Randalls’ Very Successful 1980s Store Format Is Still A Success In Galveston

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston with the photos taken by Mike

Loyal readers of Houston Historic Retail might remember the Galveston Randall’s being mentioned in July’s The Year of Kroger post about the Galveston Kroger. This HHR post is an extension of that post as we’ll be taking a closer look at the Galveston Randall’s, Randall’s Food Market #31 (Randalls Food & Drug #1031 using the current Randalls numbering system) located at 2931 Central City Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551. Randall’s #31 opened in the second half of 1984 at a time when Randall’s was expanding rapidly across the Houston area with mostly new-build stores built with a similar design to the Galveston store. Thus, the Galveston Randall’s is an interesting store to study as it shows many of the features which made Randall’s Houston’s ‘Remarkable’ store.

As documented in Mike’s comprehensive history of Randall’s, Randall’s was a successful, but small operator of supermarkets in the northern and western parts of the Houston suburbs through the 1970s. At that time, there were a number of local chains in Houston, like Rice Food Markets and Gerland’s, and so Randall’s wasn’t quite the standout that they went on to become just a few years later even if they did have some impressive store designs in locations like Randall’s #8 in Cypress Station. Randall’s made a bold move in acquiring four upscale Houston Handy Andy locations in 1979, such as the Champions and Memorial & Dairy Ashford locations, and it is this move, perhaps, which fueled Randall’s reputation as an upscale grocer in the first half of the 1980s. Even with nothing inside of them, the Handy Andy buildings were impressive structures. Randall’s maintained much of Handy Andy’s upscale service departments and overall feel. The success of these stores later led to Randall’s developing the Flagship model, but it also led to other communities in the area wanting their own ‘Remarkable Store’.  Randall’s famous 1980s jingle only helped promote the chain across the metro area.

One-stop shopping was the trend in the 1980s and Randall’s designed a store format to take advantage of the trends. Shoppers wanted hot, prepared foods at the supermarket in addition to high-quality traditional deli & bakery fare. With that, Randall’s designed their stores with a power alley design which puts the service departments right at the front of the store, as described in March’s The Year of Kroger post, where they are convenient for shoppers. Shoppers were demanding expanded health & beauty items so Randall’s designed pharmacies with an expanded selection of cosmetics and fragrances. Randall’s even integrated cutting-edge features such as in-store banks and large video rental/film developing departments. In addition to standard groceries, Randall’s stores also sold housewares and electronics. Randall’s was even one of the first grocers locally to implement motorized shopping carts for customers who needed them.

Throughout the 1980s, Randall’s built many stores with this same overall design. Even though the 1980s were a hard time in Houston due to the oil slump and other economic issues, and other grocers were wary of expanding in Houston, Randall’s was able to expand from having a handful of stores at the beginning of the 1980s to having stores throughout the Houston area by the end of the 1980s. One of Randall’s first attempts at the very edge of the Houston metro area was to open a store in Conroe, Randall’s #17, in 1980. Another attempt at the edge of the area was when they opened the Galveston store, the subject of today’s post, in 1984.

The Galveston Place shopping center where Randall’s is located was originally developed by Weingarten Realty. Randall’s co-anchors were Walgreens and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart opened in 1983 and was one of the first Wal-Marts in the Houston metro area. While Wal-Mart might seem like an unlikely co-tenant with an upscale store like Randall’s, the reality is that Wal-Mart didn’t necessarily have a low-rent reputation in the 1980s. If anything, Wal-Mart was seen as an improvement over Kmart, a store Galveston already had. Indeed, the other example of a 1980s format Randall’s store which is still open as a Randall’s, the Kosher Randall’s (Randall’s #41) in Meyer Park, has a non-Supercenter Walmart as a neighbor even to this day. Wal-Mart eventually left Galveston Place for a location along Seawall Blvd. in 1995. Now a Supercenter, that newer Wal-Mart is one of the major competitors for Randall’s in Galveston along with the aforementioned Kroger.

There have been a number previous HHR posts about Randall’s stores which used the 1980s Randall’s Food & Drug store format. Recently, I profiled the Jones & West Randall’s, Randall’s #35, here at HHR. I also did a post about vintage retail photos at the Vintage Aerial website which has a photo from 1984 showing Randall’s #28 on Saums & N. Fry in west Houston when it was brand new. The Houston Chronicle has a photo slideshow containing photos showing the interior of the Saums & N. Fry Randall’s in 1984. The Galveston Randall’s also opened in 1984 and the two stores would have looked quite similar when they were new. Mike has done posts about the Randallsaramas, Randall’s #24 in Missouri City and Randall’s #34 in Inwood Forest. Mike also did a post about the famous Boris Yeltsin Randall’s, Randall’s #30, in the Clear Lake area. In fact, the Boris Yeltsin Randall’s opened at almost the same time as the Galveston Randall’s and both were part of a push Randall’s made into the southeast part of the Houston area along with Randall’s #29 in the Almeda Mall area which has also been mentioned at HHR. The South Shore Harbour Randall’s in Galveston County’s League City, Randall’s #51, is another example of southeast-side Randall’s, but that one has a slightly different design using Randall’s 1990s New Generation store philosophy.

Aside from the South Shore Habour location, all of the Randall’s mentioned in the previous paragraph are no longer in operation. That makes the Galveston Randall’s and the Kosher Randall’s the last two of these classic 1980s Randall’s which still exist as a Randall’s. While the Kosher Randall’s wears Safeway’s Lifestyle v3 décor package in modern times, the Galveston Randall’s was recently renovated to the Colorful Lifestyle v2 décor package which the Albertsons Southern Division/Tom Thumb Division has chosen as their preferred décor package in current times. The South Shore Harbour Randall’s is another store which received a recent Colorful Lifestyle v2 renovation.

The basic layout of the Galveston Randall’s, which is 52,500 sq. ft. in size, is basically similar to the layout that the store would have opened with in 1984, but there are a few changes such as the store now having a large Starbucks department at the front of the power alley. This was, if I remember correctly, the floral department back in the day. Now, floral has moved to the front end of the store near the registers on the pharmacy/HBA side of the store. Aside from things like that, modernization of the store product offerings, and other small modernization methods made by Safeway during various Lifestyle renovations, this store still very much has the same feel that it did in 1984. In fact, the ‘wedding cake’ drop ceiling design of these 1980s Randall’s store designs with differing ceiling heights around the center of the store and the perimeter areas leads to some unique applications of the Safeway Lifestyle décor at these stores which is clearly visible in the photo tour of this store. Even the upstairs office windows overlooking the store are still installed at this location. One addition this store received was a fuel center in the parking lot. Many, if not most, Houston Randall’s stores these days do not have a fuel center so this is a nice feature for the store to have.

As mentioned in the Galveston The Year of Kroger post, the Galveston Kroger and Randall’s stores appear to serve slightly different audiences. The Kroger, which is along the beach on Seawall Blvd., serves many of tourists during the Galveston tourism season. The Randall’s, on the other hand, seems to serve mainly local shoppers. I’m sure there are a number of locals who shop at Kroger and tourists who shop at Randall’s as well, but the stores seem to fit the needs of their stereotypical shoppers. While the Galveston Kroger has a large variety of prepared foods in the deli, the Randall’s is a fairly standard Randall’s and the offerings in the store aren’t much different than what one would find in Houston itself aside from some of the beach supplies sold in the vestibule. This is to say that the Randall’s offers what Randall’s has always offered, a calm shopping experience even with it being located in a bustling tourism spot.

While the Galveston Randall’s might be a fairly calm place to be, the store does see significant business. Shoppers visiting from Houston might be surprised to see how busy the Galveston Randall’s gets compared to what people are used to in Houston. As mentioned in the Galveston Kroger post, Galveston has not had an HEB store since the Pantry Foods store in the old Safeway closed shortly after Hurricane Ike in 2008. With that, Kroger and Randall’s are the only full-line supermarkets in town and, thus, both stores see a lot of business. If Kroger and Randall’s parent company, Albertsons, end up merging as proposed without the Randall’s stores being sold or spun off, it will be interesting to see what Kroger does in Galveston. I think they would be justified in keeping both stores open, but if they do, they probably ought to keep the Randall’s as the calm, more upscale store for the locals and the Kroger as the center for tourists. Either way, both stores benefit from having a lot of catering customers from the various hotels and conference centers located in Galveston. As one can imagine, there are a lot of weddings and other events which take place on the Island.

If you have any thoughts or memories about the Galveston Randall’s, or about 1980s Randall’s stores in general, please feel free to leave a comment below! We love to hear from our readers and we know that many of our readers have vivid memories of these ‘Remarkable’ 1980s Randall’s stores. We also know that many Houstonians have shopped at the Galveston Randall’s over the years even if it was just during a brief stop to visit the beach or other tourism venues on the Island!