Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston with the photos taken by Mike
It has been 21 years since Albertsons left Houston in 2002, but longtime Houston Historic Retail readers know that Albertsons’ legacy is still strongly felt at various retailers around town. Perhaps this is most strongly felt at various Food Town stores where, as Albertsons Florida Blog has pointed out, ‘It’s Your Town’ looks a lot like ‘It’s Your Store’. Mike has done various recent posts about Food Towns operating in former well-preserved Albertsons such as the North Belt Food Town which is in what we believe is the first ever Grocery Palace-style Albertsons store based on some collaborative research with the Albertsons Florida Blog. Several Houston Kroger stores also used to be Albertsons locations and many of these Krogersons still have lingering features and layouts that came from their Albertsons past. This was recently discussed in August’s The Year of Kroger post where HHR guest blogger Billytheskink described his local Krogertsons.
Oddly enough, when we think about the legacy of Albertsons, we rarely think of Randalls even though Randalls has a handful of Houston stores in former Albertsons buildings and, more importantly, Randalls has been under the Albertsons umbrella for most of the last decade. This means that Randalbertsons are boomerang stores that left Albertsons control and are now under Albertsons control again. Today, we will be taking a close look at how one Randalbertsons location has a unique look and feel that mostly makes it feel different from how it looked as an Albertsons.
The store we will be looking at is Randalls #2672, which was formerly Albertsons #2762 (the similarity in store numbers is, I believe, purely coincidental), located at 18322 Clay Rd, Houston, TX 77084. Before we discuss this store’s history as an Albertsons, it is worth discussing that the land the store opened on was at one time earmarked to become a Food Lion store during Food Lion’s initial, and eventually unsuccessful, push into the Houston area in 1992. Food Lion was no stranger to national controversy around 1992 mostly due to the infamous ABC PrimeTime Live report about Food Lion, but also because Food Lion had a negative perception related to their labor practices and foreign ownership. In fact, actress Vicki Lawrence used her ‘Mama’ character from the TV show Mama’s Family in the 1980s to make TV commercials which accused Food Lion of being anti-labor and anti-American due to their foreign ownership. This created a negative sentiment around Food Lion and the legacy of that persisted during the time that Food Lion entered the Houston market as the local newspapers discussed Food Lion’s history of labor problems during the time Food Lion was trying to enter the area.
With the Clay & Barker Cypress location specifically, Food Lion’s problems mainly centered around the clearing of land located near the Deerfield Village neighborhood at the intersection of Clay Rd. and Barker Cypress Road. Residents of the neighborhood held anti-Food Lion protests and, before construction on the building even started, residents were threatening to boycott the Food Lion. The protests might have officially been caused by the fallout of Food Lion clearing the land before discussing matters with residents, but the other controversial aspects of Food Lion (this controversy slightly predated the PrimeTime Live controversy, but only by mere weeks), and the fact that Food Lion was a discount grocer wanting to locate near an upscale suburban neighborhood, probably contributed to the angst. Food Lion ended up dropping their plans to build a store in the area.
This opened the door for Albertsons, whose reputation was far less odious, to open store #2762 at the intersection of Clay & Barker Cypress in 1999. The Albertsons featured Albertsons’ famous, or infamous depending on your perspective, Grocery Palace décor package that was discussed earlier in reference to the North Belt Food Town. More information about Grocery Palace can be found on the Albertsons Florida Blog. Although Albertsons did not have the issues Food Lion had, Albertsons did not last long in the Houston market as they left town in 2002. A number of other grocers picked up old Albertsons locations. Randalls, which was still a relatively new acquisition by Safeway in 2002, was one of the grocers who picked up a handful of Houston Albertsons locations. One of these was, of course, the Clay & Barker Cypress Albertsons, but Randalls also picked up the nearby Albertsons at S. Fry Rd. & Interstate 10. Although these two stores are somewhat close to one another and have a similar history, the S. Fry & I-10 location was built with Albertsons’ older Blue & Grey Market store design and, thus, has quite a different design and feel to it even though both stores were extensively remodeled by Safeway as chronicled in 2015 by Pseudo3D’s Safeway and Albertsons in Texas Blog.
The Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls is quite a unique Randalls location in modern times mainly because it is only one of two Randalls stores in Houston which is located north of Interstate 10, the typical north-south dividing line in the Houston area. The Champions Randall’s Flagship store on FM 1960, which was featured on HHR in 2022 and again in 2023, is the other remaining Randalls store in the northern half of the metro area. I am among the Randalls shoppers who sometimes make the long trip to the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls simply because it is one of the few locations even remotely in my area.
Although the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls exists in an area full of residential neighborhoods, there aren’t a lot of nearby competitors in the immediate area aside from various ethnic supermarkets. The nearest Kroger location is located 3.5 miles away at Barker Cypress & FM 529 and the nearest HEB is located 3.4 miles away on Highway 6 near the Glencairn neighborhood. HEB is currently building a Joe V’s Smart Shop deep discount supermarket located 2.3 miles away at 4107 N Fry Rd, Katy, TX 77449. The Joe V’s will likely be popular, but it is unclear how that will affect a higher-end supermarket like Randalls. The fact that a Joe V’s is opening near a Randalls area shows the demographics of this area are a bit complicated.
The Glencairn HEB is an early Houston full-line HEB and is one of HEB’s lowest rated stores in the Houston area according to Google Maps. Conversely, the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls has some of the highest user reviews for a Randalls store in the Houston area and so the combination of a competitive, well-run Randalls versus a smaller, older HEB with perhaps lax management probably helps explain how the Randalls has managed find a successful niche given their previous struggles in the northern suburbs during the Safeway/Albertsons era. The HEB and Randalls are roughly the same age and size, but the poor store layouts of early 2000 HEBs, like the Glencairn store, make them feel tighter than they should. Also, the HEB is certainly the busier store given their lower prices, but the combination of crowds and a poor store layout can make for a frustrating shopping experience and customers willing to pay a bit more to avoid HEB will likely head to the much calmer and more upscale shopping experience offered by Randalls.
Another unique aspect of the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls, at least in 2023, is that it is currently wearing Safeway’s Lifestyle v2 décor package. Most of the Randalls we’ve looked at recently here at HHR, such as the Galveston and South Shore Harbour Randalls, are wearing the newer version of Lifestyle v2, Colorful Lifestyle v2, but the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls still has the earthtone colors so synonymous with Safeway stores in the 2000s and 2010s. In fact, Clay & Barker Cypress has a newer installation of earthtone Lifestyle v2, which the store received in the 2010s, that it probably makes sense that it is one of the last Houston-area stores to retain the older colors. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the store gets renovated to Colorful Lifestyle v2 in the near future given how aggressively Albertsons has been pushing Colorful Lifestyle v2 in Tom Thumb and Randalls stores.
Perhaps more than anything, it is the earthtone colors of Lifestyle v2 which makes the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls feel so different from how this store looked as a Grocery Palace Albertsons. The general layout of the store, including the aisle cut throughs, are carryovers from Albertsons, but the general color scheme and some other changes made by Safeway changed the store enough to make it feel more like a slightly strange Safeway rather than an old Albertsons. Safeway also installed Lifestyle flooring over the very unique Grocery Palace flooring during the Lifestyle v2 renovation and, more oddly, Safeway decided to install a drop ceiling in a store that wouldn’t have had one initially. The decision to install a drop ceiling itself isn’t all that strange as Kroger also installed a drop ceiling at their FM 1960 W & N. Eldridge Grocery Palace Krogertsons, but unlike Kroger, Safeway decided to put the drop ceiling above the HVAC duct work. This creates a bit of a strange look, but Mike and I both agree that the exposed duct work looks worse in photos than it does in-person. It is possible Safeway installed a drop ceiling because they figured customers would prefer the cleaner look of a drop ceiling (I usually do) and perhaps using a drop ceiling lowers the HVAC needs of the store, but I can’t say for sure if that is the case.
I recently visited a Safertsons in the Portland, Oregon suburb of Troutdale. The Troutdale Grocery Palace Albertsons was only recently converted to a Safeway in very late 2022/early 2023 and it received Safeway’s Lifestyle v3 décor package, a colorful décor package somewhat similar to Colorful Lifestyle v2. Although Albertsons had removed most of the unique Grocery Palace features of the Troutdale store except for the overall layout during the time the store was still operating as an Albertsons, the Safertsons felt more like a Grocery Palace Albertsons than what I feel at the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls. Part of this might be the open ceiling of the Safertsons as compared to the drop ceiling at the Randalbertsons, but I think a big factor in the difference is that the earthtone beige of Lifestyle v2 has a uniquely Safeway look to it. In comparison, the bolder colors of Lifestyle v3 look like they could be from a Safeway or Albertsons. In fact, I visited another store with Lifestyle v3 in the Portland area, the Cully Albertsons, which is still an Albertsons store and the Lifestyle v3 décor package didn’t feel at all out of place at a store called an Albertsons. I certainly don’t think I would have had that opinion if the store had beige Lifestyle v2!
As Mike has pointed out recently, the future of Randalls is a bit unknown at the current time given the potential outcomes of the proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger. Even if the merger does not happen, it is almost assured that there will be some kind of shakeup within the Albertsons umbrella and who knows what that might mean for Randalls. There has even been speculation from analysts that Food Lion’s European owner, Ahold Delhaize, could buy some or all of Albertsons if the Kroger merger doesn’t work out which would really make the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalls a boomerang store! With things as they are, the Clay & Barker Cypress Randalbertsons is a perfect place to reflect on how Safeway tried to erase the legacy of Albertsons before being acquired by Albertsons later on and how a revolutionary Albertsons store design from the 1990s combines with a legendary Safeway décor package from the 2000s to create a uniquely calm and upscale shopping experience in 2023. As always, we love to hear from our readers so please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below if you have any thoughts about this Randalbertsons or anything else Randalls, Safeway, or Albertsons.