Over 50 Years Later, Baytown’s Kroger Family Center Is Still One Of The Houston Area’s Most Unique Kroger Stores

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 April’s The Year of Kroger post here at Houston Historic Retail, we took a look at the Texas City Kroger, the second oldest still-operating Kroger building in the Houston area. If you think that store is unique, we have a special treat for you today. As promised in February’s The Year of Kroger post about the Cypress Station Kroger Signature store, we will take a look at a Houston-area Kroger Family Center store here in The Year of Kroger series.

The subject of today’s post is the Baytown Kroger, HP-974, located at 1700 N Alexander Dr, Baytown, TX 77520. For those unfamiliar with Baytown, it is an industrial suburb on the far east side of the Houston area. Even though Baytown is quite far from downtown Houston, it is still predominantly in Harris County, the main county in the Houston area. Baytown, like Texas City, is heavily reliant on the petrochemical refinery industry. Long-time HHR readers will remember previous Baytown subjects on the blog such as the San Jacinto Mall, TG&Y’s AIM For the Best upscale discount store, and the Kmart that opened in Baytown in 1962 which was one of the first Kmart stores ever in the chain.

Given the similarities between Texas City and Baytown, perhaps it is not a surprise that the oldest still-operating Kroger building in the Houston area is in Baytown. While the Texas City Kroger has changed a lot over the years as it transitioned in various stages from a Superstore/SupeRx combo to a Signature store, the Baytown store has not changed as much. This lack of change at the Baytown store is a treat for us in modern times as it allows us to look at Kroger’s Family Center past.

A recurring theme in The Year of Kroger posts is that today’s Houston-area Kroger locations tend to be replacement locations for older Kroger locations. This is also true with Baytown. Baytown originally had a Henke & Pillot/Kroger location located at 900 W Texas Ave, Baytown, TX 77520. This is located on the land where the Dwight Lohkamp Tennis Facility is today. This location was replaced by the Kroger Family Center, the subject of today’s post, which opened on October 19, 1971. Baytown eventually gained a second Kroger location, HP-265, on Garth Road, 4533 Garth Rd, Baytown, TX 77521, in 1982 not long after San Jacinto Mall opened on Garth Road. The Garth Kroger was replaced by a Kroger Marketplace store, HO-150, located at 6315 Garth Rd, Baytown, TX 77521, in 2016.

The 2016 opening of the Baytown Kroger Marketplace store was not Baytown’s first experience with a Kroger store that also doubled as a general merchandise discount store. That first experience was, of course, with the Kroger Family Center store that opened in 1971. The Pleasant Family Shopping blog detailed what a Kroger Family Center store was like on their blog in 2009. I recommend reading that blog post. That said, the blog post does contain some inaccuracies about when Kroger started and ended operating Kroger Family Center stores. In particular, the post implies that the Kroger Family Center format was losing steam in the 1970s and that Kroger abandoned the concept during that decade. That might have been true elsewhere in the country, but that was not at all true in the Henke & Pillot/Houston Kroger division. Kroger Family Centers, or Kroger Discount Family Center as Kroger referred to the chain when the Baytown store opened in 1971, were still fully operational through the 1970s and into the 1980s.

The Henke & Pillot/Houston division of Kroger rolled out the Kroger Family Center to many markets in Texas and Louisiana, mainly mid-sized markets, starting in the early 1960s. Some of these markets were ones which did not have Kroger stores prior to the entry of the Kroger Family Center stores. Examples of this include Austin and Corpus Christi. In fact, one of the Corpus Christi Kroger Family Center stores is now an HEB. The Kroger Family Center stores built in the earlier part of the 1960s actually used the Henke’s Family Center name instead of Kroger Family Center since Henke & Pillot still had better recognition initially after Kroger bought Henke & Pillot in 1955. The Orange Leader newspaper has significant coverage of the 1962 opening (press the right arrow button on the link to see additional pages) of the Henke’s Family Center in Orange, TX, a small city located near the Texas-Louisiana border. Remarkably, this ~60,000 sq. ft. store, Kroger HP-950 located at 1600 N 16th St, Orange, TX 77630, is still in operation as a Kroger over 60 years later! While the outside design of this store has not changed much from the opening, Kroger did upgrade the Orange store to Signature status some years ago.

Kroger opened Kroger Family Center stores in Houston proper later in the 1970s-early 1980s such as the I-45 & FM 1960 store which was discussed in the aforementioned Cypress Station Kroger Signature post and the location at 2455 S Braeswood Blvd, Houston, TX 77030 near the Astrodome which sits right next to the Krogertsons which replaced it. The newer Kroger Family Center stores in Houston proper might have had a smaller selection of general merchandise than the older ones, but they still had an expanded selection of general merchandise as compared to regular Krogers of the time. This Houston Chronicle slideshow contains some photos from 1984 showing some of the general merchandise items sold by the Conroe Kroger Family Center store. As one can see, these stores eventually adopted the Bauhaus décor package famously used by other Kroger stores. This 1983 ad from The Baytown Sun (press the right arrow button on the link to see additional pages) shows the diversity of general merchandise goods that Kroger Family Center stores were selling even into the 1980s.

When Kroger Family Center stores such as the Baytown one opened, they were quite unique as compared to earlier attempts to sell groceries and general merchandise under one roof such as the early Kmart stores with attached Kmart Foods locations and similar setups from Target. While Kmart and Target separated their grocery operations from their discount stores and had different registers for the two parts, the grocery stores were usually operated by third-party operators such as Lewis & Coker in the case of Houston’s Kmart Foods locations, Kroger had a more unified approach. Although the Baytown store had separate entrances for grocery and general merchandise, the store utilized a centralized checkout area like a modern supercenter. That said, even into the 1980s, Kroger Family Center stores did accept credit cards, but they only did so for general merchandise. With that, and with the Texas Blue Law restricting the purchase of general merchandise on Sundays until the law was repelled, shoppers did have to be at least a little cognizant of the differences between groceries and general merchandise when shopping at Kroger Family Center stores.

As the 1980s wore on, the Houston division of Kroger did abandon the Kroger Family Center format. Kroger itself didn’t return to operating stores with a heavy selection of general merchandise until 1998 when Kroger purchased the Fred Meyer chain of hypermarkets in the Pacific Northwest. This led to Kroger returning to Family Center type stores with their Kroger Marketplace format such as the Baytown store on Garth. By 1988, many of the Kroger Family Center stores in non-traditional Kroger markets, such as Austin and Corpus Christi, had closed. Others, such as Baytown and Orange, were converted into conventional Kroger stores. In 1985, the Baytown Kroger Family Center spent most of the year undergoing a renovation while the store remained open for business. The completion of the renovation was celebrated with a second grand opening for the store on October 30, 1985. It was at this point in 1985 that the Family Center part at the Baytown Kroger Family Center started to fade away.

Kroger Family Center stores were quite large for normal Kroger stores after the conversions, but Kroger was slowly moving towards opening 60,000 sq. ft. standard stores even in the late 1980s as we saw in February’s Cypress Station The Year of Kroger post. As large as the Baytown Kroger Family Center store must have felt as a regular Kroger back in the 1980s, at ~56,000 sq. ft., it is now a little bit smaller than the Signature stores built in the 1990s. In fact, the Baytown Kroger Family Center store never did become a Signature store even when many smaller, older Krogers were converted to the Signature format in the 1990s and early 2000s. That said, in current times, the Baytown Kroger Family Center store has many of the features one would expect from a Signature store such as a pharmacy with a drive-thru lane and an in-store bank. In fact, the in-store bank at this location, a First Convenience Bank, is probably the largest in-store bank I’ve ever seen. The size and layout of the bank rivals standalone bank branches.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Baytown Kroger Family Center store today is the unique layout of the store. This store uses a ‘reversed’ type layout with produce on the left side of the store. That itself is not totally unusual, but the produce is actually at the front of the store rather than at the side as is customary at many supermarkets. Furthermore, meat is on the side of the store near the produce! The oddest part of the store is the deli-bakery island in the middle of the store. Yes, actually at the very center of the store. This is very unusual for any supermarket, but it is especially unusual for a Kroger. The deli used to have a ‘Have a Seat’ seating area which likely closed during the Covid-19 pandemic and which has not reopened even though the sign for it still exists. The center seating alcove just added to the oddity of the center deli-bakery island.

This tour of the Baytown Kroger Family Center store is the first The Year of Kroger tour showing off Kroger’s Banner, also known as Marketplace, décor package. This Kroger received that décor in 2018 after spending many years with the Kroger Script décor package. In fact, this was one of the last Houston-area Kroger stores to have the Script décor package. Retail Retell of the Mid-South Retail Blog maintains excellent guides to the Kroger Banner (Marketplace) and Script décor packages. This store uses the low-ceiling height implementation of Banner even though it had normal Script décor in the past. One very interesting aspect of this Kroger’s ceiling is that it has the exact same type of jumbo round HVAC registers as 1960s and 1970s Kmarts. It is fitting that Kroger installed Kmart-like HVAC registers in this store given that the Kroger Family Center concept is rather similar to the concept behind 1960s Kmart stores!

Although the area north of State Highway 146 in Baytown has a considerable amount of grocery competition from the aforementioned Kroger Marketplace, HEB, HEB’s discount format Joe V’s Smart Shop, Aldi, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Target, and two Food Towns (one is a former Food Lion and the other is an Albertsons Town), the area south of SH 146, where the Kroger Family Center is, has very little competition even though there are numerous neighborhoods nearby. The only major competitor is Food Town’s third location in Baytown at 1700 Decker Dr, Baytown, TX 77520 which was initially a Walgreens’ Globe Shopping City discount store and Rice Food Market combination which provided the Kroger Family Center significant competition during most of the 1970s. Thus, with limited competition in the southern part of Baytown, the old Kroger Family Center will probably continue serving Baytown for many more years given their importance to the community.

That said, one very interesting aspect to the history of this Kroger Family Center store is that Kroger did try to replace this store with a brand new store in the mid-2010s. In 2015, Baytown awarded Kroger many concessions in exchange for building a new ~100,000 sq. ft. store at 1800 N Alexander Drive. This is back behind the current Kroger Family Center store and the land the new store was supposed to go on once housed a Gibson’s Discount Center. Kroger publicly announced the new store and a sign was placed for the new store on the property. By 2016, construction was delayed and Kroger was blaming the delays on HR hold ups with claims that the real estate people were building faster than they could hire people. Kroger said the opening of the new store would be postponed until 2018, but in 2017, Kroger publicly stated that construction of the new store was discontinued and the sign indicating a new store was coming was removed from the property. Members of the Baytown City Council were allegedly told that Kroger had to cancel a number of projects due to financial concerns at the company.

As we’ll see in a future The Year of Kroger post, this was not the only ‘ghost Kroger’ where Kroger announced a new store for the Houston area in the mid-to-late 2010s which ended up not being built. Ultimately, even with Kroger’s own public proclamations around a decade ago that the Kroger Family Center store was old and needed to be replaced, Kroger ultimately decided to renovate the Kroger Family Center store in 2018 by installing the Banner décor package and, by all accounts, the Kroger Family Center store will be the Kroger this part of Baytown will have for the foreseeable future.

Do you have any memories of shopping at Kroger Family Center stores? Do you have any memories of the Baytown Kroger stores? If so, or if you have any other thoughts about this Kroger, please feel free to submit a comment in the comments section below. We love to hear from our readers!


  1. I was on the management training program for Kroger and was assigned to help set up the clothing department. I believe the year was 1971. Dwayne Wallace was the Store Mgr. The concept of the Family Center was greatly encouraged by Larry Tull ( a VP ). He also brought 3 stores to the valley as well as Corpus Christi. Kroger was way ahead of their time. The problem was upper management at Corporate Cincinnati would not let South Texas stores merchandise or promote to Hispanic customers like they needed to.

    1. Interesting information, Anonymous. Thanks for sharing some inside information with us. Kroger did set up Family Center stores in parts of Texas where they did not have a presence otherwise, like Austin, but this was not always a success as you say. Meanwhile, in Baytown, Kroger still has this location, now as a regular Kroger, and they also have a Marketplace store so I suppose the concept is still working to a certain degree in Baytown.

  2. What a fascinatingly unusual layout to this store. Produce on the front wall! Meat on the left! Frozen on the back! The outrageously large in-store bank! Deli and bakery in a central island!! The deli-bakery placement makes me think a little bit of AFB’s recent Kash ‘n Karry round format post which I just got around to reading. I assume this layout is original and was designed that way so as to keep grocery as much on its own side of the store as possible. Still, it doesn’t appear there are any other service departments on the perimeter walls (unless I missed a butcher counter?), so the deli and bakery feasibly could have gone on the grocery perimeter if Kroger really wanted it to. So it must be just as much about the looks and prestige of having a fancy standalone island for the deli-bakery, haha.

    There are several décor and signage oddities at this store, too. That Live Naturally sign is horrendous! On the other hand, it’s great to see all the original exterior signage remain! Even with the road sign’s panels changed out, it’s incredible that the original frame still stands. It’s also great to see the Bauhaus pill-shaped signs still there (as well as that image of the Bauhaus “Shoes” department sign — that’s a classic!). I’d have to agree that the Drive Thru pill sign must have been retroactively designed to match the existing Pharmacy sign, which is just amazing to see. I sure hope those will stay up for a long time to come.

    Some more signage oddities are the external Banner décor “welcome” sign, as well as the interior frozen foods wall décor. I think blue and yellow are normally supposed to be complementary colors, but in my opinion, they clash very much in that implementation! I’ve seen Banner frozen foods décor once before in person, and in that store, it is the same blue text on a light blue background. The swirl stencils are a shade of blue as well, and the whole thing looks much more presentable and purposeful (almost as if the swirls represent the visible movement of wind on a blustery winter’s day).

    It’s interesting to learn that the Family Center concept stuck around for a longer period of time in this part of the country, because like you said, I was under the impression that it was discontinued everywhere else sometime around the late 70s/early 80s. That said, others did get converted to regular Kroger stores, as you also mentioned in the post. I know that there was a location in Greenville, MS, that survived as a regular Kroger up until the early 2010s. I don’t recall ever going to that store, though, and it closed before I got into this hobby. From images online, it had millennium décor at the time of its closure. I believe the building has since become a church. The exterior is fairly original, and I have a few images of it on flickr.

    I wonder if the proposed replacement store for this location was intended to be a Kroger Marketplace. I know of several Kroger construction projects, including two in the Mid-South, that were delayed and cancelled circa 2016/2017 like you mention in the post. In that regard, the city council here was not being misled when they were told Kroger was canceling projects all across the country. However, all of the project cancellations I am familiar with were of future Marketplace stores. In Oxford, MS, the project eventually resumed, but instead of building a new Marketplace and tearing down the existing store, they simply expanded the existing store and kept it a regular Kroger. In Arlington, TN, there’s just a giant parking lot and small adjoining strip center with an empty patch of grass where the anchor parcel was supposed to go! The existing Kroger is all the way across town! It has been “remodeled” to Remix décor, and until now it didn’t appear that Kroger had any intention of relocating anytime soon. That was really a major blow to Arlington, so I’m glad I just looked it up before publishing this comment to see that it was announced in February of this year construction would finally begin after so many years of delay. The new store will only be 105,000 square feet, which is smaller than the 123,000 sf Marketplace originally intended to go there and most likely points to it just being another regular Kroger store. But that’s still something! I guess I should be lucky that the Hernando Kroger Marketplace actually got built when it did! Intended to be the first of at least three, it is now (and will likely remain) the only Marketplace in the Memphis metro area. We had very good timing on that, given everything that followed!

    Anyway, even though this former Family Center was remodeled, the talk of construction — even if it was ultimately canceled — gives me a bit of concern about its longevity. Kroger may well want to resume construction on that piece of land at some point in the future, but hopefully for now, at least, this store will get to live on for many more years to come! Another great post here, and thanks (yet again!) for the shout-out and links!

    1. Good point about the “Live Naturally” sign—I noticed how bad that looked as well and forgot to mention it! I also agree that the designers should have picked a color other than yellow to go on the produce department wall (a light blue or white/grey would look much nicer).

      I know the Atlanta Division also canceled or delayed several stores (most notably one on the corner of Northside Drive and 17th Street in Midtown which is currently a grassy field), but they are kicking off the year with the grand opening of a replacement store north of the city on August 2nd (okay, a bit of sarcasm there—this store was originally scheduled to open back on March). I’ll be interested to see how that store turns out since it is only the second one I’m aware of the Atlanta Division building in the last 5-7 years.

    2. As far as the ‘Ghost Kroger’ location goes, it was expected to be a standard format Kroger, albeit a large one that would have been about 100,000 sq. feet in size. It would have been about double the size of the current Kroger Family Center even though I’m not sure if a store that size would have been justified. Baytown’s other Kroger store on Garth Rd. was replaced with a Kroger Marketplace store and I’m guessing Kroger didn’t want to put two Marketplace stores in Baytown since it is a somewhat small blue-collar area with quite a bit of retail options.

      The other ‘Ghost Kroger’ which I will be discussing in a future The Year of Kroger post actually had a little bit of construction work done to it before work was halted! In some ways, that was an even stranger situation, but this Baytown situation is strange in the sense that Kroger was receiving subsidies to build the new store and they still didn’t do it. It seems that both of these Kroger projects were cancelled outright and so while it is possible that Kroger might reconsider now that the company is starting to engage in construction projects again, I’m not sure if these stores are high on the priority list. The other Ghost Kroger I’ll mention in a future TYOK post is near a HEB store, a big one, and I think Kroger having a smaller store is, in some ways, a benefit because it gives them a different experience than the HEB. It’s more of a neighborhood store and some shoppers are looking for that format.

      Kroger recently announced some new construction projects in the Dallas area, but Kroger has not opened a new store here in Houston in quite some time and there are no hot rumors I’m aware of of them opening a new store here. This is very strange because we do have some new suburban developments where you’d think Kroger would want to open a new Marketplace store, or any kind of store, but we’re not hearing much about that. Kroger is renovating their older stores, but as you’ve seen, a lot of these are very bad Remix type renovations. They’re not bad because of Remix per se, they’re bad because Kroger is tacking on new decor elements onto old paint jobs and such. By comparison, the remodel done here at Baytown is actually pretty good even if the Banner implementation is quite…creative, lol.

      If you think this store has a wild layout, just wait until you see a future TYOK post (not the other Ghost Kroger one, this is a different store) where I show a Kroger with an even more bonkers layout than this one! That one has a center service department island as well. At least Kroger has an excuse for the weird design of this other store since it was not designed by Kroger, but I’ll get into that when that post goes up!

  3. It’s crazy how Kroger has held onto such an old store for all of this time! I’ve never been inside a former Family center, but I wonder if they all had such an odd layout like this or if this store is just a product of numerous modifications over the years. The deli/bakery island in the center of the store is especially intriguing, and I’d almost guess this was added during the Bauhaus years based on the curved corner I saw and the style of florescent lights set into the overhang. The Bauhaus pills and antique sign post outside are also a fun addition. The full-size bank is unique as well.

    I’m guessing the Albany, GA Kroger Family Center that I mentioned in this post and <a href=”https://singoil.blogspot.com/2022/11/albany-8-albany-ga.html#MTC>this post used the 1970’s exterior design you referred to based on the style of the Rite Aid facade in this photo.

    I’m sure you appreciate this store receiving new vinyl flooring during the Banner remodel! I just wish Kroger could have swapped out the dated strip lights and hung the restroom sign level.

    1. Now that you mention it, I believe you are correct that the Deli/Bakery island is a product of the mid-1980s renovation and grand opening that this store had. As Retail Retell mentioned, it’s probable that the original service departments were in the same part of the store since, if nothing else, relocating water and gas lines is not cheap or easy. That said, it probably didn’t look exactly as the island does now originally.

      That Albany, GA Kroger Family Center looks a lot like the Orange, TX Kroger Family Center that I posted a link to in this blog post. A few of the Kroger Family Center stores, especially the 1960s-era ones, had that design so that would make sense. It’s a bit odd that the Albany Kroger Family Center had a SupeRx because although SupeRx was in Houston, I believe the Kroger Family Center stores had a pharmacy that was within the Kroger store and it wasn’t branded as SupeRx. It is possible that there was some sort of regulation issue which caused them to use an external pharmacy in GA. I’m not sure about that.

      The Kmart-like ceiling this store has does make this store feel like a, well, Kmart, lol. At least the ceiling tiles and vents are a lot cleaner than similar era Kmarts were. Quite frankly, things are cleaner here than at most newer Krogers for that matter! I’m glad Kroger had enough sense to not try to peel the tiles up here and leave it with a concrete floor. It would have looked terrible! The fake wood looks nice. Well, it’s about as nice as we can expect from Kroger at least, lol.