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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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.