Howdy folks, and welcome to Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re visiting a new place for the blog, but a spot with a special place in my heart, the 99 Cents Only Store. Today’s location is actually a new one for me. Located at 10787 Jones Rd, Houston, TX 77065, this store space in the Steeplechase Center was originally filled by Sav-On Drugs, opening in 1982, and later Walgreens, which took over the stores when Sav-On left Houston in 1984. The location was a bit too large for Walgreens’ needs, so it was subdivided, turning a portion of the space into a Walgreens-owned and operated liquor store in a short-lived scheme recently discovered by Anonymous in Houston. Walgreens would leave the center in 1999, landing in a nearby free-standing store. With this space open and a mix of retail conditions that made it just right, the 99 Cent Only Stores chain would occupy this building. In the summer of 2003, the 99 Cent Only Store chain debuted in Houston. The former Sav-On/Walgreens would use the entire space the former Sav-On occupied as Houston’s third location in the chain. The 99 Cent Store was special to me because it was the last chain my grandfather, who helped develop my passion for retail, went all in on. He was an old geezer by that point, but he was the chain’s target audience, and as a teenager, I was too. A couple of spendthrifts, looking for good deals at the junk store!
The early 2000s combined a blend of retail magic that allowed the 99 Cent Only Store chain to flourish in Texas, especially in Houston. Around this time, retail vacancies were on the rise, with an abundance of former grocery stores, which had been rendered obsolete due to increasing square footage. Often the grocer would rebuild next door or very close by helping to bring further traffic into the 99 Cents Only operation. The other piece of the puzzle was the availability of a ready-to-go distribution center left behind by Albertsons the year prior. The early 99 Cents Only Store was an “odd lots” type of situation. They would buy some predictable merchandise but also lots of rejected merchandise, failed market tests, and those sorts of things would end up there. This caught on quickly, and the stores proved fairly popular. Even getting away with selling things now and then above 99 Cents within the first few years. However, citing profitability issues in 2008, 99 Cents Only Stores began shutting down locations in Texas and planned on leaving the state. However, in a last-minute reprieve, the stores were spared, except for any which had already closed. The stores were remerchandised more closely to what you see today. An increased focus on grocery and a broader selection more like a Mini-Walmart. The reset has seemed to be tremendously successful. Before the closings in 2008, 99 Cents Only had an all-time high of 55 stores open afterward, though this was down to 34. However, as of this article, the chain is back up to about 50 stores, with the most recent opening being in El Paso in 2022 under their new “The 99 Store” name.
When the 99 Cent Only Store opened here in 2003, it started a discount shopping revolution for the Steeplechase Center. Followed more recently by Ollie’s and soon by Shoppers World. Throughout all the changes, the store that I liked going to is still there deep down. The foot traffic seems to be doing quite well, and while I don’t plan on stopping back into the 99 Cent Only Store again immediately, I know where to head if I need more Cactus Cooler!