Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston with the photos taken by Mike
Welcome to the latest installment of The Year of Kroger here at Houston Historic Retail! After three consecutive months of looking at early examples of Kroger Signature stores, this month’s The Year of Kroger post will take us to a Kroger that is the opposite of a Signature store. Those who have read the previous installments of The Year of Kroger, especially the one about the Texas City Kroger last month, will surely be aware of Kroger’s long history in the Houston area. Readers of The Year of Kroger series are also surely aware by now that many of Kroger’s current locations are replacement locations for older locations given Kroger’s long history in Houston. Perhaps the Kroger location which best exhibits Kroger’s long roots in the Houston area is the East End location, Kroger HO-223, located at 4000 Polk St, Houston, TX 77023. This location has had a Kroger supermarket since 1932!
Well, at least this location has kind of had a Kroger at it since 1932. This needs further explanation. Kroger entered Houston in 1955 via their acquisition of the local Henke & Pillot chain, but Henke & Pillot had a location at 4008-4016 Polk (later simplified to 4000 Polk), Henke & Pillot No. 4, which opened in 1932. Kroger took over this location after their Henke & Pillot acquisition and Kroger continued to operate it until around 1967 when Kroger converted the location to Kroger’s relatively short-lived Bi-Lo deep discount grocery store format which had a handful of locations in older inner-city locations in Houston. The Bi-Lo era did not last long as the store was converted to being a standard Kroger store in approximately 1972.
By this point, the Great Depression-era Henke & Pillot building was not up to modern supermarket standards and Kroger elected to replace their building with their brand new Greenhouse store format, or Superstore II more specifically. This new Greenhouse store opened in 1979 and continues as a Greenhouse store even today. The old Henke & Pillot building stood where the parking lot is for the current Kroger at 4000 Polk with the current Kroger store standing in a lot that was just beyond the original store.
The current Greenhouse Kroger at 4000 Polk is not the oldest still-operating Kroger building in the Houston area. In fact, the Texas City Kroger we saw last month, which started out as a Kroger Superstore, is almost a decade older than 4000 Polk. There is another Houston-area Kroger that is in a building even older than the Texas City store and we’ll see that in an upcoming The Year of Kroger post. That said, while 4000 Polk isn’t the oldest Kroger building in town, 4000 Polk might feel like the oldest Kroger building in Houston. There are many reasons for why this might be the case even aside from Kroger’s long history at this spot in the East End.
Unfortunately, when this store received a remodel in 2018, the vinyl flooring tiles at the store were stripped away leaving a bare concrete floor. Tile scarred concrete floors look bad in most situations, at least in my opinion, but this might be the worst example of tile scar I have ever seen. Even without the tile scar, the concrete does not look presentable. The current state of the floor looks terrible, in my opinion, and it automatically gives the store a dated, decrepit feel. It is my opinion that Kroger needs to do here what Kroger did in Texas City, another store carrying Kroger’s Bountiful/2012 décor package in current times, and install a fake wood vinyl floor at this location. This small change would do a lot to transform this location from something looking like a deep discount grocer to something looking like a proper mid-tier supermarket.
Aside from that, this Kroger location has a layout that is mostly original to how 1970s Kroger Greenhouse stores looked. For one, the location does not have a pharmacy. This is certainly a very unusual omission at a modern Kroger. The only other Houston Kroger which does not have a pharmacy in current times that I can think of is the former Weingarten location on W. 20th St. that Mike did a post about last year here at HHR. Furthermore, while most 1980s-built Greenhouse Krogers in Houston have received some kind of exterior façade remodel, like the Veterans Memorial Kroger we saw in January’s The Year of Kroger post, 4000 Polk still has a mostly original greenhouse.
The original greenhouse at 4000 Polk does illustrate one thing. The 1970s Kroger Greenhouse stores have curved walls around the greenhouse exterior and have an interior layout somewhat similar to the 1970s Superstores. This is the case at 4000 Polk. 1980s-built Greenhouse stores, meanwhile, have a somewhat different looking Greenhouse installation with boxed corners around the greenhouse. On top of that, the 1980s Greenhouse Krogers have a newer layout which puts the deli and bakery on separate walls and the 1980s Greenhouse stores are larger than the 1970s ones. While all of Kroger’s Greenhouse stores often get lumped together, the 1970s Greenhouse stores represent the evolution of Kroger’s 1970s 25,000-30,000 sq. ft. food and general merchandise Superstore format. That explains the Superstore II name. The 1980s Greenhouse stores, which Kroger referred to as the ‘combination stores’, are around 45,000 sq. ft. and combine a pharmacy with food and general merchandise. It should be noted that some early Kroger Greenhouse stores with the boxed corners around the greenhouse were not built with in-store pharmacies as Kroger was still operating standalone SupeRx pharmacies in the very early 1980s or had a 3rd party pharmacy like Eckerd or Walgreens operating nearby. These stores, at least when they were built, were a bit of a hybrid between the Superstore IIs and the later ‘combination stores’. Over the years, many of these boxed corner stores were converted to the ‘combination store’ standard with an in-store pharmacy like the mid-1980s Kroger Greenhouse combination stores had when they were constructed.
The difference in size led to Kroger replacing some of their 1970s Greenhouse/Superstore II stores just a few years after they were built if they could not be expanded. The FM 1960 W & Jones Rd. Kroger Greenhouse/Superstore II store built in 1978, which was mentioned in March’s The Year of Kroger post, was a sister store to 4000 Polk before it was replaced with a new Greenhouse ‘combination store’ in 1985. Even then, the 4000 Polk Kroger is smaller than the old FM 1960 W & Jones Kroger. 4000 Polk is only ~25,000 sq. ft. in size compared to ~30,000 sq. ft. for the old FM 1960 W & Jones Kroger. The old La Porte Kroger Greenhouse store, which opened just a few weeks before 4000 Polk, was a true twin sister of 4000 Polk in terms of size and design. The only major different between 4000 Polk and the La Porte Superstore II was that the La Porte store was built with a neighboring SupeRx pharmacy while 4000 Polk was built with an Eckerd pharmacy that later turned into CVS and is now a Dollar General.
It is not unusual to hear conversations about this Kroger when talking to ‘Inside the Loop’ Houstonians. Specifically, there are many in the community who wish to see Kroger replace the current Kroger with a new, modern location just as Kroger did in the 1970s. The East End has seen gentrification in recent decades and so it is not inconceivable that Kroger will replace this location at some point, but that does not seem very likely at the current time. For one, the demographics of the area in terms of affluence and households with families are still relatively mixed and so it might be difficult for Kroger to maintain a modern middle-class, family-oriented store in this area since those with affluence in the area are the also generally the ones without families. Also, Kroger has not opened a new location in Houston since 2017. Finally, given the complete lack of nearby competition from a major grocer, there is not much sense that Kroger is under business pressure to replace this location. In fact, the nearest competitors to this store are the upscale Midtown Randall’s, the I-45 & Wayside Walmart Supercenter, and the Fiesta Mart on Wayside. The Fiesta Mart is near the former Polk & Wayside Kroger Superstore which has been closed for many years, but the building still looks very much like a 1970s Kroger Superstore.
There is no doubt that the current Greenhouse Kroger at 4000 Polk is a relic. That said, it is also fitting that such a historic spot for Kroger in Houston has a mostly untouched Greenhouse building. If one wants a vintage 1970s Kroger experience, 4000 Polk is the place to visit. Sure, the store no longer carries the famed Bauhaus décor the store would have opened with, the 2018 remodel removed the famed Kroger cube sign on the outside, and the floor certainly needs work here, but this is one of a few Houston Kroger locations where one can relive what it was like to go Krogering in the 1970s and 1980s.
Do you have any thoughts or memories about the Kroger at 4000 Polk? Do you remember the original Henke & Pillot Kroger on Polk? If so, feel free to leave a comment below. We love to hear from our readers!