A look into Houston's retail past

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.

Checking in on Meyerland Plaza

Meyerland Plaza is one of Houston’s oldest continually operating shopping centers. Opening in 1957 as part of the Meyerland Housing Development it underwent an extensive renovation in the early 90s turning it from a more traditional outdoor mall to a department store anchored shopping center. Only a few original tenants managed to survive to the transition. The renovation added new features such as a second story and a new Venture Department Store. The mall has continued to change over the years and has been rather successful.

Starting off Meyerland has received a new sign. This is the large sign along 610, the previous large neon sign was not original as the first sign supposedly collapsed during Hurricane Carla. I believe the sign change was part of H-E-B’s agreement to become a tenant.
Moving along to the front of the plaza Bed Bath & Beyond has shut their Meyerland location leaving a oddly shaped vacancy. This was one of the store to originally include a second floor.
When the plaza was renovated the interior walkways were converted to second story loading docks. As such the first floor was given to BB&B, giving the store a T-shape.
While some larger fixtures were left behind, it looks like the space was stripped of most everything else including flooring. Within the last few years the second story of most stores had been closed.
The large blue skylights give a nice looking light, they’re not particularly stylish compared to more modern shopping centers but make up a large part of Meyerland’s design so hopefully they stick around.
To the left this space was most recently occupied by Justice’s a girls clothing store that closed in 2015. By 2018 Navy Federal Credit Union opened in a majority of the vacant space, leaving just this small portion vacant.

The old interior is still in tact with the new bank’s wall running down the middle of the former sales floor.
This space received temporary use as a BBVA branch. Originally occupying the former Meyerland State Bank, the branch (famous for one of Houston’s biggest robberies) was torn down for the new H‑E‑B, where they now lease tenant space.
This store was most recently a Motherhood Maternity. It seems to have closed around the end of 2019 as part of a bankruptcy related multiple unit closing.
Argenta Silver was a local silver jewelry shop that closed around late 2018. The space has sat vacant since then.
Next is Palais Royal which closed within the past few months. This location previously had a second story, some of which was converted to offices and a training center, the entrance to which sits to the left of the store.
Inside of Palais Royal one of the interesting features is this hallway which originally provided access to the second story.
Moving down the line to JCPenney. While this location is not listed in the closures, I’m not optimistic for Penney’s continued success.
This is approximately where the fourth entrance sat, it was pretty well covered up and is only visible by differences in the ceiling.
This jewelry case had the tile knocked off exposing the original grout which matched the brown tiles seen at the former Almeda and Northwest Penneys locations.
Looking out of the new second story entrance which was added when H-E-B opened. For a look on the other side check out these photos from earlier in the year.
These last two photos are from a few days later and show Pier One which was one of the first to close in Houston. It was recently converted into a new Five Below location
Pier One and all shops on this side of the plaza were added later after General Cinemas closed their location here.

While Meyerland Plaza has experienced lots of success thanks to proper upkeep and a good mix of stores, they are just as effected by the retail apocalypse as any other shopping center in Houston. With this new loss of anchors hopefully more space will be redeveloped.

Random Retail: Sight-Seeing down 90-A

May 18th marked the 5th birthday of Houston Historic Retail, The site existed a few years prior as a free WordPress blog. Some readers have been here since day one and I thank you all for your unending support.

Welcome back loyal reader! With the ongoing COVID crisis I haven’t really had any chances to get out and take that many photos. I have made some updates, like new photos of West Oaks Mall, and HEB Pantry Foods, along with new pages like Sunniland Furniture and Luther’s Bar-B-Q. One of the few trips I have taken during this time was out to Shiner, Texas to pick up some custom made masks. On the way there, my wife and I decided to stop in Halletsville for lunch. This was when dine-in was still banned.

Our first choice was Sonic, but we sadly found it out of business.
Next on this list was Subway but we found it closed too.
Moving forward it looked like even more of the town was closed. This Courthouse Annex started life as a Stanley Supermarket location.
After Stanley’s bankruptcy this store was eventually sold to Godwin’s. At some point the county took over the majority of the building, and it looks like the former Subway is next.
Driving up the road a bit we eventually saw some signs of like in the form of a Brookshire Brothers and a Division 1 Walmart located side by side.
It’s rare enough to find a non supercenter still operating in a town big enough for a full line grocery store. Even more rare was the unprotected Garden Center in the parking lot. Most stores discontinued the use of parking lot garden centers, and the few that keep them only operate seasonally and with a barrier to prevent theft.
The Brookshire Brothers location was even big enough to maintain a Connoco with a tiny C-Store
Heading back into town we ended up stopping at Dairy Queen which we had avoided because of the line. In retrospect the line was due to the fact that DQ was basically the only option.
Past the classic 3 pole design, this DQ had something unusual about it. Can you spot it?
This DQ has a second window! Not just has, but uses. It was tiny and was very obviously created by removing only a few bricks.
Upon finally reach Shiner, I didn’t find much of interest to photograph. Although we really just grazed the town. One neat thing was this Subway Cafe, which means they sell extra items, this one also sells Mama Deluca Pizza.

While it wasn’t the grandiose trip we wished for, Shiner was a nice drive out into the country. I have some back-loaded blog posts that will likely be appearing soon. In addition to those keep your eyes out for some themed posts. Until next time loyal reader!

Retail News: Closures and Openings

Welcome back loyal reader to another edition of Random Retail. This one comprises some photos from the past month as today we take a look at openings and closures in the Houston area.

Let’s start with the new Meyerland H-E-B. It had its grand opening January 29th, and I was there about three days prior. When Meyerland Plaza opened in 1957, it included a Henke & Pillot grocery store as one of the major tenants. Located in the Southeast corner of the shopping center, near where Cafe Express sits today. This store would eventually be converted to a Kroger, and would shut down in 1980. It was used by a number of short term liquidation businesses before being demolished during the 1990s renovation of Meyerland Plaza.

The store was built to the West of JCPenney which meant that they lost some parking space, and the former Meyerland State Bank was required to be demolished. The garage does have signage directing banking customers to the new location across Endicott Lane.
The elevated parking structure helps on two fronts. One it does add some parking back to JCPenney, with some spaces on the first level being reserved for the store. Second it helps prevent excessive flooding damage. The issue is bad enough that it required HEB to permanently close their old Meyerland store prior to building a replacement. Some infrastructure doe exist on the first floor, but it’s mostly off the ground by a bit.
This new parking structure has given JCPenney a new entrance. If you so desire you can either swap between stores, or even purposely try to fight HEB traffic to visit Penney’s!

Next, Xfinity is coming to Highland Village. Replacing long time tenant VisionWorks, previously known as EyeMasters, who replaced Workbench, a furniture store in 1989. This new store represents a growth in retail presence by Xfinity. The goal of the stores is to boost technology sales, including mobile phones.

VisionWorks closed prior to (or right at?) Christmas, with Xfinity immediately starting demolition and renovation. At this point it looks like the new store should be poised to open by the end of February.

Other previous tenants included Chez Orleans Creole Restaurant, however the building has been substantially rebuilt from those days. Older readers may even remember when Suffolk street went all the way through Highland Village into Oak Estates.

The next story takes us Southwest of Houston. The former New Territory Randalls has a new tenant, Al-Rabba an international food store with a decidedly Arabian name. This Randalls was one of the last non-Safeway locations to be built. It was the 70th location (likely including the Austin stores) and rightly opened to quite a bit of fanfare. It was a concept store, ditching a drop ceiling for exposed roofing. It also included new features like in store dry cleaning, photo and video processing, along with a full in store restaurant. It was painted in a hunter green color scheme that was also used in the Woodlands store. New Territory was also rumoured to have sold beer and wine prior to any other location.

This very Randalls was actually my first job during high school. While the store had recently been converted to the standard Safeway lifestyle format it still had hunter green shelves in the back.

The store did quite well serving not just New Territory but the quickly developing Greatwood and Riverpark subdivisions as well. They were initially open 24 hours and would remain so for many years. The scaling back in hours would actually happened slightly before I started working there, but it did not affect me as I worked in the deli. The stores decline began in the mid 2000s when the Riverpark Shopping Center was developed. A pad side which had been purchased by Albertsons was sold to HEB when the prior company exited Houston. This new HEB was the first in what would become the Richmond (later to become Sugar Land) area. Both stores were able to maintain steady traffic for many years. With HEB handling the majority and Randall’s getting the overflow.  However conveniences like Curbside pickup, and lower prices led to HEB winning out.

I visited a day or two after the store’s lease had finally expired. Everything left in the store was for the new owner to deal with. There was actually a meeting going on inside of the store. Even ripped apart this store still looks so much nicer than a standard location.

Finally it seems that Carl’s Jr. has exited the Houston market for good. Right after Christmas I stopped by the North Shepherd location to snap a couple of pictures. Via Google Reviews it has been confirmed that all except the N. Highway 6 locations have closed. The company website has not been updated and lists all locations as open, except for the missing N. Highway 6 location. Carl’s Jr. entered the West Houston market in full force in the early 2010s with aggressive growth. The plan was to get a steady foothold on the well developed West, and then build to the newly developing East.

Although all signage had been removed everything else was pretty much business as usual in terms of a store closure. It does raise the question, could these stores come back?
All product in the store had been removed so it was obvious that this store had a proper shutdown. However it was filthy, which leads me to believe they have little intent to return.
While most of the lights were off, enough were on that you could get a sense of everything left in the building. Electronics were mostly still in place. With the only thing missing being food and packaging.

Open 24 hours Carl’s Jr. attempted to compete with the likes of Whataburger and Jack in the Box. Their food initially was good for the price, but the quality dropped quickly and prices rose. The restaurants also generally had a reputation of poor customer service, and long wait times. Ultimately poor management/franchising was likely a key, as the Houston locations had a history of randomly opening and closing with little to no notice to employees.

The single location may be where the product from these stores ended up. We will see if this round of closures is permanent or if the stores reopen. Although with Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s trying to seperate themselves at the moment I doubt they’re focusing on a slow market like Houston.

A Haunted H-E-B

I recently had the chance to stop by an H-E-B that I had heard from a friend might be, haunted. I’m not the biggest believer in ghost, ghouls, or goblins. However, I thought it would be fun to stop and take a look. This is the Royal Oaks location 11815 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77077. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything, but boy was I wrong.

I stopped by on a chilly night in late October. From the outside the store seemed pretty normal, if a bit dark. The store had obviously been there a while, you could by the huge trees which fill the parking lot.

Getting up to the doors, I noticed something strange. The entrances were blocked off! It was like someone was trying to keep me out of H-E-B. Someone or… something.

When I finally managed to make it into the store, I found a pretty normal looking H-E-B. It was a little dated, but it seemed nice for the most part.

I could tell that something was off though. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but knew I hadn’t ever seen a fresh cut fruit sign like this before.

Then I noticed something… the store was trying to communicate with me. At first the messages didn’t make any sense… “Fired Up Slice” of what?!

Suddenly it gave me a phrase which made sense, but I couldn’t figure out the context. Did it want me to contact Zack and Cody??

All of the sudden, the messages got really playful! It was lost on me though, I didn’t bring a deck of cards to the store.

“Nobody Does it Fresher” was this some kind of threat against me? I wasn’t sure, and I was about to run out of this H-E-B.

Until finally, I noticed this sign. The store wasn’t evil.. it was just hungry! Happy Halloween everyone! Normal serious posts will return soon.

The Incredible Shrinking A&P

Excuse the brief update. I have had quite the busy week! More content should be coming soon, including a small retrospective of pictures that don’t really fit anywhere else. For now though enjoy A&P.

 

A&P is not a well known grocer in the Houston area. They never had their own division, and were based out of Dallas. The number of stores I have seen varies somewhat. My estimation has it around 5, no more than 10. So far I have only been able to learn of one former A&P. It was at S. Post Oak, and W. Belfort. Across from the current Kroger store.

This location was recently the victim of some light demolition. The store originally opened in the early 1960s. I can’t find an exact date but know it was prior to or during 1962. The left and right sides were scaled back quite a bit.

The “wings” on the building were actually an addition. The original building plus a little bit of the left wing, which features Cue’s Burgers is all that’s left.

 

I’m not sure why the left side was demolished. The right side was to help accommodate a new gas station. However, both sides as this point feature open grass, as opposed to filled in parking lot.

With the front and sides remodeled, the building looks pretty nice. The back is mostly untouched, although things like loading docks were all filled in when A&P closed. I can’t find an exact date but I do know it was prior to the 1980s.

Rice Epicurean, taking the term chain to the extremes

The chain, Rice Epicurean, is the result of many adaptions and “mutations” of a family owned grocery store originally named “Rice Boulevard Food Market”. You can read more about the history of the chain overall on my
Rice Epicurean Store Page. This post takes a brief look at the chain as it stands today, one store, and six former properties.


Rice Epicurean #201 | 2500 Rice Boulevard

The original Rice Boulevard Food Market opened in 1937. It took on its name from the street the store was originally located on, Rice Boulevard. It was at the heart of the shopping center now known as Rice Village. However, when the grocery store was built there was only one other store in all of Rice Village. Truly a different experience to the Rice Village of today. The location was expanded, and eventually moved in 1957 to the a building which still stands.

Rice Epicurean #201 | 2500 Rice Boulevard

This location managed to survived until 2003, its closure was mainly due to the small size of the building, along with the lack of parking. While it did have some dedicated, mainly older customers, the store had essentially hit its useful limit for the growing area. As it was was difficult leasing a grocery sized spot in Rice Village the building subdivided on multiple occasions as time has moved on. The building no longer resembles a Rice Epicurean location, but does fit in with the shopping center quite well.

Rice #202 | 5016 San Felipe

The next location to open is near what was at the time know as the far side of town. Located in the Tanglewood Shopping Center, this was the location that necessitated the chain’s first name change, dropping “Boulevard”. For the building’s entire life from 1957-2012 it housed Rice or other variations of the chain, upon closing this location was immediately flipped to The Fresh Market and has more recently begun transformation to Total Wine

Rice #202 | 5016 San Felipe

In its life this store has had the entrances moved around a few times, but for the most par maintains the original Rice foot print. The other tenants in the shopping center are located to the right of the store, and behind the area which Rice occupied. This was the first location to be converted to the Epicurean banner by Rice. It also served a large clientele. Prior to 2014, it was the only grocery chain in the Galleria area. With the next nearest store being a Randall’s down San Felipe.

Rice #203 | 3102 Kirby Drive

The next location on the list was acquired as part of a deal with “Lucky Stores of California”, who operated a chain in Houston known as Eagle Supermarkets. Rice purchased four locations from Lucky, and this location was the only store that managed to stick around to the Epicurean days.

Rice #203 | 3102 Kirby Drive

This store was the second location to be converted to Epicurean. It was over-sized as far as Rice Epicurean stores are concerned. The location was sold in 2001. Rice stated that this was due to the location being in close proximity with the Westhimer and Weslayan location, and not preforming as well. It has housed a Bed, Bath, and Beyond ever since.

Rice #204 | 12516 Memorial Drive

The store numbers used by the Epicurean chain don’t seem to directly correlate with anything, as seen in our next example. This store is part of the Lantern Lane shopping center, and was originally a Lewis and Croeker.

Rice #204 | 12516 Memorial Drive

This location was the most recent acquisition in 1997. The store is largely unchanged from when Rice owned it, and as of early 2017 was still sporting the Fresh Market lablescar, with the original Rice Epicurean paint underneath. This local will also become a Total Wine Superstore, a banner advertising the transformation was hanging above the door, but blew up unto the eve as I snapped my picture.

Rice #206 | 3745 Westheimer

We’ll come back to location #205 and move on to #206 for now. This location was another acquisition, this time it was from Apple Tree Market, the locally owned spin-off of Safeway in the Houston area. When Rice took over they operated the location similarly to how Safeway had operated, electing not to remodel much. Eventually with Rice Epicurean, the store was remodeled a bit, but still had some Safeway features, especially on the outside of the building.

Rice #206 | 3745 Westheimer

This location was extensively remodeled by The Fresh Market, who subdivided the building on the right side of the entrance, and removed what had been the center service desk, and replaced it with a straight through entrance. Once Walgreens moved in, the building was subdivided once again, with the farthest left side of the store, being vacant at the moment but available for leasing.

Rice #207 | 2617 West Holcombe

Rice #207 was another Apple Tree/Safeway acquisition. This store was much larger than #206 from the start. It was also hugely remodeled by The Fresh Market, who did not need as much space, and subdivided. They also did some exterior remodels including repainting, and adding plaster decor.

Rice #207 | 2617 West Holcombe

While retaining the distinctive Safeway columns of the time, many other distinctive pieces of Safeway architecture such as the texture rock surface have been covered or removed. The building also now has a large number of full length windows, as opposed to the half height walls Safeway was known to use. Most of these changes were done when the building was divided for new tenants.

Rice #205 | 2020 Fountainview

Finally, we tackle Rice Epicurean #205 this is the only location still in operation today. It is also the base of Rice’s grocery delivery service, and catering. The store has many features typical to other Rice Epicurean locations.

Rice #205 | 2020 Fountainview

I did manage to go inside this location and take a look around, but that’s a blog post for another day!

A look at one of Houston’s Former Food Lion Locations

First, I’d like to welcome you to a new feature of Houston Historic Retail, blog posts. I’m still experimenting with content styles, and want to explore this avenue. I may or may not stick with it, but for sure the content will remain. So with the possibility of this not sticking around for long, lets start by talking about a store that did not stick around for long, Food Lion.

Food Lion as mentioned elsewhere on the website Food Lion was a grocery retailer out of North Carolina, founded in 1957 they made their entry into the Houston market in 1992, with a plan to eventually open 40 stores. However due to the infamous Primetime Live Scandal Food Lion took a major hit in business. They managed to make it up to 13 stores in the Houston area, but decided to close the branch to help preserve the chain with the stores closing in 1994.

 

9520 Jones Rd, Houston, TX 77065

The location we’re looking at today is at the corner of Jones and West Roads in North West Houston. This location has a bit of a strange history, the plot that Food Town built on was originally owned by Safeway but was never developed. It was sold to Food Lion who finally built on it. It’s unclear if it was sold directly by Safeway or through Apple Tree, however as Safeway continued to own properties in the Houston area such as the Dairy Plant before selling it to HEB it’s possible that they held onto the property. The outside of the building still resembles a Food Lion for the most part. It has the basic rectangular shape, with little to no building adornments. The Mission Style Arch and new paint was added by Food Town.

Food Lion Style Entrance

Food Lion uses a very specific and easily identifiable entrance style. They have a single centered door which leads into the store, and a enclosed breezeway with doors on either side making a T shaped pathway from the doors. Food Lion for the most part kept the exact same entrance. The only difference I could find, was that the interior door was removed. The hardware was still bolted onto the door frame, but the doors themselves had been taken off. Based on the age of the radar motion detectors I would wager a guess that the doors broke, and were removed rather than replaced.

Deli Meats

Inside of the store, not much has seemingly changed. I don’t ever remember going into Food Lion when they operated in Houston so my knowledge of what has changed is based on pictures of the other Houston locations, and pictures of older Food Lion locations. I’m not sure how the store layout has changed, if at all, but there is a dedicated entrance and exit, one of the stranger things I did notice is the lack of a meat department. They do some butchering at the store, and the meat is solder out of a cooler in the front near the produce. I believe that Food Lion had an “exposed” meat department based on video I’ve seen from the Prime Time Live special. I’m not sure if Food Town closed up the meat department, or if Food Lion did it in response to the controversy.

Former Bakery

This was likely the former bakery in the Food Lion. The tiles had non-slip grips, and there were wash down drains in the center. The area is now being used to sell soda and beer, as Food Town doesn’t use on-site bakeries.  This area still had an exposed cloest, and electrical panels left over from the bakery. To the left of this was the manager’s “cage” it was slightly lifted up to provide a better vantage point. I’m not sure if that was added by Food Town, but it seems likely it was as all of their stores utilize the raised manager’s office.

Cheap Sign

All in all this grocery store provides a good service to the community. It’s cheap on produce and meat and allows for a no frills shopping experience, much like Food Lion. Hopefully it will stick around and the amount of traffic they received on a Sunday afternoon when I took these pictures supports that. However all other corners of this intersection have major stores, HEB, Kroger, and Aldi. So it’s a bit of a waiting game to see if Food Town can stick around.

 

The Full Album of Photos I took can be found here