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 is quite hard to believe that the end of the year 2023 is near! This means, of course, that The Year of Kroger series here at Houston Historic Retail is concluding with this post. I’ll reflect on The Year of Kroger series at the end of this post, but first we’ll discuss the star of today’s post, Kroger HO-355 located at 1938 W Gray St Houston, TX 77019. Kroger HO-355 is one of Kroger’s most famous and distinctive stores nationally and so discussion of this store is a worthy way to close The Year of Kroger!
Kroger HO-355 is in the Neartown section of Houston located just west of the center portion of Houston. Specifically, Kroger HO-355 is located in one of the most historic shopping centers in the United States, the River Oaks Shopping Center. The River Oaks Shopping Center is located next to River Oaks, one of the wealthiest and most glamorous neighborhoods in the Houston area. The River Oaks Shopping Center with with Art Deco architecture, formerly known as the River Oaks Community Center, opened in 1937 with an expansion in 1948, and was one of the first automobile-oriented shopping centers in the United States. The River Oaks Shopping Center is perhaps most famed for the iconic River Oaks Theater and for the upscale stores at the center such as being home to Houston’s Steinway Piano Gallery in current times.
Although the current River Oaks Kroger opened in 1998, which is why we are celebrating the silver anniversary of the store, it is hardly the first grocery store at the River Oaks Shopping Center. In fact, it is hardly Kroger’s first presence at the River Oaks Shopping Center, directly and indirectly. Indirectly, Kroger’s history at the River Oaks Shopping Center dates all the way back to 1937 when ABC Stores operated a store at 2030 W Gray St, Houston, TX 77019. As chronicled by Mike in his extensive page about the history of Henke & Pillot, ABC Stores was bought by Henke & Pillot in 1941 and, thus, took over the River Oaks Shopping Center store where it became Henke & Pillot #8. Henke & Pillot #8 moved to a new spot in the River Oaks Shopping Center, 1956 W Gray St, Houston, TX 77019, in 1950. Kroger bought the Henke & Pillot chain in 1955 and this location became Kroger’s first direct presence at the River Oaks Shopping Center.
The grocery competition at the River Oaks Shopping Center heated up when Weingarten bought the shopping center in 1971 and opened a new-build Weingarten supermarket, Weingarten #6, in 1972 at 1938 W Gray St Houston, TX 77019, the location of the current River Oaks Kroger. Kroger still had their now-dated location from 1950 at the River Oaks Shopping Center and this location persisted until 1978 when Kroger relocated the store out of the River Oaks Shopping Center to a new build location, Kroger HP-243, at 3300 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006. Kroger HP-243 is better known to locals as Houston’s ‘Disco Kroger’ which operated until January 2021.
We must now return to the story of the River Oaks Weingarten to complete the River Oaks Kroger story. Weingarten #6 was a replacement for a previous Weingarten #6 located at 1601 Taft St, Houston, TX 77019 which opened in 1935 and lasted until 1970. As Mike as chronicled in his history page about Weingarten’s, Weingarten decided to leave the grocery business in 1979 while remaining in the real estate business. Their supermarket business was sold to Grand Union, but Grand Union decided to leave the Houston market at the end of 1983 and, thus, Weingarten #6 was, like many other Weingarten’s locations, sold to Safeway where it became Safeway #1102 in 1984.
As we know from Mike’s extensive history of Safeway page and from November’sThe Year of Kroger post, however, Safeway themselves left town in 1987 and sold their stores off to what would become AppleTree. Safeway #1102 became AppleTree #1102, but as we know from Mike’s extensive history of AppleTree page, AppleTree’s fortunes were not good and they sold many of their locations, including River Oaks, to Kroger in 1994. Thus, for the first time since 1978, Kroger was back at the River Oaks Shopping Center with Kroger SW-608. Granted, the store that started out as a Weingarten’s was old and undersized by 1990s standards especially given the wealth and prestige of the River Oaks area. Thus, Kroger acquired additional land around their store and elected to temporarily close the River Oaks Krogweinway in 1998, demolish the building, and build a new 58k sq. ft. Kroger Signature store. The current River Oaks Kroger HO-355 opened on September 30, 1998.
The history of Kroger Signature stores was chronicled in February and March’sThe Year of Kroger posts. We also discussed other higher-end Kroger Signature stores in previous The Year of Kroger entries, July’s post about the Galveston Kroger and October’s post about the KTRKroger near West University Place. The River Oaks Kroger is very much a higher-end store like the Galveston and West U. Kroger Signature stores given the wealthy demographics of the area. Although the River Oaks Kroger is a bit smaller than the 60k sq. ft. Kroger Signature store standard of the time, Kroger gave the River Oaks store expanded service departments. In fact, in 2010, the River Oaks Kroger was the first Houston-area Kroger to receive a Murray’s Cheese kiosk.
It probably goes without saying that the most striking aspect of the River Oaks Kroger, and the reason why it is famous nationally, is the Art Deco exterior design which was made to match the design themes of the River Oaks Shopping Center itself. As we saw with the KTRKroger, Kroger was not afraid of giving their early Signature stores unique and surely expensive exterior designs. The interior design of the River Oaks Kroger, like the KTRKroger, is also a bit unusual in that it has a mezzanine deli seating area.
As one would expect from a higher-end store, the River Oaks Kroger has a multi-tiered ‘wedding cake’ drop ceiling, albeit a tall one given the mezzanine area in the store, and the store continues to have a proper vinyl floor. The current floor at the River Oaks Kroger dates from the Kroger Script décor package era. Retail Retell’s Mid-South Retail Blog maintains a guide to the Script décor package. Like many Houston area Kroger stores, the River Oaks Kroger received the Kroger Bountiful/2012 décor package. However, Kroger elected to give the River Oaks store an early remodel in around 2019 to the Kroger Urban Mix décor package. This Urban Mix remodel coincided with the opening of the nearby Buffalo Heights HEB. The history of the Urban Mix décor package was discussed extensively in September’s The Year of Kroger post about the Pearland Kroger. The Urban Mix décor package is one of Kroger’s higher-end décor packages in current times and so it is fitting that it is used at the River Oaks Kroger.
In terms of nearby competition, the River Oaks Kroger is located only 3.3 miles northeast of the KTRKroger so the two stores share some competitors, but that is a ‘long’ 3.3 miles given the density of that part of Houston. The Studemont & I-10 Kroger is also relatively nearby with it being 2.2 miles to the northeast of the River Oaks Kroger. When one thinks of higher-end areas of Houston, one usually thinks of Randall’s. Although the KTRKroger competes with two relatively nearby Randall’s, Randall’s no longer has a strong presence in the River Oaks area since the location at 2075 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098 closed and became a downsized Target store. Mike has a post about this Targall’s store. That said, the Midtown Randall’s is only around 2 miles away from the River Oaks Kroger so it is an option for River Oaks customers, but that is also a ‘long’ 2 miles. HEB offers competition from Houston’s lone Central Market store, the Buffalo Market HEB, and the aforementioned Washington Ave. & Heights Blvd. Buffalo Heights HEB. Trader Joe’s is located in the nearby Upper Kirby area and Whole Foods Market has two locations in the Upper Kirby and Neartown areas.
Given the traffic and parking challenges at some of these urban area stores, however, the River Oaks Kroger is a good option, if not the only viable option, for those who live near the store. Although the River Oaks Kroger has somewhat limited parking compared to a suburban Kroger, it does at least offer surface parking near the store building. Unfortunately, the walk-up exterior pharmacy window (the space is too limited for a drive-thru pharmacy) and the online pickup area on the east end of the store does eat up parking spots that would otherwise be valuable to those shopping at the River Oaks Kroger during busy times. Probably due to space constraints, and perhaps also to help the River Oaks Shopping Center’s upscale image, the River Oaks Kroger does not have a fuel station. That said, historically, the River Oaks Shopping Center did have gas pumps in the early days of the center.
Wrapping up The Year of Kroger
The Year of Kroger has been an exciting project here at Houston Historic Retail. I want to thank Mike for providing the wonderful photos for these The Year of Kroger posts and I also want to thank HHR guest blogger Billytheskink for providing August’s photos and post about the Dairy Ashford & Briar Forest Krogertsons. We certainly hope that these twelve posts from various parts of the Houston area, along with other Kroger-related posts made throughout the year such as Mike’s guide to the history of Henke & Pillot, have helped chronicle the history of Kroger’s presence in Houston.
Although The Year of Kroger is coming to an end and we will no longer have regularly scheduled posts about Houston’s Kroger stores, HHR will continue to cover Kroger’s interesting Houston-area stores and news as we do with other retailers. Indeed, 2024 will be an interesting year in Kroger’s history as we should get more clarity about the fate of Kroger’s attempted merger with Albertsons. HHR will be sure to track the merger news and what impact it may have on Houston’s Kroger and Randall’s stores.
Here is a list of posts from The Year of Kroger series:
We hope you have enjoyed this tour of the River Oaks Art Deco Kroger and The Year of Kroger series in general. If you have any thoughts or comments about the River Oaks Kroger, feel free to post a comment in the comments section below. We love to hear from our readers!