Happy Fourth of July! To celebrate lets check out two chains both on their second run in Houston. Steak ‘n Shake returned to Houston in 2008 with their Eldridge and 1960 location. With the Katy, Pearland, and Webster locations opening 2012-2013. The previous incarnation of Steak n Shake dated from the mid-1970s and would only last until 1978. While I was never able to find an exact reason for them leaving Houston, it seems that lack of proper management was the largest cause.
The second run of Steak ‘n Shake is deffinetly the winner for overall length, but there are gaps when the stores closed usually around a few months at a time. There were even times when signage was removed from the building in an attempt to lease but no tenants were found. While COVID has given major issues to many restaurant chains, Steak ‘n Shake was circling the drain before any of this began. For a while now, the company has tried to convert locations from corporate ownership, to franchises with many stores sitting empty awaiting a new fate.
Right across I-10 from the former Steak’n Shake is where Taco Bueno has decided reentered the Houston market. As previously mentioned this is the second go around for Taco Bueno in Houston. In the 1980s the chain opened a small number of locations around Houston. These buildings had very striking adobe style architecture, with some former locations maintaining their themeing.
Carl’s Jr. leaving the Houston area happened in a similar manner to Steak ‘n Shake, a few months ago. It’s also worth noting that while Taco Bueno was once associated with Carl’s Jr. this ended about 20 years ago. Hopefully Taco Bueno will be successful, but only time will tell, and with the current pandemic this may be a challenge.
Check out Houston Historic Retail on Facebook for updates: https://www.facebook.com/HoustonHistoricRetail
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
As with many of my current readers, I still have a huge, Swamplot shaped hole in my heart. The rise in my frequency of posting is largely due in part to a few readers contacting me and mentioning that this site helped somewhat to fill the void. In my research I sometimes check demolition reports. I have been wanting to share the demolition reports I’ve seen. However, I wanted to make some distinctions from Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report. I’m only featuring commercial properties which have: some connection to retail, are interesting, or are historic.
Welcome back readers, this week we find ourselves at a closed Carl’s Jr. Not for an update on the departed burger joint, but rather what will be taking its place. Back in April of 2019 Taco Bueno announced their intent to repurpose the building. For those unaware, Taco Bueno is a mid size quick service “Tex-Mex” style restaurant. Take that categorization with a grain of salt, as their menu somewhat resembles Taco Bell’s.
Although a few advantages Taco Bueno has over Taco Bell would be, a higher reputation of quality, and a semi-local connection to Abilene, Texas. The company has had issues with ownership, and debt within the past few years and had emerged from bankruptcy only 2 months prior to the announcement of the Katy store.
As implied in the title this is actually Taco Bueno’s second attempt in Houston. In the early 80’s the company expanded into Houston in a venture lasting only a couple of years. Let’s hope that this attempt lasts a little bit longer. Although honestly, I’m a bit more partial to the idea of expanding Taco Casa.
In a somewhat shocking update to the Mercado 6/Big Kmart saga, the flea market in West Houston has bit the dust. The store which I visited on two separate occasions in the past few years, has been purchased and gutted. The news seemed to break early this year around the time I published my last update. A few online reviews noted that “the store” was closed, but I naively assumed this meant individual shops. Driving back to the future 7-Eleven from Sunday’s post I noticed the vacant parking lot and stopped to snap a few photos.
Trying to look up what is going to happen to the building is unsuccessful. The company which bought the property was created solely to buy it. It does share an address with some other retail investment properties, but again it doesn’t point to much. From what’s going on inside it does look like the building shell may be saved, although we’ll have to wait and see if anything on the exterior is saved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This last summer I took some time to visit friends and extended family in Cleveland, Ohio. The whole Northeastern Ohio region is like a time capsule for retail. Chains you thought went bust like Rax still reign king in small towns. While visiting I stopped into Discount Drug Mart and was surprised to learn that they still develop film. I bought a roll, and a camera from Goodwill. Here are some of the photos I took.
A funny little vignette to end with. While driving out of the former Kroger parking lot, I ran over a nail. I was able to make it onto a nearby highway before noticing and pulling off. This last summer hit a high temperature record for Cleveland of 97 degrees. Predictably (according to Murphy’s law) I had my flat tire on this day. Once I stopped and began to change my tire, I had multiple people stop and offer me water or help. They were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the heat. Thankfully my Texan background and Cleveland’s much lower humidity made this a relatively painless tire changing experience. By the way, turns out sweating works, it just has to be able to evaporate!
I hope you enjoyed watching me muddle through a film shoot. This was a practice run for a Houston attempt. Though I will definitely have to buy a better camera before that.
A little over a year ago I made plans to return to Mission Bend’s most prominent Flea Market, Mercado 6! Well, I was finally was able to head back and get some photos of the interior of this former Kmart. Now masquerading as a flea market, store 4884 as it was formerly known was mostly built during 1992 opening in early 1993. At 110,000 Square Feet it was a notably larger Kmart store. Its size puts it on par with a standard Wal-Mart of the time. This was at a time when most Americans knew Kmart for having smaller and older stores compared to competitors. This new store was a state of the art location with a K-Cafe/Little Caesars, Pharmacy, and possibly an Auto Center. Along with an expanded selection of its basic fare (clothing, home goods, etc..) It also featured Pantry Items, which including some basic grocery, expanded cleaning supplies, and an expanded pharmacy selection.
The size and extra features planned for the Epmenada Kmart where due to a nearby competition. Walmart which was located at 14550 Beechnut (right at the intersection with Highway 6) opened in 1985. This location was a standard to smaller mid 80s suburban store. There was also a Target at Bellaire and Highway 6, which had also recently opened in 1985. At the time, not many peopled lived off of Highway 6, except for a prominent new housing development located on the west side of the highway, named Mission Bend. Built mostly as housing for employees of the new Shell Research complex it was on the other side of Alief Clodine and the railroad (now Westpark Tollway). It easily dwarfed any other housing project in the area, and the houses were built to “luxurious 1980’s standards”. Walmart and Target would continue unabated, without any serious competition in the area until Kmart announced their store. The location would put Kmart literally halfway between the competitors and directly across from Mission Bend. This threat would push Walmart which was just above 90,0oo Square Feet, to plan an expansion to put their store above 130,000 square feet. Walmart would add an auto center, snack bar, and expand their selling floor considerably.
As the development of Western Houston had continued for sometime, the desirability of the Mission Bend area began to collapse. It was quite quick process, and while many people have linked it to things such as the 1980s Oil Crisis, and overbuilding, some of it is likely due to the fact that much larger homes were being built further West for the same price. Housing issues aside, all three retailers were doing well in terms of sales. As previously mentioned no new meaningful competition would be built on Highway 6 between Alief Clodine and 90-A for years, and the Kmart would be the last new Mission Bend store of any real size until HEB opened their new store in the early 20000s.
While the Mission Bend area was experiencing as decline, the West Oaks Mall area (Westheimer and Highway 6) would experience a huge amount of growth. Just as Kmart was building their store another midwestern department store had made plans to enter the Houston area. Venture had decided to enter the Houston area by building 13 stores throughout the area. As this was Venture’s first major expansion they were able to spend quite a bit of money on choosing locations. An over expansion among other things would cause Venture to file for bankruptcy. This Bankruptcy filing would motivate Kmart to acquire 10 of these “prime locations”.
In August of 1997 the Venture Department Store at 14411 Westheimer closed during the final stages of a liquidation which had begun only a month prior in July. The store was still quite new, only 4 years old, making it a year younger than the Highway 6 and Empanada Kmart location. Although the age difference was not what motivated Kmart to purchase the Venture location when liquidations were announced. It was the premium position directly across from West Oaks Mall, and next to the Kmart owned Builder’s Square.
The closings of original Kmart stores were also quite sudden, with Kmart treating this as a move, rather than closing and reopening. Venture staff was laid off, although they were given a chance to reapply at Kmart for new positions. After liquidations were completed, any remaining items were removed with only the building left. The idea was that Kmart could bring certain furniture from the old stores, and implement new items were slated to be replaced during the “Big Kmart” remodel plan which was happening across the nation. The Venture stores in Houston were purchased by Kmart purely for the ability reopen as Big Kmarts.
By the late 90s Kmart was known to most in Houston as being a lower-end discounter. Many even considered it below Wal-Mart, and most consider lower than Target. This image problem was not just local. With a focus on expanding stores, and opening new Super Kmarts many stores had not received and sort of decor or signage update in years. The Big Kmart remodel was the plan to fix this reputation problem. Not only would Kmart improve the decor of the store, they would improve the reputation as well. Wider aisles were part of the plan. Along with a reduction in discount items and an increase in higher end brands.
The West Oaks Venture store was quite a bit smaller than that the Empanada Kmart. Coming in at about 97,000 square feet, Venture lacked many Kmart features, such as a Garden Center, Auto Center, and Pantry. Most Houston area Kmarts were 70’s and 80s locations, which meant that the difference in size could be dealt with. However, the Empanada Kmart’s wider product selection did have to be somewhat reduced to fit into its new home.
After the move was completed in 1997 the Empanada Kmart would end up sitting vacant for about 5 years. In 2002 Kmart was finally able to sell the property to a group of investors who had plans to open a flea market. As the store was undergoing a remodel during the move, many unneeded items had been left behind. Including display cases, register stands, and most of the contents of the K-Cafe. These would be reused by flea market vendors, one of which would essentially reopen the K-Cafe.
In its early days the location was simply known as “Highway 6 Flea Market” and had no specific target. With a waning economy it was renamed “Mercado 6” in the mid 2000s to better fit the areas growing Hispanic population. The Food Court (former K-Cafe) began to sell Mexican treats in addition to the Kmart Fare, and signage was updated to be bilingual. This rebranding continues successfully to this day, with Mercado 6 being one of the larger flea markets in this area of Houston.
In 2003, one year after the old Kmart had been converted to a flea market, the new location would close with another liquidation occuring in the former Venture building. This time taking place under the Big Kmart label. The chain claimed it was essentially going through what Venture had done only 5 years prior. The reality of it being that Kmart was going through a scandal of hiding debt somewhat similar to what Enron had undertaken. The end of the Venture based Kmarts in Houston was the beginning of the end for Kmart as a whole. The final Kmart to be built had opened just a year prior with some newer stores even left unfinished at this point the few stores that are left likely won’t be able to hold on past a few years. The former Venture building would sit vacant for a few years, with the Builder’s Square (another Kmart property) taking the same fate as well. Burlington Coat Factory would eventually move in, performing a full gutting of the building. In 2018 the property was vacated again as Burlington moved up Westheimer to a newer building. The old Venture now sits vacant after Alief ISD purchased it with plans to convert it to a training facility.
Greetings loyal reader, with Halloween approaching I feel it’s time to provide an update. As my sporadic posting schedule continues I don’t want you to think I have abandoned my site. Prior to this the most recent update was the publishing of my Del Taco and Steak N Shake pages. I’ll provide some more information as to what’s coming up at the end of this post.
One of the oldest trends in retail photography are photos of abandoned places. Originally retail photography seemed to be somewhat of a subgenre of abandoned photography. I remember my first connection with retail photography being a blog post about an abandoned McDonald’s in Indiana. As retail grew into its own fandom, the phraseology began to change to differentiate us. An example would be the term “dead mall”. The characteristics of a dead mall vary from person to person. However, broad strokes would include something along the lines of having most or all anchors closed, few to no major brand stores left in the mall, low tenancy, but not completely vacant either. It’s a mall which is basically on its last legs.
Today we start by looking at a Halloween Pop-Up, in a former Palais Royal. Opened in 1998, it was a late addition to the shopping center and as far as I can tell was the replacement for long defunct Craig’s Clothing. Usually pop-up shops, Halloween or otherwise, do a poor job covering up what store used to host them. For the most part they come in put up their racks, merchandise, and do the best they can to cover at least copyrighted decor or anything which confuse the customer. This also happens to be the way in which vacated chain shops in dead malls are usually converted. However, there is a key difference between the two examples.
As seen in this photo fixtures, shelving, and all merchandise are all generally pulled. Although, much is left behind showing this store’s history. Examples from this photo include the well kept tile floor, and the difficult to see built-in shelving towards the front of the store. What sets conversions apart from pop-ups is conversions are far more permanent. This shoddy work is usually a requirement of the lease which prohibits any changes to the structure.
If appropriate for the situation, conversions will generally utilize built-in features such as Fitting Rooms. However conversions will usually install their own temporary fitting rooms, to better suite their needs. The Halloween Express folks were still in the process of building out the store when I visited in late September. The Fitting Rooms were still accessible, but the removal of the sign, and layout of merchandise as seen above indicated that they would probably not continue to utilize this space.
“Crowd Control” is generally limited to strategically placing shelving material along whatever sections the temporary tenants wishes to close off. Unfortunately I was unable to capture an image of the vacated sales space, as it was being used as a backroom. This seems to be somewhat common for conversions. My guess would be that back rooms are often much hotter, and less desirable places to work in. As conversions generally don’t utilize all of the floor space their hosts once needed, this makes sense. However, not all conversions have this advantage.
One pop-up which has no trouble using up floor space, is this Spirit Halloween in the former Walgreens on Highway 6 and Westheimer. The smaller size of this location compared to big-box pop-ups means that floor space and back room layouts are still somewhat preserved. After Walgreens closed in early 2017, this building has sat vacant for nearly 3 years. Mostly being used as a garbage dump, and occasionally a stop for outdoor “vendors” (Not unlike the rug vendors who squatted at the vacant Exxon across Westheimer for years). Before we take a look inside, I wanted to demonstrate how horrific the exterior conditions had become.
Less apparent but still noticeable in the signage photo, is the lack of attention to the plants growing around the edge of the building. The trees and bushes were so thick they felt like a curtain which was protecting the store from the highway. As well, the grass was high enough that you would want to look at the ground before walking. I personally would not have felt the building was in ready to open condition. However, pop-up shops seem to open quite early, due to their limited time frame.
Getting into the Walgreens we see some obvious pop-up compromises. Walgreens used those huge mirrors up above to assist their employees and cameras in loss prevention. However, Spirit is far less concerned and covered up about half of the mirror space with their banner. Some other remnants would be the huge security camera domes. Although the iconic blue “Security Camera” placards had been removed. Most of the rest of the store had been covered up.
Overall this wasn’t a bad setup, although the exterior conditions were lacking, a nicely detailed interior helped to make up for it. One thing you may notice is the number of boxes everywhere. Boxes are kept at stores like these as when they shut down everything is shipped back, and warehoused until next Halloween. It’s not like a liquidation where everything is sold off.
Speaking of Liquidations, our next stop is Babies ‘R Us a chain of stores which recently went through liquidations. As such Spirit is also the first store to open up in the former space. However the wait is not quite as extreme as the Walgreens. Notice the exterior theming is much different that the last location. No inflatable displays, banner signs, or anything really other than a very plain sign. I would guess this is either signage permit requirements in Sugar Land, or a requirement by the shopping center.
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at some Costumed Conversions for Halloween. Be sure to stick around, I have multiple updates planned between now and Christmas (lets see if I stick to that!). Anyhow, if the slow update pace bugs you, I do update my Facebook somewhat more regularly.