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 summer vacation edition of The Year of Kroger! There is no better place in the Houston area to make a vacation-themed post to start the second half of The Year of Kroger series than on Galveston Island. With that in mind, grab some sunscreen because we will be touring the Kroger Signature store, HO-302, located at 5730 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551.
Galveston County is no stranger to Houston Historic Retail. In fact, this month’s The Year of Kroger post isn’t even our first stop in Galveston County in The Year of Kroger series. However, unlike our previous stop at Texas City in April’s The Year of Kroger post, this time we’ll be visiting Galveston Island itself rather than the mainland part of the county. For those unfamiliar with Galveston, Galveston is a coastal beach community along the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to being one of the most historic sites in Texas, it is also a popular tourist destination for those in the Houston area. Tourists come to Galveston for many reasons including to visit the beaches, to take a cruise, to visit amusement parks such as Moody Gardens, and to eat seafood at a place such as Gaido’s. Seawall Boulevard, which runs along the coast, is one of the main tourism corridors of Galveston and that is where the Galveston Kroger is located.
Perhaps the most recurring theme in The Year of Kroger posts so far is that today’s Kroger locations in the Houston area are often replacement stores for previous Kroger/Henke & Pillot locations and that is true in Galveston as well. Kroger has a long history in Galveston which is only fitting given the historic nature of Galveston itself. Henke & Pillot’s history in Galveston goes back to their purchase of three ABC Stores in Galveston in 1941. Around 1949, the ABC name was dropped in favor of the Henke & Pillot name. Henke & Pillot had a location in Galveston located near the Seawall at 4525 Avenue U, Galveston, TX 77551 in what is now a Goodwill thrift store. Kroger also had a location on The Strand, a particularly historical district of Galveston. These locations closed in around 1975 when Kroger HP-165, a Kroger Superstore, opened at 4523 Fort Crockett Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551. This building is currently an Academy Sports & Outdoors store.
Kroger HP-165 served the needs of Galveston shoppers for a quarter of a century, but by the turn of the millennium, Kroger was looking for an upgrade. Randall’s had opened a store near the Galveston Seawall in 1984, a store which we will profile in an upcoming Houston Historic Retail blog post, and the Randall’s gave Galveston shoppers looking for an upscale experience a better, newer experience than what the Kroger Superstore could offer. Thus, Kroger elected to build a brand new Signature store, HO-302, just down Seawall Boulevard from HP-165 in the year 2000.
We previously described Kroger Signature stores in February and March’s The Year of Kroger posts. By 2000, Kroger Signature stores were proven Randall’s fighters and so the Signature format was perfect for taking on the Galveston Randall’s. At around 75,000 sq. ft., the Galveston Kroger is larger than the typical 60,000 sq. ft. Kroger Signature stores we’ve seen in previous The Year of Kroger posts. The decision to build such a large store is an interesting one given size of Galveston and the fact that Kroger could only build a limited parking lot given land size limitations. Although Kroger had long abandoned their national fast food chain food courts at their Signature stores by 2000, Kroger did design their new Galveston store to have an emphasis on prepared foods including having a salad and olive bar which has survived the Covid-19 pandemic. The obvious reason for this is that tourists visiting the Galveston beaches would be looking for a bite to eat, but a less obvious reason for having expanded prepared foods is that both Kroger and Randall’s in Galveston serve the catering needs for the many events taking place around the Galveston area given the tourist appeal of the area. In fact, the Galveston Kroger is wedged in between various hotels and the Galveston Conference Center.
While Mike was photographing the Galveston Kroger, he got to experience the unique dining options at the Galveston Kroger. The store had typical Kroger hot deli fare, such as fried chicken, but they had much more of it cooked than what one would normally see at a Kroger in order to feed the large number of beach-going tourists looking for a hot lunch to take to the beach. In addition to that, the Galveston Kroger has a daily menu item special with items such as chicken-fried steak. Mike went with the Swedish meatballs and stroganoff and reports that it was delicious!
Like a supermarket from the first half of the 20th century, the Galveston Kroger has one of the store’s entrances at the corner of the store. In my opinion, this is a very fitting ‘retro’ design for a store in Galveston. Another striking design feature of the Kroger is the two-story design of the store. The store itself is really a single story store, but like some other Kroger Signature stores built around the turn of the millennium, the store features an open mezzanine above the front end of the store which houses the store’s offices. Being able to see into the store’s offices is a bit of a strange look and this is a more open version of the two-way mirrors used at Houston Safeway stores, but the mezzanine design was starting to become popular at the time. The Houston Midtown Randall’s, which opened around this time, made even further use of the front-end mezzanine to serve as a café seating area. We will tour the mezzanine part of another Houston area Kroger which has customer seating on the mezzanine in a future The Year of Kroger post.
The Galveston Kroger Signature store had some challenges during the construction stage in 2000. The construction contractor, J.G. Johnson Construction Co. of Pasadena, stopped paying their workers during the construction of the store. Construction workers picketed their worksite in an attempt to be compensated for their work. Kroger themselves elected to pay the workers most of what they were owed while they tried to recuperate the money from the contractor. Similar issues with the same contractor plagued the construction of the Briar Forest & Eldridge Kroger in Houston and Kroger had to select a new contractor for a store that was under construction in The Woodlands. Even with these challenges, the Kroger store was built well. After Hurricane Ike devastated the area in September 2008, Kroger was the first major Galveston supermarket to re-open. The store did not sustain flooding and only had a few roof leaks even with the store’s very close proximity to the coastline.
While the Galveston Kroger Signature store was initially designed to be somewhat of an upscale store for Kroger, Kroger has kept the upscale feel of this store via various updates and upgrades over the years. The Galveston Kroger opened with Kroger’s Millennium décor package. Here is a photo of how the Galveston store looked with the Millennium décor package in January 2007. Retail Retell of the Mid-South Retail Blog has an excellent décor guide at his blog describing the Millennium décor package. It seems that not long after that photo was taken, the store was updated to have Kroger’s Script décor package. This can be seen in this photo from July 2007. Like most Houston area Kroger stores, this store was updated to receive Kroger’s Bountiful/2012 décor package in the early 2010s which can be seen in this photo. The store also got a fuel center addition around this time. While many, if not most, Houston Krogers still have the Bountiful décor package, as we’ve seen in earlier The Year of Kroger posts, the Galveston Kroger was an early recipient of a remodel which replaced Bountiful. Around 2017, the store was updated to carry the Banner décor package (Banner is also known as the Marketplace décor package as Banner was frequently used at Kroger Marketplace stores in the 2010s) which it is still using today. We’ve seen Banner before on The Year of Kroger in June’s post about the Baytown Kroger Family Center store, but this is an example of how the décor package looks at a somewhat more traditional Kroger store.
One aspect which helps the Galveston Kroger look more upscale than many other Houston Krogers is the type of flooring the Galveston Kroger has. The store initially had Millennium-era vinyl flooring, but this was updated to a vinyl fake wood floor here in more recent years. This is the same type of flooring update that the Texas City Kroger received. Aesthetics are always subjective, of course, but I believe this fake wood flooring is a vastly superior look for a supermarket than the tile-scarred concrete floors Kroger often uses such as what we saw in May’s The Year of Kroger post about the Kroger at 4000 Polk in Houston.
One unique aspect about the Galveston Kroger is the competition it competes against in Galveston. As mentioned earlier, the closest competitor for Kroger is the Randall’s store located just 0.6 miles from the Kroger. Wal-Mart also has a Supercenter along Seawall Boulevard which is located just 0.9 miles from the Kroger. Target has a standard store located on the site of the former Galvez Mall, but that is more distant. Gordon Food Service plans on opening a new location on the island located on the site of a former Gerland’s. One competitor Kroger does not have in Galveston is HEB. HEB had a Pantry Foods store in an old Safeway on Stewart Road, but this location closed not long after Hurricane Ike hit Galveston. In the mid-2000s, it was rumored that HEB would build a full-line store on the old Kmart site on Stewart Road, but this never happened. With that, Kroger and Randall’s remain as the main traditional supermarkets in Galveston. It is entirely possible that Kroger tries harder to maintain their Galveston store as a more upscale store given that the competition is a fellow upscale store, Randall’s, rather than a more downmarket HEB store.
Mike’s experience shopping at both the Galveston Kroger and Randall’s on a hot summer day is that both stores were very busy, but they were busy with largely differing crowds. While the Randall’s seemed to be serving mostly Galveston residents, the Kroger was serving many shoppers who were clearly visiting the beach. This makes sense given that the Kroger is located along Seawall Blvd. and has better visibility and access for beach tourists. It also makes sense that the locals try to avoid the tourists by shopping at Randall’s. Anyway, the large number of tourists at the Galveston Kroger contributes to a vacation-like feel of the store.
We hope you enjoyed this summer vacation edition of The Year of Kroger! As mentioned earlier, stay tuned to Houston Historic Retail in the coming weeks. Not only will we have more The Year of Kroger posts, but we’ll also have a tour of the Galveston Randall’s. As for the Galveston Kroger, do you have any memories or thoughts about the store? Perhaps you visited this Kroger while on vacation in Galveston? If so, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below. We love to hear from our readers!