Howdy folks, and welcome to Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re taking a look at the last of the neon Fiestas at 8130 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77054. This Fiesta Mart location opened in the 1980s, during a high of our local international store. First, let’s start with a quick history of Fiesta. The concept behind Fiesta Mart was developed by a group of American-businessmen who had experienced shopping at modern Latin American supermarkets and realized the idea would work well in Houston. While international stores have a long history in Houston, Fiesta was the first attempt at taking this sales concept and applying modern retailing. Fiesta opened its first store on the Northside of downtown in 1972. The store was a hit within the community, quickly growing beyond its target demographic of Hispanic shoppers. Fiesta’s growth in the 80s was primarily unchecked by any serious competition, especially as their concept evolved from catering to Latin American clients to any international shoppers. In the late 80s, Fiesta began experimenting with larger and larger stores, almost taking a page out of the Hypermarket playbook. The store we’re looking at today is one of the few remaining examples of Fiesta in its prime. A vast selection of goods in a massive store, lots of 45-degree angles, and copious amounts of neon all accent wonderfully 80s décor. While this store was not the only one to ever be built to these specifications, the other remaining locations have had their looks torn apart to resemble their parent company’s California chain, El Super.
So what exactly happened at Fiesta that killed off neon? Well, multiple changing hands over the last 20 or so years led to a state of neglect for many locations. Not that they were allowed to rot or anything like that, but rather a lack of updates. In 2004, the original owners sold Fiesta to their supplier, Grocers Supply Corp. The sale to Grocers Supply was not based on the wholesaler’s desire to enter the grocery retailing business but rather an attempt to keep its largest client and one of the only significant independents in Houston at the time. Under GSC ownership, much stayed the same at Fiesta. After a multi-year building break, the company resumed an already underway expansion in DFW. Houston was left on the back burner, and during these years, the unified neon identity of Fiesta began to fade, as newer stores were usually taking the space of recently closed grocers. By the 2010s, GSC began formulating a plan to sell their company, but prior to this would let Fiesta come into the hands of an investment firm, who actually embraced Fiesta’s identity and started to update the look of stores. However, this would not last, and within two years, the company would be sold again, this time to current owners, Chedraui. Sadly under this new ownership growth of the chain has all but stopped, the Fiesta Beverage Mart concept is being discontinued, and it seems they’re coming for the Kirby’s neon Pepe next. So long, neon Fiesta, it was nice while it lasted!
It is a real shame that so many of these neon Fiesta Marts are now getting the common decor package that Chedraui is installing at the various chains under their banner. Don’t get me wrong, the new decor package looks pretty good (examples where the floor cover has been removed such as Wirt are a major exception…those remodels look atrocious) for modern decor, but it’s not as nice as neon especially at this location and the Mission Bend Fiesta. The good news is that the Willowchase Fiesta Mart got a renovation last year and retained the neon there so that might well be the last neon Fiesta.
To me the high point of Fiesta was the amazing space age store they opened in Webster, with a hydroponic garden, digital cake decorator, planets out in the parking lot marking the rows, etc.
It never caught on down here sadly; I think a big part of the problem was the city’s refusal to put in a left turn light at the major entrance, resulting in horrendous backups making it a major pain to get into the store. Now that it’s a Burlington or what-not, the light is there, sigh.
The store that opened with the “I’ve seen a UFO” teaser campaign!
It was definitely a high water mark for the chain, probably the most expensive store they ever built by far. The left turn light was an issue, as was the location in general (the store’s closest large base of customers at that time would have passed 2-3 other supermarkets on the way to Fiesta). As it was a very large store, it required tremendous sales volume to break even or be profitable… volume it always struggled to get. With the growth in the area and the light installed, it would probably perform well enough today. Unfortunately, it was ahead of its time in more ways than one.
I loved the decor at this store, not just the neon but the world flags that ringed much of the store and were once prominently placed on the stores front wall near the check outs. I also love the little shops inside the pillars at the entrance.
This store was the last non-arcade place I saw a working (relatively-speaking) Neo-Geo arcade cabinet, I think it was there as late as 2012-2013.
I don’t think they founders of fiesta were Anglo. They were Greek Jews.
Good point, it was multiple founders, and I don’t know all their backgrounds. I’ve updated the article to reflect the underlying message the founders were indeed Americans.
To be fair, “Anglo” has long been a fairly widely-used term for non-Hispanic white Americans.
While I don’t know their full family trees, Fiesta’s co-founders were both at least second-generation Americans: O.C. Mendenhall was from Oklahoma and Donald Bonham was from Corpus Christi (born to parents from Oklahoma, interestingly enough). Both grew up in the business, with families that owned and operated grocery stores.
Where does it say they were Anglo?