A look into Houston's retail past

Half Price Books has left The Village

In July of 1981 Half Price Books opened in a prominent spot on University Boulevard. The first store to be built at the corner of University and Kirby was White House, which opened in June of 1941. A local department store chain, they were known for building smaller sized locations throughout the Houston suburbs. It would be purchased by the Meyer family, a group of family members who had been employed in various positions with Foley’s until they sold out to Federated in 1947. At this point they would switch the name to Meyer Bros. White House. In 1950, Only nine years after opening the original White House location, Meyer Bros rebuilt the University store. This was done to create an anchor location for the new announced “Village Shopping Center”. The grand opening included two free Braniff all-inclusive trips to Cuba!

The Original White House store in from a 1941 ad.
The renovation was done in a Ranch Style to compliment the homes around, and the new “Village” shopping center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the 1950s and 60s Meyer Bros. continued to operate out of this location. The company would eventually sell out during the late 50s to another department store chain which would quickly fold. The store space was rented out during the late 60s and early 70s to a few short lived clothing stores. In the early 70s, the space was divided. With the right side (Jos. A Bank) becoming a Vespa Dealership for many years, and the left side was first an exercise equipment shop, then an asian grocery store.

The Terrazzo tile entrance is one of, if not the only remaining original piece of flooring.
This was one of the original entrances into Meyer Bros. The store would have expanded to the left where the bookshelves now sit.
This wall is what was added to separate out the two parcels. This would have happened during the 1970s split. When the “Thai-Asian Market” took over the left half of the original building.

During the 1970s Rice Village experienced a decline, with the popularization of indoor malls, and suburban bound movement. The worst of this was during the late 70s. Many people focused on the idea that Rice Village was full of adult shops, seedy bars, and bad clubs. At one point, the Jos. A Bank portion of the building was used as a club. The reality of this was actually that Rice Village had become a mix of bars, some adult stores, and multiple ethnic food shops. Regardless traffic dropped, and so did the quality of tenants.

So far as I can tell, the balcony is in its original location.
The grand staircase at the rear of the store does not actually sit against the rear wall. There is a small passageway leading to what would have been the other half of the store.
I’m relatively sure a chandelier sat here at one point. It would have probably been removed after the Meyer Bros left.
This was one of the coolest things in the store, an elevation plan showing the facade which was approved by the city. Notice that Fu’s Garden sits where Joseph A. Bank now sits.

When Half Price Books announced their intent to move into what had most recently been a Thai grocery store, some updates needed to be made to the building. It was basically the leftover 2nd story portion of the original Meyer Bros store, and whatever little space existed under it. As such HPB also acquired a small piece of the building next door.  A book store was considered a higher end tennant for Rice Village at the time, even if it was used books. This would begin a chain of gentrification that gives us the Rice Village of today.

This back corner was expanded at some point with the room straight ahead being added on. The murals were one of my favorite parts of the HPB. Very well done, and providing useful information too!
A floorplan of the first floor from 2010. The two rooms in the top left, were built as an addition, and the Kids rooms actually expand into the building next door.
This was an addition room.
As was this one, the difference in floor level leads me to wonder if this is a result of leftover portions of the original 1940s store.

In the end, according to Half Price Books what finally drew them out was the hike in rent. It’s somewhat ironic to consider that the fact that Half Price’s own existence is what led to its eventual downfall. In a city like Houston it’s not hard to imagine Rice Village falling apart, and being torn down for condos, or other cheap housing. However this building has managed to stick around into 2020, let’s hope it remains a bit longer.