Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend BillyTheSkink
Stands a neighborhood pillar
The first Krogertsons
I did not think much of this store when I first moved to West Houston in the early 2010s. Kroger HO-735, perhaps better known as the Dairy Ashford and Briar Forest Kroger, sits about as quietly as a grocery store can in busy West Houston. While situated at a high traffic intersection, the store at 12555 Briar Forest Dr. is mostly surrounded by housing and some small, low traffic retail. It is located less than two miles away from two other Kroger stores (1520 Eldridge Pkwy and 14344 Memorial Dr.), one significantly larger and both arguably more prominently located, not to mention nearby competition from a who’s who of Houston grocers… Randalls, Fiesta (in a former Kroger!), Food Town, HEB, Target, Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Phoenicia, Gordon, and (soon-to-be) 99 Ranch Market all have locations within 3 miles of this store. With the abundance of grocery options in the surrounding area and its relatively small size, the Dairy Ashford and Briar Forest Kroger is easy to overlook.
I once overlooked it as well, but I quickly learned to appreciate this Kroger. It proved not only convenient to where I lived, but also proved to provide a typically pleasant shopping experience, and it contains quite a wide selection of groceries and service departments despite its relatively small size (about 57,000 SF). It is the kind of neighborhood grocery store that just doesn’t get built anymore, and while there are plenty of other examples of such stores in Houston still, this is one of the best examples I have shopped. I have a great affection for this store and if someone did the math they may find that I spend more time inside of it than anywhere that isn’t my home or workplace. Much thanks to Houston Historic Retail for letting me write about it for The Year Of Kroger. I’m sure the fact that it was the first Albertsons in Houston, and a prime example of a Krogertsons, was only a small factor in that decision…
While Albertsons had stores near Houston (College Station, Lufkin, and Beaumont) and even in Greater Houston for several years prior (Lake Jackson, Texas City, and Conroe), this store was their first to be located in the city of Houston itself and the first of ten stores to open in 1995 as a part of Albertsons’ first real push into the Houston market. Opening as Albertsons #2703, the store operated as such from 1995 until the summer of 2002, when Albertsons exited the Houston market. Kroger agreed to purchase this store (despite being located in the middle of what was then 3 nearby locations!), along with 15 other Albertsons locations in Houston, in 2002 and has operated it uninterrupted ever since. Now, over 20 years later, 14 of these locations remain in operation as Kroger stores. Several other former Albertsons locations are also occupied by Food Town, HEB, and even Randalls and many more former locations continue to operate as grocery stores than not. For all of Albertsons’ missteps during their Houston venture, picking locations does not appear to have been one of them. Alas, they did so largely for the benefit of Kroger… who they are now attempting to merge with, so I guess it might all work out in the end. Let’s now take a look at the store as it is today.
While the exterior has seen new paint from time-to-time (most notably when the “Signature” signage was removed in 2017), the store looks largely unchanged on the outside from its days as an Albertsons. Kroger even retained Albertsons’ “Food” and “Pharmacy” signs and borrowed their blue for their new Times New Roman “Kroger” sign.
By the way, see if you can keep track of all of the different fonts and logos used in signage outside of this Krogertsons. I’m not sure any font is used more than twice. These inconsistencies should be infuriating, but they somehow come out charming to me instead. There is no reason for such a menagerie of logos and typefaces to be used at this store and I am sure some folks at Kroger corporate would throw a fit if they ever saw it, but darned if it isn’t unique.
I am giving the street signs their own section as they were replaced while I was working on this post and I managed to capture before, during, and after photos of each sign. Before their recent renovation, the signs looked largely as they did when the store was an Albertsons, and the Kroger text inside the sign boxes was really showing its age. The larger of the two street signs, along Dairy Ashford, also had a small sub sign for the bank branch that was once located in the store as both Albertsons and Kroger. This was most recently a Bank of America branch, which left over a decade ago and was not replaced. After the recent refinishing of the sign structure, the former bank sign was also not replaced.
Decor and Departments
The store used Albertsons’ then-current decor package when it first opened, the Blue & Grey Market decor, and a layout similar to several other Albertsons that opened around the same time. The layout appears to have remained largely unchanged since the Albertsons days, though Kroger has updated the decor on a couple of occasions since. The store layout is quite similar to some other former Albertsons in the Houston area, and might also be recognized by shoppers browsing the aisles at former Albertsons as far away as Mississippi and Florida.
The store’s current decor appears to be a bit of a mix of Kroger styles used in the past 10-15 years (after looking at all those fonts outside, what else could you expect?), but it is largely rooted in Kroger’s “Fresh & Local”/”Neighborhood” decor package. Light colors, bright lighting, large all-caps serif lettering on most signs, and a scattering of local flair distinguish this Krogertsons from many Kroger stores in the Houston area, which were updated in the early 2010s and carry the more spartan “Bountiful” decor package, which is actually a few years older now than Neighborhood. Alas, if you are an Albertsons enthusiast, very little of the interior remains from the Albertsons days.
The store contains several service departments: floral, bakery, sushi, delicatessen, meat, seafood, pharmacy, and a courtesy booth. All in less than 60,000 SF, how about that! Granted, some of these departments are scaled down a bit compared to what you might find at a larger store (meat and seafood, notably), Kroger or otherwise, but I find that I give up very little when shopping here. While my familiarity with the store makes me a bit biased, I consider this Krogertsons to be a very effectively laid-out store. It flows well between its departments and the grocery shelves. There are no dead ends and few bottlenecks. It isn’t large enough for anything to really be inconveniently located, either. Despite its compact layout, the store rarely feels small or cramped, and that is not for lack of customers.
It is interesting to me that this store has been branded as “Kroger Energy Corridor”. The name is not necessarily inappropriate, folks who live in this part of West Houston will generally accept most anything located between Kirkwood, Westheimer, State Highway 6, and the Addicks Dam (much of what is represented in the decorative map inside the store) as being located in “The Energy Corridor”. However, this area also contains two other Kroger stores and one of those is actually located within the boundaries of the Energy Corridor District (a state legislature-created management district). That store, the Eldridge and Briar Forest Kroger located one block west of this store, does not reference the Energy Corridor in its decor at all. This Krogertsons isn’t even located within the larger area beyond the management district boundaries that is considered to be The Energy Corridor by the District itself (and, perhaps more importantly, by Google Maps). I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m just a geography nerd.
The Shopping Experience
We’re not going to go aisle-by-aisle here, but here are some things I have not yet covered that I find interesting about shopping at this Krogertsons. I will climb up on my soapbox (purchased on aisle 14, of course) about one recent development at this store and at other Kroger stores in the area, the addition in the past year of “please ask for assistance” shelves on top of most of the aisle shelves. These new shelves appear to function primarily as storage for additional units of products already on the primary shelves, they do not offer or appear to enable additional selection. While they do not make shopping unpleasant, the store feels less open and a bit cluttered since their installation. On the plus side, you’ve got to see the diet soda selection here!
One thing this Krogertsons has that the other two nearby Kroger stores do not is a “fuel center”. While Kroger is no stranger to building and operating gas stations, the fuel center here came with the store when it was acquired from Albertsons. Albertsons did not, however, initially build this store with the fuel center. The gas station would open in the summer of 2000, nearly 5 years after the store opened and only about 2 years before Kroger would acquire it. Unlike another Houston area Krogertsons fuel center of note, this one does not have a convenience store, only a small attendant’s booth. Despite signs on the gas pumps often advertising “convenience store snacks at grocery store prices”, there is very little convenience store fare available for purchase in or around the station attendant’s booth, just a standing cooler of soft drinks (sometimes, it seems to come and go).
With two other Kroger stores nearby but no other Kroger fuel centers for several miles, this little 8 pump gas station is usually quite busy. I imagine folks who regularly shop at one of the other Kroger stores in the area come here to redeem their fuel points for discounts on gasoline. This Krogertsons fuel center is also a great place for logo watchers, and lets us add a couple more fonts and logos to this store’s already eclectic hodgepodge of typefaces (including Kroger’s bubbly and abstract gas/convenience store logo).
I think that about wraps it up. Thanks for indulging me on a trip to my Krogertsons. If you are ever there and see me zipping through the parking lot using a shopping cart like a scooter, don’t hesitate to say hello. And if you’ve stayed with me through all of this, you’ve earned yourself one of these.