Randalls remodel brings up a 1980s Flagship past, and possible futures

Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail! Today we’re taking a look at 5219 FM 1960 W, Houston, TX 77069, a Randalls we last checked in on just over a year ago. Last year’s check-in was a full store tour written by Anonymous in Houston. He goes into great detail about the store and how it has changed over the years. Today though, we’ll examine a more specific aspect of this store’s history, a 2023 remodel into the “Colorful Lifestyle” decor. Before we talk about the remodel and what it means for the future of Randalls in Houston, let’s start off with some history. This store was one of the original Houston locations of Handy Andy, a San Antonio grocer looking to break into the Houston market with lavish huge new stores. Many aspects of the store, such as the flagstone exterior, central cathedral ceiling, and even the general layout of the store, are all linked back to the Handy Andy days. When Handy Andy left Houston, Randalls took over their fancier locations, quickly forming the basis for their Flagship operations. Years of intense competition in Houston had left the stores lacking, and Randalls worked on improving that image. The program was so successful that the Flagship concept would be expanded beyond these former Handy Andy locations, and many aspects of their construction would be worked into stores the chain was building. It’s fair to say that these “Handy Randy” stores were a huge piece of the 80s image of Randalls. The remodeling of this location is a bright spot in what’s been an otherwise uninspiring time in the company. With the Kroger-Albertsons merger still on track, according to both companies, Randalls has become even more of a “red-headed stepchild” than in years prior. Speculation has been that Randalls may join other unwanted divisions in a new spin-off company named “Spinco.” This remodel puts that somewhat into question.

The last few years in Houston have been hard on Randalls. After significant missteps when HEB invaded the city in the early 2000s, Randalls was left to fend for themselves with a reduced store count, focusing mainly on areas where they didn’t have much competition. Throughout the 2010s, we watched the store count continue to decline, with Albertsons putting new restrictions on the chain leading to El Rancho taking over many formerly prime Randalls locations. During this time, it seemed like a Randalls would only stay open if it received a remodel, that is until the world paused in 2020. At that time, Randalls closings like Sugar Land were put on hold, along with remodels. During this time, the owner of the shopping center decided to put the property up for sale, encouraging prospective buyers by noting Randalls had been paying far before market value. It seemed that if the wrong hands ended up in control of Champions Village. Thankfully though new owners, First National Realty Partners seems serious about grocery anchors, granting a sigh of relief to Champions shoppers. So now the question is, what does this last-minute save mean for the merger? Well, in all honesty, it’s unclear, but it does give some reasonable indications as to what might be going on. First, there is some value in Randalls. This is somewhat a “no-duh,” the properties, inventory, etc.. are all worth money, but Albertsons must also see enough value to renew the lease and update a store that may not wear the Randalls banner five years from now. Second, some stores are more likely to become Krogers than any other, and this is one. Part of the merger will be converting “survivor” stores and spinning off the losers. It seems like the “Handy Randy” locations are probably the best suited to become Kroger locations. Finally, the rest of Randalls may be sold as a unit. While it’s likely that some stores will be converted, there are some locations where this surely won’t be the case. If these stores are not converted or spun off, the third option would be to find a buyer for them. While it’s not impossible, we’ve seen crazier things happen. At this point, we’ll just have to wait and see what new comes, but as soon as it does, you’ll be sure HHR will report on it!


  1. It probably goes without saying that I was quite concerned when I heard that Randall’s lease was expiring in 2024 and that they were paying well below market rate for rent (perhaps they’re on Handy Andy’s original 50 year lease?) because I was pretty sure that Randall’s would not pay market rent to keep that store going. Fortunately, after I saw that First National Realty Partners bought the center, I became optimistic that they’d make a favorable deal to keep Randall’s since First National Realty Partners is a competent owner and they have a history with Safeway elsewhere in the country.

    It seems that that First National Realty Partners must realize the importance of having a supermarket anchor and I’m guessing they cut Randall’s a good deal to keep them around. The shopping center recently landed Lowe’s Outlet and I’m sure having a supermarket anchor helped land that.

    I went to the Champions Randall’s recently and it’s looking pretty nice. The combination of the LED bulbs and the Colorful Lifestyle v2 decor does brighten up the store a bit, but admittedly, that was not one of the darker stores with the old Lifestyle v2. Some other Safeway/Randall’s stores were really dark with Lifestyle v2. Some of the LED lights were blinking so they need to work on that, but they’re still in the process of finishing the renovation so I’m sure they’ll figure it out. I’m really glad they not only kept real flooring instead of going with a concrete floor, but they also put in brand new flooring.

    It’s hard to say what will happen with the merger. There are a lot of possibilities. If Kroger does get their hands on Randall’s, they’ll have three stores within close range of one another with the existing Champions Kroger Signature and Veterans Memorial Greenhouse Kroger. The Veterans Memorial Kroger might close, but I could see Kroger keeping Randall’s as a higher-end format. Anyway, this is all pure speculation, I don’t think anyone on the outside really knows what will happen.

    1. It’s very typical for LED lights to flicker, and I’ve noticed that happening many times in multiple different Kroger and Randalls locations. If the ceiling is lower, you are more likely to notice it, and generally speaking, LED tube lights are made of plastic and actually produce less light than fluorescents. When the Kroger near us switched to LEDs, the store became very dark, especially in the produce section.
      I just hope that the merger is blocked because it would mean less competition and I think Randalls has better bakery and meat/seafood departments. Unlike Randalls, in Kroger most of the bakery items (all items that are called ‘Bakery Fresh Goodness’) are premade, prebaked and then shipped to the store frozen and put on the shelf to thaw, while the most meat items are now pre-packaged from a factory instead of cut in the store. Kroger isn’t as good as it used to be.

      1. I have been to the Champions Randall’s a couple of time since the official grand re-opening and the problems they were having with the LED lights appear to have been corrected. I suppose we’ll see if the new lights hold up.

        I agree with you, I find the bakery items at Randall’s to be quite a bit better than Kroger’s bakery items. There really isn’t much competition between the two. Kroger has been cost-cutting recently and the meat service counter is one area which has been severely cut back. Kroger appears to be somewhere between a discount grocer like HEB and a mid-tier grocer like Randall’s. I like having Randall’s around and I hope they’re able to find a way to survive without being further cost-cut themselves.

        1. I agree 100%. We live in Katy, and at least two of the Krogers in our area have blocked off two large sections of the butcher block/service counter with giant stickers. In at least one of their stores, the LED lights in the freezers flash off and on, and then off again when you walk by the sensor. About 2/3s of the LED lights in the freezers are burned. At the other store, they put thin doors on the lunchmeat and yogurt/juice area that have some very, very harsh LED strip lights that blind you if you look at them at just the right angle.

          Lately, I’ve found better sales in Randalls, along with better quality meat and bakery items. The Safeway/Randalls bakery items taste like a bakery should, while Kroger’s new cut-cutters (know where that comes from?) frozen bakery items, well, taste frozen and bland. Ever since Kroger announced the buyout, they seem to be cutting costs even more so than just a couple years ago. Plus, their sales aren’t as good as they used to be, especially since they took the weekly ad out of the mail. (By the way, if you want to receive the Kroger ad by mail, call their 800 number and they’ll mail it to you separately each week). I wish Kroger would understand that their shoppers don’t want “Wal-Mart quality” prepackaged meat or frozen bakery. After all, it was Barney Kroger that was the first grocer to put a bakery in his stores.

          1. I certainly do know the Kroger Cost Cutters slogan, and Safeway Scotch Buy-like store brand products, and I’ve applied that name to Kroger’s recent in-store cost-cutting. Mike and I have some old 1980s Houston Kroger Cost Cutter commercials on the HHR YouTube channel that came from my VHS tape collection that I recorded back in the day.

            I agree with your opinions about Kroger. I don’t know if you’ve been following ‘The Year of Kroger’ series here at HHR, but it is interesting how one of the nicest Krogers in the area is in Galveston and it is interesting to note that the big nearby competitor for Kroger in Galveston is Randall’s since HEB no longer has a presence in Galveston. Maybe there is no connection, but it is interesting to see Kroger go a bit upscale when their competition is Randall’s rather than HEB.

            My hope is that if the merger does go through, and if Randall’s stores aren’t divested to C&S, Kroger will see value in maintaining Randall’s and their remaining Tom Thumb stores as a semi-independent upper scale chain. They may need to keep Randall’s/Tom Thumb separate from the Kroger stores due to labor reasons (Randall’s/Tom Thumb are non-union stores) and it is possible the remaining Houston Randall’s, which are mostly in wealthier, older areas, will do well with an upper-scale format. Kroger has maintained the Harris Teeter chain in the southeast as a upper-scale grocer so this isn’t completely unprecedented.

            1. Kroger could use some Cut-Cutter prices these days, and those are such great commercials!

              Yes, I saw your post about the Galveston Kroger a couple of months ago, and I just checked it out again. I just remembered that multiple Kroger locations in our area also used to have salad and olive bars, a deli bistro, and even had orange juice that was made in the store. None of the ones near me has any that anymore. So, it’s pretty interesting to see that Kroger kept those options (minus the orange juice) in Galveston.

              I think it wouldn’t be good for Randalls/Safeway if the merger does go through. If Kroger gets to keep Randalls and Tom Thumb, I can’t imagine that they would want different banners in the same market competing against their namesake stores. Even if they do keep the banners, I doubt Kroger would keep the Randalls product line. On the other hand, if Randalls is sold to C&S, they would lose buying power and the Safeway/Signature brand, and probably wouldn’t maintain any of the bakery items either. I don’t see what Kroger thinks they will gain by buying Safeway/Alberstons.

              Hopefully, the merger gets blocked, and maybe Kroger will get back to basis (ie an in-store bakery that, well, bakes in store, meat that’s cut in store, better sales, etc).

            2. Those are great commercials, and Kroger could use some cost cutter prices these days!

              Yes, I saw that post, and the Galveston Kroger looks a lot like they way our Kroger Marketplace in Katy used to look. It too had a deli bistro, olive and salad bars, and it also had orange juice that was made in the store, but all of that is gone now.

              I don’t see what Kroger thinks they will gain by buying stores in markets where they already exist. I doubt Kroger would want to keep the Randalls product line the same, especially meat that’s cut in-store. So I hope the merger is blocked, because I have a feeling that if it goes through, Kroger will kill Randalls or keep the name on the outside and make it a Kroger on the inside.

              1. October’s The Year of Kroger post will be about another higher-end Kroger store so hopefully you’ll like that post. The store in question once had some higher-end features which have been removed in recent times, which is the general trend, but it is still a nicer than usual Kroger. The post will also have a Cost Cutters reference in it which was actually put in when I wrote the post a few months ago so I suppose it is a fitting reference given this conversation.

                It is certainly not a given that things will be fine for Randall’s if the merger is called off. Albertsons’ investors have signaled that they do not want to hang onto the Albertsons investment as Wall St. is quite bearish on grocery investments at the moment and so Albertsons will likely be sold one way or another. It is entirely possible that the company will be broken up if it is sold off so it is hard to say where that would leave Randall’s. While I agree that the status quo isn’t bad for Randall’s shoppers, I don’t know if the status quo will be an option because something is going to happen to Albertsons.

                If the merger does happen, it is likely that Kroger brands will replace Albertsons’ brands at Randall’s stores even if Randall’s and Tom Thumb remain as separate operations. I’m not too bothered by that possibility as Kroger brand items are generally pretty good. It would be nice to have the Signature Select option, but I don’t think that’ll happen. That said, if the idea is to retain Randall’s and Tom Thumb as a higher-end operation, I figure they would have to keep the bakery and other service departments nicer than what the average Kroger has these days.

                If Randall’s is kept as a semi-independent operation, I hope the people who run it keep the Safeway Lifestyle type decor packages going and that renovations continue to use real flooring cover because the Kroger stores with concrete floors look really, really bad.

                1. Sorry for the duplicate comment. I didn’t think my first one went through, and I forgot to say thanks for replying!

                  I’ll look out for next month’s Kroger post.

                  Yeah, and I’ve always thought that Albertsons’ buying of Safeway wasn’t the right move as Alberstons had already bought out quite a few other grocers and that caused them many problems in the last two decades. If I remember correctly, some time after Albertsons started to buyout other companies, they closed a lot of stores and part of it was sold to SuperValu, who had many problems itself. They later sold what it acquired from Alberstons back to Cerberus, which at that point owned the rest of Albertsons. Then they went on to buy Safeway, and now Kroger wants to buy Alberstons for $25 billion, which in my opinion is way too much for a company that has too many stores that don’t perform as well as that price tag would suggest. I fear that Kroger will dig themselves into a hole that will be hard to get out of.

                  I don’t hate Kroger, but I hate what they’ve done to Kroger. I worry that Kroger wouldn’t be able to manage doubling their store count in a heartbeat (honestly, who could?), and it will cause them financial trouble. If a customer shops at both Kroger and Randalls, and Kroger turns Randalls into nothing more than a Kroger, well, you can bet that customer won’t be shopping at both places anymore. If customers feel like Kroger’s sales or products aren’t as good as what Albertsons/Randalls had, they’ll probably just go somewhere else. Also, when Kroger says they won’t close any stores, you have to laugh because both Kroger and Alberstons close ‘under-performing stores’ every single year.

                  If C&S were to buy Safeway and the stores Alberstons run in areas where Kroger already exists, I think that might work out better for customers as that would mean more competition than Kroger owning everything. But, again, it depend on the price tag.

                  I do agree that the bare concrete floors look really cheap, especially where you see cracks, patches, or marks of where the old linoleum used to be.