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Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re doing something which is sure to be a real crowd-pleaser, a Heberstons. Starting from top to bottom, it’s a vacant grocery store; Second, it was most recently an HEB; and finally, it was initially an Albertsons. Now starting with a bit of history, I actually covered this store back in 2021, just before it closed for a replacement along the Gulf Freeway. Providing a quick recap, this store opened in 1996, replacing a set of office buildings that mostly held subcontractors for NASA. The South side of Bay Area Blvd was mostly used as office space, and the North was more residential. The area was never a huge grocery destination. Throughout the previous decades, the biggest grocery competition was Safeway and Eagle attempting to duke it out on this corner. Safeway would be drawn out of the suburbs and closer to the highway in 1984 to take the space of a former Weingarten’s. Eagle, on the other hand, would only last a year longer before the entire company sought to exit Texas. Kroger would pick up the Safeway and Pyburns, and Super Warehouse Foods would try their hands at the old Eagle before HEB Pantry Foods stumbled upon it in 1992. Around this time, the Houston “grocery wars” would start to kick up again. Discounters, like Food Lion, would begin scouting the area before Albertson’s snatched up the store at 16811 El Camino Real Houston, TX 77058, in 1996.
The new competition didn’t seem to phase Kroger much, which continued operating in quite an undersized location out of the old Safeway. However, around 2000, Kroger finally saw the writing on the wall and demolished the old Safeway to start work on a new Signature store. Shortly thereafter, Albertsons announced their plans to leave the Houston market entirely. These plans aligned perfectly with HEB’s move from Pantry Foods stores to full-line “Food and Drug” supermarkets. While HEB would not be shy about picking up Albertsons locations outside of Houston, in town however, they seemed to prefer to build their own locations whenever possible. All told, only a few Albertsons locations were purchased by HEB with, one eventually becoming Mi Tienda, one still operating, one that was converted just as construction began, and this El Camino Real store. In the cases of the other locations, HEB has seemed to cope with the limits inherited from Albertsons. For example, the Kempwood store utilizes the old Albertsons Express gas pumps and canopy for the HEB Fuel Center. The Sugar Land Heberstons sublet some space in the adjacent shopping center to add curbside, and the specialized nature of Mi Tenda has allowed for expansion into the parking lot. However, the opportunities in Clear Lake did not abound, and HEB relocated to a much larger and more modern store in late 2021. It is unknown what will pop up next in this space. HEB is known for including poison pill clauses that usually prevent other grocers from taking their space, so it may be some time until we see movement here. That being said, it’s unclear what leverage HEB has as the space seems to be owned by a property developer. Only time will tell what’s next for this old Heberstons.