A look into Houston's retail past

Retail News: Raceway speeds out and 7-11 Zooms In, Luby’s puts locations up for sale, & Randalls leaves Bellaire

Happy chilly Friday to you loyal readers! I hope you are all doing well and managing to stay warm, as power comes back on around the state. This post is coming a bit late due to technical difficulties between myself and the power grid, but I don’t need to tell you about that. So far in February we’ve had a decent amount of retail proceedings develop. First off what seems to have been a quiet deal between RaceTrac and Realty Income Corp. has left us with no more Raceway gas stations but has netted us some new 7-Eleven locations. Which is great new if you’ve been following the ever developing drama of their return to Houston! Next, the dissolution of Luby’s starts to get real as multiple locations are put on the real estate market. Finally, Randall’s leaves a Bellaire grocery store with more than 60 years of history with Weingartens planning on going vertical.

Raceway Speeds Out, 7-Eleven Zooms In

RaceTrac opened their first stores in Houston in the mid 90s. At the time the chain was known for low priced non-branded gasoline, which was not widely available in the Houston market outside of independent stations. They also brought along streamed line stores that all had similar offerings no matter what part of the city you were in. With selection in local stores varying based on how big or tiny they were. The locations they chose were mostly along highways in the suburbs, areas of proven growth, and were initially popular. RaceTrac even had a plan to deal with less popular locations by selling them off to independent operators who would franchise them under the “Raceway” brand. Many locations turned to Raceways over the years and some were sold to other brands. RaceTrac continued to build out stores in Houston into the 2010s however, within the last 10 years they have lost some prominence in a now overly saturated market. The streamlined stores, and unbranded gas that made the chain so desirable is now quite common in the Houston area. Throughout 2020 RaceTrac sold their existing properties to Realty Income Corporation, who lease thousands of different parcels to different chains all across the U.S.

Luby’s puts locations up for sale

This location at 2730 Fondren closed sometime in 2018 and sat vacant with signs still up until a liquidation sale took place in June of 2020. More photos inbound from that eventually.

Earlier this month Houston based Luby’s revealed their planned timeline to dissolve their company by the end of August. This came as little surprise as Luby’s and Fuddruckers had barely been limping along before the pandemic started. U As of February 13th multiple former and operating Luby’s and Fuddruckers locations were put up for sale. As reported by Houston Business Journal there are 13 locations for sale around the Houston area, along with one in Lake Jackson and Port Arthur each. Some of the locations are still operating but will be closed by the time they’re sold. The Houston area locations are as follows.

1201 W Baker Rd, Baytown, TX 77521 – Luby’s
4709 Center St Deer Park, TX 77536 – Luby’s
1600 NASA Road 1 Houston, TX 77058 – Luby’s
4525 North Freeway , Houston, TX 77022 Undeveloped Lot
2730 Fondren Rd Houston, TX 77063 – Luby’s
6704 Hwy 6 S Houston, TX 77083 – Luby’s
11950 Kurland Dr Houston, TX 77034 – Fuddruckers
7511 FM 1960 W Houston, TX 77070 – Fuddruckers
24033 Cinco Ranch Blvd Katy, TX 77494 – Luby’s and Fuddruckers
25407 Bell Patna Dr Katy, TX 77492 – Fuddruckers
125 West Way Lake Jackson, TX 77566 – Luby’s
8680 Memorial Blvd Port Arthur, TX 77642 – Luby’s
2290 Buckthorne Place The Woodlands, TX 77380 – Fuddruckers

Randall’s leaves a Bellaire location with 62 years of history

5130 Bellaire opened their doors as a Weingartens grocery location in 1959 in an odd location within the Bellaire Triangle. From 1959-1984 the store became a hub of activity and by far one of the nicest grocery stores in the area. In 1984 Weingratens left the grocery business and sold their remaining stores to Safeway. As part of the AppleTree fiasco the store served under that banner from 1989-1994 when it was acquired by Randall’s. Of course, when Safeway acquired Randall’s in 1999 they were once again leasing the building from Weingartens! This little store also has a special place in my heart as it is one of the Randall’s locations that I worked at during high school. It was only a few times filling in for shifts from my home store, but this location played great music on the radio, and had a fun little shared kitchen between the deli and bakery, plus lots of other interesting Weingarten and Safeway decor remnants. The location was given an Albertsons remodel when HEB opened their new location across the street but has not been able to keep up. While development plans have not been announced, Weingarten did mention they intended to transform this space into a multi-story mixed used development. HAIF Thread

7-Eleven is starting to get in the swing of things

Today we’re dropping in on a brand new convenience store! The last time we discussed 7-Eleven on the blog we found that progress on new stores in the Houston area was extremely slow. It all started in 2013 when the company acquired four Tetco stores to convert to 7-Eleven locations. By 2014 these locations would be had their names and signs changed and were carrying 7-Eleven branded products. It seemed like things were on track for future conversions, however this was the only progress that would be made for several years. In 2018 Stripes and Laredo Taco Co. were both purchased by 7-Eleven with an intent on conversion. The quick effects from this were the replacement of Slush Monkey icee drinks with Slurpees, and the discontinuation of Stripe’s private label products. However 7-Eleven was still unwilling to build new stores. In 2020 we finally saw the full switch over from former Tetco stores to full scale 7-Eleven concepts and the conversion of some unopened Stripes locations. Now just under a year later we’re starting to see the first new stores.

These new 7-Eleven locations are distinct from most other locations I’ve been to. They’re much smaller, and much more modern than the 7-Elevens I have shopped at in other parts of the country. The Laredo Taco Co. inclusion is also a new concept and while Stripes did test the concept at a few stores outside of Texas the brand has been otherwise dormant since the Sunoco acquisition. Hopefully these new stores will help relaunch 7-Eleven while keeping Stripes around.

What Happens when a Valero doesn’t become a Circle K?

Today, we’re taking a quick look at a gas station in an unusual situation- a former Valero Corner Store that was not selected to be converted to Circle K. This location was built in Fredericksburg, TX in 1985. Based on the exterior features, it seems to have been a Corner Store from day one. Diamond Shamrock’s rural stores contained far fewer services compare to their urban counterparts, but they were still comparable to their ever expanding competitors. After a series of take overs, mergers, and sell offs, what was once Diamond Shamrock’s Corner Store concept was sold to Circle K.

One year after the sale was completed, the first Circle K conversions began in 2018. As this began so did divestment of locations such as a failed Stop n Go prototypes, Corner Stores that were too close to existing Circle K locations, and many other stores that just did not fit the new image the company was aiming for. As such conversion from Corner Store to Circle K was extremely slow. While the remodel process was hinged around updating the stores, the biggest change was obviously the branding. As of 2021, there are still some former Corner Stores in the Houston area that operate as Circle Ks but have not received new exterior signage.

While the changeover took place, former Corner Store locations continued to operate as normal. The parent company, CST Industries, still produced private label goods to be sold in stores, while cups, lids, etc.. continued to say Corner Store. As more stores became Circle K, the private label products were dropped, and the Polar Pop branding was applied to cups and soda fountains. The sign still said Corner Store but this was a lobotomized version of the old store. By 2020, a change had to take place, and this Corner Store is a perfect example of what happened when a store wasn’t selected to convert.

The exterior of the convenience store is completely unchanged- except for the updated signage. As you can see from the outside, this was a very small store. Using the pictured pickup as reference, the building is about three trucks long.
These gas pumps are a Diamond Shamrock dead giveaway. The center number with the circular border was unique to them. Notice that the wide format double ad holders are still in place. This was a problem towards the end of the Circle K changeover in Houston with many spots going blank.
As the Corner Store brand was originally owned by Valero, their logo was combined together where possible. As the the gas station is still selling Valero-branded gasoline, no effort was made to cover up the Valero logo.
The blue and brown paint and Corner Store decor were all still in place inside. Notice the former Corner Store sign behind the chef’s hat on the wallpaper. Not every store covered that up. The store was in the process of being restocked by one of the two employees when I was there, which explains the mess.
This chip section would normally be setup for Corner Store or Circle K products. Obviously, without any affiliation, corporate branded products were replaced.
The signage above the coolers actually dates back to Diamond Shamrock. It was added during the Corner Store transition.
This long shot of the store shows about 2/3rd of the total space. This location was smaller than a normal Corner Store but was not the smallest I’ve visited.
The product selection was on par for what you’d expect to find in a Circle K. One thing I did find that felt out of place were the hats behind the cash register.
This is actually an updated Circle K condiment holder, meaning that this was replaced or added after 2018 when the transitions began.  The condiments were not stocked at the time due to COVID.
A quick shot of the counter shows another somewhat unusual feature. 2 liter bottles and boxed sodas in a small cooler. The POS system had been upgraded in the past few years to accept chip cards and seemed to be similar to other Corner Store systems.

 

All in all this turned out to essentially still be a Corner Store in all but name. Looking at county records it seems that this location along with a few others were sold to the franchisee in 2020. Interestingly the location is still on the Circle K website and the features listed are even all correct. Who knows in a few years this may end up like the old Stop n Go’s in Houston that became “Stop and Go” or Circle K’s that became “Korner Store”.

Retail News: Disco Kroger Closes, On Cue Opens, and Bill Miller has their eyes on West Houston

Happy New Year loyal reader, and welcome to another edition of retail news. This month we’re taking a look at a few different developments throughout the city.

Disco Kroger Closes

Let’s start with a bit of a letdown. Unfortunately, the Kroger at 3030 Montrose Boulevard, more affectionately known as Disco Kroger, is set to close tomorrow January 7th. I visited December 30th and the pharmacy along with most full-service departments had already been shut down. Shelves were still being stocked with what seemed to be overstock from nearby stores, but supplies were dwindling. Based on supply levels when I visited it seems possible that the store may not make it all the way to the 7th. When Disco Kroger opened in Montrose, they were far from the first supermarket in the Montrose area. That title goes to the first Houston Minimax. However, it is one of the longer lasting stores in the area. With the next oldest store being the demolished Fiesta that was closed in 2012, followed by the nearby Midtown Fiesta which shutdown last year. Kroger’s official statement for closing the store indicated that it was losing money and had been for some time.

The closure of this Kroger leaves Montrose with one less grocery option. Now only H-E-B directly serves the Montrose area. It seems likely that most Kroger shoppers will shift to H-E-B. With the lack of affordable grocery stores in the area you may wonder why Kroger is unable to make a profit. Kroger expanded this store in the 1980s after demolishing the final house on the block. It seems that the original property owner never sold the land to Kroger but rather leased it to them. This expansion helped Kroger stay current but was essentially the final update this store received save for some cosmetic remodels which exposed some great Disco Kroger remnants. With the developments such as the tower next door, it’s likely the price of the lease plus limited floor space really does have this Kroger stuck at a chokepoint.


OnCue Opens

The Kaleidoscope Center was demolished over a year ago after the property was purchased by Phillips 66. The petrochemical company conveniently has their headquarters a few blocks North of Westheimer and supposedly wanted a flagship store to flaunt their brand. This however presented an issue as Phillips 66 is mainly a refiner, and doesn’t have an established connivence store brand. They called in Stillwater, Oklahoma based OnCue Express who seems to have a partnership with Phillips 66. The store was constructed by The Riverside Group which based this store off the OnCue prototype they developed in 2004.

As Phillips 66 does not maintain their own line of convenience stores this location was developed in partnership with OnCue, and marks their entry in to the Texas market. The store is nice, very modern, and the staff are all very polite.


Bill Miller’s Eyes has their eyes on West Houston

Any Houstonian worth their salt has driven passed a Bill Miller Bar-B-Q with a bit of arrogance. Different areas of Texas have always been preferential about our drive-thru BBQ joints. Houston has been a battlefield of sorts with Pappas reigning king over smaller chains like Goode Co, killing competitors like Luther’s and holding their own against newcomers like Rudy’s. According to an interview in the Houston Business Journal with Bill Miller’s CEO Jim Egbert they have the company may soon join the battle as they have their eyes on expanding in West Houston and Katy.

The newer building design used by Bill Miller will likely be what the Houston and Katy are based on Source: Google Streetview.

This is not the first time Bill Miller Bar-B-Q has discussed plans on expanding in Houston, in a 2018 interview with then newly promoted CEO Egbert it was said that the company wanted to be able to transition to new markets like Houston, Waco, and College Station. This time around the plan is to supply the Houston locations via trucks from San Antonio while previously the CEO had envisioned building a second commissary and bakery to serve Houston based stores. With new stores opening further North on the I-35 corridor Bill Miller has shown they could handle the range, the question to be answered is can they handle Houston’s market.

7-Eleven’s less than triumphant Houston return

Interested in 7-Eleven locations coming to Houston? Find out the latest news here!

As with many of the subjects of my website, Houstonians of a certain age will remember when one of the largest convenience stores in the area was 7-Eleven. Originally founded in urgh… Dallas, the chain operated under the name “Tote’m” initially. It would not be until after World War II that the store would famously change their name to represent store hours of “7-11”. This name change would also allow for expansion into territory, like Houston, which was already held by the similarly named “U-Tote’m” convenience store chain.

These “six-sided” stores were some of the last that 7-Eleven built in Houston. They were so new, that when Stop n’ Go acquired them they made it a point to note that the stores would not be remodeled.

Houston’s first 7-Eleven would open in 1953 at 5115 Allendale in Southeast Houston near Sims Bayou. With the company announcing plans to build up to 100 Houston area stores within the next few years. A number which they would not only quickly reach, but exceed. Finally after years of fighting a highly diversified market compared to many other parts of the country, 7-Eleven decided to Exit Houston in 1987 (Thanks to Aaron J. from Carbon-izer for helping me confirm). They sold their 270 location chain to Stop-N-Go who converted most, but not all locations over closing a few in the process.

In 2014 the first hint of the Slurpee Giant’s return to the Houston area was teased when 7-Eleven acquired the majority of Victoria Based C-Store Speedy Stop’s retail operations. Included in the purchase were four locations in the Houston Metro area. These stores had all previously been operated as Speedy Stops, but after the acquisition the branding was covered up and the Tetco name (another brand which was acquired) was used instead. This was kept until 2018 when some Tetco signs were replaced with 7-Eleven. During this time 7-Eleven would also acquire Stripes. The plan seemed to be to convert all stores into 7-Elevens, using Stripes as a distribution channel.

5700 New Territory Blvd Sugar Land, TX 77479
2480 S Hwy 35 Byp, Alvin, TX 77511
18555 Tomball Pkwy Houston, TX 77070 (Converted to Tetco, had some type of conversion but was not completed)
6102 Hwy 6, Houston, TX 77084 (Was a Speedy Stop, then was quickly sold to an independent likely never Tetco)

This is the New Territory location, I had a chance to check it soon after it was converted. As of the publishing of this article this is the closest 7-Eleven to the Houston City Limits. Originally the white sign was completely green for Speedy Stop, then the middle was swapped for a white Tetco sign. Finally, it was all turned white.
The logo stripe is a new addition. It stretches across all the windows. Another update worth noticing are the shopping baskets. I know these were somewhat more common in convenience stores of the past. However, I’m unsure if these baskets are a remnant of a heyday or an import from their Japanese parent company.
Slurpees and Big Gulps are among some of the most iconic 7-Eleven products. They were actually available as soon as the Tetco name switch was complete.
Although the brand availability has changed somewhat, the GM section of the store remains mostly the same. The coffee bar is on a reused island, but has been modified somewhat.
Most updates, including those related to the Deli section was done under the Tetco banner. This includes the section seen here, and an open face cooler to the left.
And here’s the aforementioned cooler, Now this does somewhat resemble a Japanese convenience store, where “grab and go” selections are very prevalent.
I believe the wood paneling and tiles all received updates, but have no easy way to confirm this. The store had very little backroom space compared to how much product a 7-Eleven tends to keep. Meaning there was a bit of “organized chaos” mostly made up of the drink back stock.

As mentioned earlier in the article, I took these photos around 2018. The reason I have been sitting on them for so long is I, along with many other Houstonians had been expecting the return of 7-Eleven. The acquisitions were made with quite a bit of fanfare, and with press coverage. The reality is that outside of being able to buy Slurpee’s and other 7-Eleven exclusives at Stripe’s we’re not much closer to having actual locations inside Houston city limits. At least this was what I thought until I took Eldridge Parkway home a few nights ago.

This gas station was originally an independent selling Chevron branded gasoline. At some point it was slated to be converted to a Stripes. Exterior vinyl signage said to apply at the Stripe’s up Westpark a few blocks.This would have been the last time I saw it. The store sat vacant for quite some time.
This sign replaced the old Chevron sign and was clearly one of the newest pieces added to the gas station.
However it looks like within the past few months new signage has been added. Combining 7-Eleven with Laredo Taco Co. ( I went back to get better photos but with the cloud cover most of my night shots ended up better)
The gas pumps and canopy are essentially untouched from the independent days. Although a large inter-modal storage container now sits between pumps 2 & 3.
The car wash system looks like it completely replaced, including new draining dug.

At this point it looks like the remodel is fully underway. Hopefully I can try driving by on a weekday and see if the shutters are open. If this is the case, we will likely have a new 7-Eleven within Houston city limits by summer.