A look into Houston's retail past

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.

Why the newest Target in Houston was actually an early Christmas Present

With all the craziness this year I haven’t had much time to tend to my blog. I was hoping to have this post out much earlier, but today we’ll be talking about why the newest Target in Houston is so special. With the holiday season wrapping up, there’s a good chance you’ve been to a Target lately, or at least in their parking lot. Target has an old history in Houston, they were the second of the large national discount department chains to arrive following Kmart.


Some photos of the building in its post Randalls pre Traget phase in June.

 

 

Target’s first Houston store opened in 1969 and resembled a modern Hypermarket, including a full grocery store. While novel at the time these features helped Target gain a foothold in what later became a two chain race. By the early 2000s Kmart was out of the picture, Target fell behind Wal-Mart in many aspects. For example their stores were much smaller than most Wal-Marts around town. Also, outside of Super Target locations most stores did not carry fresh foods. Finally, Target had been cutting down many departments, and eliminating some entirely. While Target did try to make up for some of this with constant remodels and their P-Fresh grocery expansion, it was small compared to what Wal-Mart was willing to try in the Houston area.

 

I had a chance earlier this year to stop by the new Target in Shepherd Square. This was actually a few days before the grand opening in November. The store was open to the general public without any announcement.
The facade was updated by Target to accommodate their signage, but otherwise looks just like Randall’s did. Going so far as to use the original dual entryway corridor. The parking lot also remains unchanged, specifically lacking a Target “pickup tower”.
The former Randall’s restaurant entrance is being used as a secondary entrance with access to Customer Service, and the grocery side of the store. At the moment this is the only option for drive-up. I’m guessing Target’s lease does not allow modification of the parking lot. The patio cover is original as well.
Once you step inside though any sense of Randall’s familiarity is lost. It looks just like any other Target you’ve seen in the past few months. Target has always been pretty good about uniformity in their design and styling. This is the beauty section.
Next is the health and pharmacy department. This surprised me as the section is just about as big as most other Target locations. With six short aisles in front of CVS.
Right behind me was the home goods section of the store. Pillows, Rugs, Etc.. This along with clothing was probably one 1/3 of what you would see in a normal Target. For home goods and clothing there was a decent amount of choice and selection, but limited stock of most items.
Flipping back to the pharmacy side, you can see that the Health and pharmacy selection appears to be pretty standard for a Target. They even had an endcap dedicated to lip balm.
This whole section was dedicated to men’s beard and hair care. At this point we hit the back right corner of the store. To the left is Electronics, Sporting Goods, and Toys. These were the final departments being stocked and as such I was unable to grab any photos.
While I couldn’t get any direct photos I wanted to show how large these departments were. The baby department borders toys which is made up of about six aisles with sporting goods mixed in. Electronics had a large wall mounted TV display, along with its own service counter, and electronics displays. They had half height shelving and locked cases just like mainstream Targets.
Turning back around we can see the far left corner of the store. The backroom is located behind the toys, sporting goods, and electronics. From this point to the back left the aisles approximately double in length. These larger departments are baby, cleaning supplies, pet, and some grocery overstock.
This close up shot shows how deep the rear aisles were. The aisles are bisected with a walkway about halfway through. Without the walkway these aisles would be just above a standard Houston Target. The selection and stock in this corner of the store was also pretty close to a normal Target.
Moving closer to the far left corner, there is a large “dent” into the building that seems like more backroom space but is actually the wall of the building which is bound by a preexisting rear neighbor.
The rear of the grocery section is much smaller than the front. As such selection and stock are more limited. While the fresh grocery has a decent selection, canned and boxed goods were in limited supply compared with a normal Target.
About halfway down the grocery section the aisles open up. Selection is still quite limited on most fresh foods when compared to Randall’s but is not far off from the Galleria Target.
The coolers to the left are meant for Beer and Wine but were empty as I believe the TABC permit was tied to the grand opening date.
I believe this is where the pharmacy was during Randall’s but I can’t be positive as I hadn’t been to this location in years when it closed. Most aisles could contain two carts side by side, with the grocery section having a slightly bigger clearance.
The back stock in grocery was good compared to other departments. While I know that regular Targets have some backroom space for grocery I have been told it is one of the smaller departments.
This photo shows the selection of things like juices, and drink mixes. I’m guessing these are items that Target is expecting will drive people into their store.
These are the two aisles of frozen food to the right. It is about equivalent to what is in the Galleria Target. Directly forward is the second entrance along with Guest Services, Starbucks, and Order Pickup.
The front corner of the market provides a look at the entire Refrigerated section, along with most of the produce to the left. This was one of the busier sections as people seemed interested in what groceries the store carried.
With the business of this section of the store it was difficult to get any good pictures. The tables to the right are the extent of the fresh baked goods. From here you can also see the Guest Serbives, and self checkout a bit better.
The produce and fruit at this store is very limited. While there were a few items I didn’t get photos of in a cooler to the right it wasn’t much more.
The grocery section did feature a large amount of dairy, and dairy substitute products. Again I’m thinking these are one of the items that will draw business in.
The meat case was much smaller than most other Targets in the area. Specifically putting items like butter, cream cheese, bacon sausage, and ground beef all in the same case.
The grab and go case had some prepared meals and sandwiches, very limited but still a nice option for customers.
The front of the store consists of the cards and party section seen here, office supplies, and the seasonal section. With the exception of seasonal these sections are never terribly big in a Target.
The party and office supplies are evenly split into six short aisles, with each department taking three. To the left you can see the clothing section of the store. As with any other Target women’s clothing takes the lion’s share of the space.
In the office department the selection is about half of what you’d expect to find at a regular Target, but stock levels seemed pretty good. This was also in the final stages of being stocked, as I think some of these items are located in electronics in a full line Target.
Many Targets now feature multiple seasonal sections. With generally at least 2 per store. One is the larger display with fixed shelving towards the rear of the store, the second generally being moveable shelving near the entrance. This Target had what seemed to be a combo of these two ideas. It wasn’t a very large space but it was densely packed.
Moving past seasonal we return to the Entrance/Exit and find the checkouts. The second entrance has only self-checkout so this is your only option for larger purchases. There are also a few extra self checkouts on the far edge here.
One last shot to close us out shows that even the checkout counters in this store are designed to save space.

Houston seems to rarely be a test market for most national companies. I think we’re seen as being easy to adapt to other markets’ preferences. I’m no market researcher though… In the 2000s Wal-Mart had multiple test stores throughout Houston. For example Mas Club, a Hispanic version of Sam’s Club, along with Supermercado de Walmart, a Hispanic version of a Neighborhood Market, and Sam’s Club Business Centers which were tailored for small business owners. While these prototypes were eventually closed they did provide Houston a chance to provide influence and input for a national chain.

When it was announced that Target would be taking the former Randall’s space in Shepherd Square I assumed this would mean a full teardown of the shopping center. I envisioned everything from the former Randall’s to the right would be torn down and rebuilt as a two story Target. Once details emerged that the Target was not only to retain the original Randall’s footprint, but the building too I was somewhat shocked. I still figured things like the entrances would be reconfigured, and possibly expanded somewhat. It was only when I drove by the Target that I realized not even the brick facade had changed (save for the new sign).

After walking through the store I realized that the product selection had been very carefully crafted. The grocery selection wasn’t as extensive but provided a decent selection on par with Randall’s prices, and necessities would be well within reach for those who needed them such as the pharmacy and baby sections. This Target is an early Christmas Present not because it was the brand new two story behemoth I imagined, but because it was designed around our community and to fit our needs.

The Ghost of Sears Past | Willowbrook Sears dresses up for Halloween

As of 2020 Sears has nearly left the Houston area. They have shutdown all but the Pasadena store, sold their outlet chain, and shutdown all area Hometown stores. It’s really a shame for a chain that once had a major influence over the Greater Houston area. Their presence in this town was built as the city grew starting downtown and expanding to the suburbs as our sprawl progressed. In 1978 Sears announced plans for three new stores along with two new malls to be built by the company’s Homart division. At FM 149 (Now TX-249) and FM 1960 would be Willowbrook Mall to the South I-10 and Mason was to be the site of Meadowbrook Mall. The plans also called for a Sears at 59 and FM 1960 but a mall was not announced.

Of the three new stores only two would be built with Meadowbrook Mall never coming to fruition. Likely due to competition from the proposed Williamsburg Mall but that’s a story for another day! Source: Houston Chronicle.

Today we’re taking a look at one of these former locations. The Willowbrook store closed in mid-2020 amid the pandemic and unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the closing sale. However to my surprise it has “reopened” under the Spirit Halloween banner. While Spirit is no newcomer to Houston area, they tend to go for smaller shops as seen in last years post.

The sign on the North side of the building is still up. This can only be seen when driving along the backside of the mall as is not visible from either highway.
I believe this entrance was at one point Customer Pickup but I couldn’t verify it. The doors are however now being used as an employee entrance for Spirit.
The grand arches seem to be unique to this Sears. Although I’m sure there are other examples. Spirit has multiple banners up, but none where Sears had their signage.
All store entrances were closed with paper signs directing you to use the mall entrance. Notice that there are a large number of fixtures left behind.
The mall front sign is a new one for me! Although I’ve seen Halloween stores in malls before they usually use banners.
Walking into the Spirit only a tiny portion of the former Sears floor space was being used as sales floor. Including the “backroom” Spirit only took just under 1/3 of the downstairs.
Some of the original fixtures were being used behind the scenes as storage, like these hangers used for products that had “slipped out of their packaging”.
I’m not sure exactly what this counter was as it was un-staffed but I think it was either makeup or more specialized costumed. This area was the back right of the sales floor, and was significantly larger than the left side. You can see through the door that a separate backroom was setup here.
This long shot really shows how big the space was compared to most other Halloween stores. This was only about half of the sales floor.
This photo was taken directly in reverse of the last one. I believe that this carpeted area was the mall entrance checkout. It’s possible that may have hosted the a small amount of the jewelry section but it was difficult to tell as the store had been well kept.
Moving over towards the back left corner of the store you can tell this was a clothing area based on the column mirror. You can also see the aforementioned escalator above the false wall.
Peeking behind the curtain again, I was able to see even more abandoned fixtures. If you look directly to the back you can see an escalator and another abandoned price check mount.
While Sears is selling the actual price check devices the signage and mounts were all left in the store.

While I was a little disappointed by the amount of the Sears that was reused, with no dressing rooms or original fixtures present I did enjoy getting a chance to check out the Willowbrook Sears at least one last time. On the way out of the mall, I noticed something was up with the Old Navy. I had seen the false front on the way in, but had figured it was a COVID related closure. Especially with the large red “We’re Open!” signs.

On closer inspection the red sign was from Old Navy Canada, and the false entrance was in Old Navy colors but was otherwise unbranded.
Looking at the note on the door, it seems that Old Navy hasn’t been paying their lease! As of this posting the store is still listed as temporarily closed. Could this be the feature of a new post? We’ll find out soon!

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!

Steak ‘n Shake leaves Houston and Taco Bueno Arrives

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 signs had been removed completely by July 2nd
While the Katy location has already been leased to Eggcellence I haven’t been able to visit Pearland or Webster to see their fate.

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.

The building is in rough shape, and looked this way prior to closing.
The closing was hasty, with menus being left in place and only handwritten signs informing customers.

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.

The Carl’s Jr sign was reused with the star extension removed   
The exterior elements like the stars around the build were sanded away, and the entrances received new stone facades
Much of the inside of the restaurant remains the same, including the soda fountain, which still has all the same drink selections.
All the read themed seating was left in place, and after a much needing cleaning actually looks pretty nice.

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

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.

My attempt at a classic, February’s Retail Demolition Report

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.

1134 Hamblen according to some old Chronicle Ads this was originally a Phillips 66. Source: Google Street View
02/03/20 – 1134 Hamblen Rd Humble, TX 77339 Late 70s Coastal Station looks like it hasn’t sold gas in a few years
02/04/20 – 812 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77006 Theo’s Greek Restaurant which closed in January due to planned demolition of the strip center it leases space in.
02/13/20 – 747 Dairy Ashford Rd Houston, TX 77079 Originally a Bill Blankenship Firestone most recently an independent auto shop.
02/24/20 – 2600 S Richey St Houston, TX 77017 UTBAPH (Used to be a Pizza Hut) property now owned by 7-Eleven
02/25/20 – 1508 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77006 Demolition of a storage shed by new occupant “Cutthroat” possibly a third location of the Barbershop?
02/28/20 – 4111 Fannin St Houston, TX 77004 Demolition of the former Sears Midtown Auto Center, great Street View from when it was still open. Seem like it will become a parking garage.

Welcome back Taco Bueno!

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.

The base of the Carl’s Jr. Sign remains in place, painted black. The top star section has been completely removed. Notice a Taco Bueno banner on the other side of the driveway.
Taco Bueno’s banner can be seen next to the door. The neon open 24 hour sign is a holdover from Carl’s Jr. Most of what has been done to the building has been an attempt to the cover up the previous tenant. The red canopies which hung above the windows have been removed.
Stone has been added to the entryway replacing brick. The stucco has also received a new coat of paint, the lighting and metal canopies were retained.
The interior is mostly untouched. Some table tops have been taken out, and the internal canopies/signage were removed as well.
The metal from the canopies along with the vinyl from them were sitting around the dumpster. The sign is the one of the aforementioned interior signs. This was the “Refreshments” one.
The Carl’s Jr. logo was covered as soon as the location permanently closed.
The menu board was left in this half removed state. Everything will likely be replaced by the new Taco Bueno.
This paint color is likely what the entire building will end up in. Plaster stars were removed from both sides of the building.

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.