store. At the 1993 Kroger Signature stores, shoppers entering the main entrances would have more or less walked into a produce department like shoppers would have done at a Greenhouse Kroger. At the Jones & West Kroger, however, shoppers walk into the ‘power alley.’
The concept of a supermarket power alley was not new to Kroger in the 1990s and it isn’t new to readers of HHR. As we discussed in November 2021 here at HHR, Kroger started experimenting with the power alley concept in Houston in the late 1980s. A power alley concept puts the store’s perishable food departments, usually produce, the bakery, and deli, right at the front of the store where shoppers initially walk through to get into the store. The advantage of this for the store is that shoppers will be ensured of being enticed by the profitable bakery and deli service departments. Randall’s started using this type of design in the 1980s. Sing Oil Blog’s excellent recent guest blog post at the My Florida Retail blog shows how the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain integrated a power alley concept at their 1990s Winn-Dixie Marketplace & Food Pavilion stores. The potential disadvantage of the power alley for retailers is that there is a possibility that shoppers will buy everything they want in the power alley and will then not explore the rest of the store.
It is hard to explain exactly why the 1993 stores did not use the power alley concept when Kroger had already experimented with it at the Sugar Land store in the late 1980s. Perhaps the results were not favorable at that Sugar Land store. Perhaps the presence of national brand fast food options within the store made Kroger rethink their placement of service departments. Perhaps Kroger just preferred the precedent set by Greenhouse stores. It is hard to say.
The Jones & West Kroger Signature store did have similar fast food offerings to the 1993 Signature stores, but there were a few small differences. The Jones & West store did not have Pizza Hut Express and Emperor’s Garden Oriental Kitchen like the 1993 stores had, but Jones & West did have the same KFC Express, Taco Bell Express, and Sara Lee Premium Sandwich Shoppe offerings. Jones & West also had a new addition to the food court, Kroger Gourmet Burgers. This food court was right up front in the power alley where the current deli is today. The national fast food brand food court didn’t last long and eventually the power alley was reconfigured with just the traditional Kroger deli and bakery. This is more or less how the many future Kroger Signature stores were built in the rest of the 1990s and early 2000s. As mentioned in the Cypress Station post, Pseudo3D of the Carbon-izer website has many great Kroger Signature resources including a Kroger Signature store layout map from around the year 2000. This store map is essentially how Jones & West looked for most of the late 1990s.
Like the Cypress Station Kroger Signature store, the Jones & West Kroger opened with Kroger’s Neon décor package, as described here by Retail Retell of the Mid-South Retail Blog, and currently has Kroger’s popular Bountiful (also known as 2012) décor package. Over the years, like with other Signature stores, the confusing combination of north-south and east-west aisles was abandoned and the store now has a fairly conventional layout while still retaining the power alley concept for the perishables. Unlike the Cypress Station store, which is still using a combination of flooring from the Neon and Millennium décor packages of the 1990s and early 2000s, the Jones & West store has colorful vinyl flooring from the mid-2000s through most of the store and fake wood flooring in the power alley that was installed during the Bountiful décor package renovation about a decade ago. In my opinion at least, this store was lucky to retain proper flooring cover during the Bountiful renovation because so many other Kroger stores have lost their flooring cover completely during more recent renovations and the tile-scarred concrete floors left behind are not visually appealing at all. They also make the stores look darker, but store brightness is not an issue at the Jones & West Kroger.
As mentioned in the Cypress Station Kroger post, the Kroger Signature stores were a vital piece of Kroger’s strong position in the Houston market through the late 1990s and into the 2000s. However, the Signature format started to lose focus in the 2000s and that eventually led to the demise of the Signature concept. By the 2000s, Kroger was applying the Signature name to stores that did not meet original Signature standards. Some of these were acquired stores from AppleTree and Albertsons. While some of these acquired stores, especially the Krogertsons, were nice and new enough to feel like a Signature store, this was not the case with all the acquired stores that got Signature status. Furthermore, Kroger started applying the Signature name to older Kroger-built locations, such as Greenhouse stores, and some of these stores didn’t receive any kind of physical upgrade to make them feel any more special than how they felt before. This diluted the value of the Signature name.
Furthermore, around the late 2000s and into the 2010s, Kroger was wanting to push the Kroger Marketplace format at their stores across the country. Houston was no exception as Houston started to get Marketplace stores in the outer suburbs. While Kroger Marketplace stores might not look upscale, they are slightly less than double the size of Kroger Signature stores at about 110,000 sq. ft. and are basically the flagship concept for Kroger in this area. While Kroger did experiment with larger Signature store formats in the 2010s, such as at the Humble Signature store which is 90,000 sq. ft. compared to 60,000 sq. ft for the typical new-built 1990s-early 2000s Kroger Signature stores like the Jones & West location, it seemed inevitable that the Signature name would be abandoned. Indeed, in the late 2010s, Kroger quietly and slowly started removing the Signature name from stores and it is no longer a name used by Kroger in the Houston and Dallas markets. Coincidentally, this was around the same time that Kroger started to lose sight of Walmart and HEB in the Houston grocery market share race.
Back to the subject of the Jones & West Kroger, this store has new competitors since it opened in 1994 and some of those competitors are fellow Kroger stores. In addition to the aforementioned FM 1960 W & N. Eldridge Krogertsons, the Jones & West Kroger is also located near another Krogertsons located on West Rd. and Beltway 8. The Jones & West Randall’s that this Kroger initially competed most closely with closed in 2010 and was replaced with an HEB in 2012. HEB slightly expanded the old Randall’s when they took it over. The HEB feels small by HEB standards, but the store is the same size as the neighboring Kroger. At least in my opinion, however, the Kroger feels like the nicer, bigger store between the two. The Jones & West HEB feels basic, even by HEB standards, and the HEB lacks many of the national brands that Kroger sells.
Food Lion did not last long in Houston and eventually Food Town took over the spot while retaining Food Lion’s décor from the store’s opening in 1992. The Food Town is less busy than the HEB and Kroger and it lacks service departments, but it is a very easy and quick store to browse for those who want grocery shopping with a minimum of hassle. Aldi joined the Jones & West intersection in 2014 to give the intersection a total of four different competitors. There aren’t very many intersections in Houston, or the country even, which has so much supermarket competition!
The Jones & West Kroger might be nearly 30 years old now, but the power alley design of the store still gives it a modern layout. The store is large, but it is not too large to become tiresome to shop at and it does not have a dowdy warehouse store look to it. With this in mind, it seems that Kroger had a brilliant idea with how to design these Signature stores 30 years ago to keep them fresh even decades later. The Jones & West Kroger, and other Kroger Signature stores built with similar designs, are still extremely viable supermarkets here in the 2020s for a broad range of shoppers.
Do you have any thoughts about the Jones & West Kroger? Do you still find similar Kroger Signature stores to be viable supermarkets here in current times? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. We love to hear from our readers!