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.
The idea of being a “fan of retail” has gained a good deal of traction in the last couple of years. With the prevalence of Facebook groups, YouTube Channels, Discord Servers interest in retail is growing. My interest in retail began with the discovery of some of the earliest retail blogs. As retail has become more mainstream it has started to develop an “aesthetic”, based mostly around nostalgia. This aesthetic extends to an interest in abandoned things and Vaporwave. Fun stuff, but it’s not what really got me started with retail. What really got me started, all the way back in the days of dial-up, was an interest in unique design.
Today we’ll be talking about The Portofino Shopping Center. Located off of I-45 in Shenandoah, Texas, Portofino is closer to The Woodlands, than Houston City limits. Although it does fall inside of the Houston Metro Area. My first encounter with this shopping center must have been around the about 2000. It would have been with my grandfather on to his home town of Groesbeck, a tiny berg East of Waco. The drive required us to take I-45, which was at the time a small two lane highway. Driving through what was mostly pine forest, I noticed something in the distance a massive shopping center. The trees mostly obstructed the view, but you could tell that this was a MAJOR project for what was at the time a mostly rural area.
Speeding down the highway chauffeured by my grandfather in his ’88 Ramcharger. The height of the car helped to make up for the somewhat obstructed view. The further along we followed the shopping center the thinner the tree line became. With more and more of the brilliant architecture peeking through the green curtain. At this point most of the buildings had yet to be painted. Although a primer coat had been applied making all the unopened shops shine brilliantly white. The huge spires, and detailed plaster work burned an image of the unfinished leviathan into my brain. One that I would be sure to look for on our next trip to Groesbeck.
After my first glance at the Portofino Shopping Center, every trip North gave me a chance to check out at the developing complex. My grandfather who was also intrigued by the center kept me updated with the occasional newspaper articles he would encounter as an avid Chronicle reader. On one of our trips we took the exit and attempted to drive up to the view the shopping center. Unfortunately at the time I-45 was undergoing a huge expansion, which meant access to the store was quite difficult. We ended up getting back on the highway and I never again had occasion to actually stop and visit Portofino again until this summer.
My fiancee and I were on my way to a get together, we made plans to buy shoes meaning I only had a short amount of time from the parking lot. Some eagle eyed readers may notice that I had to leave some stores out. Some like Old Navy, have been redesigned and no longer resemble their original Italian inspired design. Others like Stein Mart, I was just not able to get a good shot of due to the weather and time limits. After taking these photos I did some research into the background of the shopping center. I had remembered some of the story from my grandfather’s Chronicle Article updates, those memories had mostly faded.
What I found on the Portofino Shopping Center turned out to be quite an interesting story. The brainchild of Jim Fisher, a developer who was inspired to build this after a trip to Italy. Some of the special features included a bell tower, fountain, actual imported limestone; all of which are located in the central shopping center shown above. The shopping center also had 8 Gondolas imported from Italy soon after the grand opening. This is something I actually remembered from my grandfather’s updates. My grandfather was quite interested in trying out the Gondola ride, until seeing the price of $10/ticket.
The Portofino Shopping Center held its grand opening celebration on August 26, 2000. Some of the major opening day tenants included Bucca Di Beppo, Famous Footwear, Men’s Wearhouse, and Stein Mart. This first wave of stores would quickly be followed by a secondary set of stores. In the original section stores were divided into two generations. Those which took part in the grand opening and those that did not. All of these stores were designed to the original shopping center specifications in terms of decor and design. For the most part many spaces seemed to be leased prior to the grand opening.
Stores such as Michael’s were “first generation” stores. While, Oshaman’s (Now PGA Tour Superstore) is an example of a second generation store. It is difficult to tell first and second generation stores apart, generally the only difference being the opening date. According to newspaper articles the majority of the budget was spent constructing the original section. This is also apparent when visiting the shopping center. The smaller tenants, which were added on to the second generation stores, were not nearly as elaborate earlier designs.
With staggered openings, and a blown budget the developers began to tone down their designs. This is more apparent when you realize that the arches are not even finished on the right side of Buffalo Wild Wings in the photo above! Although built on a smaller budget, the unique aspect is still kept with this design. The arches and bell towers, all add to a unique beauty not really seen in modern shopping centers. Influenced by classic design and architecture, Portofino does not seem to simulate the Italian Shopping experience, but rather to create an experience.
Overall my first visit to Portofino was a positive one. I enjoyed getting to see all of the stores up close. Although as far as I could tell the Gondolas had not been run in quite some time. The Portofino Shopping Center lives on as a monument to unique, high budget retail architecture. I should be back soon, with a Halloween Post (Time Permitting) in the meantime check out Houston Historic Retail’s Facebook for more occasional updates.
The Astrodome served as the first home for Houston’s one and only MLB team from 1965 to 1999. As far as baseball stadiums went, it was incredible at the time. The Astrodome was fully enclosed, air conditioned, and provided a ton of food options for hungry stadium goers. At the time of construction, the Astrodome helped set the standards for modern baseball stadiums.
In 2000 The Astros made the decision to move from the Astrodome to the newly built Enron Field. Just as the Astrodome had nearly 50 years earlier, Enron Field was full of innovation, including a retractable roof, outdoor A/C, and increased retail opportunities.
I recently had occasion to catch an Astros game. While I’ve been to Minute Maid Park a few times before, most of my memories the Astros are in the Astrodome. Making the trip up to our nosebleed seats provided many opportunities for surprise. As I learned that retail operations in baseball stadiums had changed from the simple Hot Dog, and Beer Stands I remembered as a child.
One of my first surprises was Shake Shack! A newcomer to the Houston area, the New York based chain has been beloved by many. Growing from a single Galleria location in 2016 to four by 2018. Constantly compared to In-N-Out Burger, who has yet begin any construction in Houston as of May 2019. The menu has most of the normal Shake Shack offerings, but is not complete.
Directly across from Shake Shack was a Pluckers. An Austin transplant, both Pluckers and Shake Shack are extremely popular with younger crowds. While the overall attendance at Minute Maid is mixed in age, the customers in this area skewed to the younger demographics. Pluckers was extremely busy which made it difficult to see the menu.
Located above Shake Shack and Pluckers was Torchys. While the sign might look incomplete the “T” on the left was so bright, that I couldn’t fully frame it in the photo. Located in a small corner the area is dark, this along with the bright signage help to match a typical Torchys.
I was able to catch a picture of the menu at Torchy’s. Showing that the menu is somewhat limited compared to the selections at a normal location. Although since it is a Torchy’s one has to wonder if they have any secret menu items.
One of the things I wasn’t expecting was the numerous carts around the stadium. I mostly remembered carts as selling only alcohol for those who didn’t want to wait in a food line. This is no longer the case, and in addition to selling alcohol many carts now sold food that was exclusive to the carts.
A great example is, Bahama Buck’s a familiar sight to anyone from Lubbock has been expanding their presence in the Houston area over the past five years. They had multiple stands around Minute Maid. All of which shaved their own ice. While the selection of flavors is limited compared to a normal Bahama Bucks, they have more than you’d expect!
This house brand sold fries, and for those like me who can only afford nosebleed seats, it’s one of your only options for fries on the top level. The name did remind me of Red Cow Entertainment’s BoxMac.
This was a big surprise to me. The La Michoacana Meat Market chain of stores, began in Houston. While they’re relatively well know for as a grocery store, I was unaware that they sold ready made food. This stand was located on the Concourse of the former Union Station.
Now with all the options available to a retail connoisseur such as myself, you might be surprised to learn that what I really wanted to eat was just a normal hot dog and some popcorn. Part of this is due to the enormous up charge all of these chain establishments take on when entering any kind of closed venue. Part of this was also nostalgia for Dome Dogs, which are not served at Minute Maid.
While some standard concession stands exist in the park, many have been updated. With half of the stalls being replaced by Order Kiosks and the other half a pickup stand. As far as I could tell there was little to no consistency between locations. Some of the hot dogs were Nolan Ryan Beef, some weren’t. It was just luck of the draw wherever you ended up.
One of the stands even used H-E-B Bake Shop Hot Dog Buns. I wasn’t expecting this and chose to buy my hot dog from this stand. Figuring that a store brand bun would be slightly better than whatever the default offering was. Unfortunately, my hot dog did not stand up to a Dome Dog. It could have been rose tinted glasses ruining my hot dog, but I’m guessing the quality just wasn’t that great.
Overall this proved to be a fun time, even though the ‘Stros lost, and the hot dog sucked. Going to a baseball game is fun because of the people you’re around. Not the food you eat! If you’ve liked my Facebook Page you had some idea that this post was coming. If you haven’t liked it, consider doing so. My Facebook page gets some extra content.
Growing up on the West Side of town meant when you wanted to go shopping you generally had to drive a bit. Around the time I entered Middle School my family moved from rural Richmond, to a suburb near Clodine. Driving in East on 1093, meant we would usually end up in one of the many shopping centers around Highway 6 and Westheimer. My family moved again shortly after I started college giving me little reason to visit the area. I took some time to visit the area, and see how things are going.
Due to living in the city now, my journey began heading Westbound. I noticed the former Eckerd turned CVS at Westheimer and Eldridge has closed, and is in the process of being converted to La Michocana. I also got a chance to stop at what was one of the first Stripe’s locations I ever saw. It has since been converted into an Ice Box location, but still mostly resembles Stripes.
Making it to Highway 6, we begin with the shopping center at the South East corner. This shopping center has seen major changes with no original anchor tenants from it’s late 90’s opening surviving past the mid-2000s. The three restaurants, and some smaller tenants are original. However, they recently lost Party City and Burlington to the newer center on Eldridge. With the Burlington replacing a Gander Mountain.
Moving down Highway 6 a bit, vacant commercial space is abundant. Strangely for the most part the vacant spaces shown here are newer. Vacancy at most of these shopping centers hit its peak in the early 2000s. While it’s not at the level it was back then, things are noticeably light.
The Northern side of these shopping centers has always been very food focused. With the exception of Chili’s, pretty much every food choice on the North side has changed. It was fun to go back and visit somewhere I had spent so much time at during my youth. Some aspects haven’t changed, but many have. For the most part the changes mark the changes in the neighborhood.
When the new year rolls around, it invites a certain amount of reflection. Unfortunately I’m a procrastinator. Which means I didn’t really think of a New Years resolution until the end of January.
This reflection led me to realize that this blog is no longer and un-monitored sub project of mine. Rather, I have at least a couple of regular readers linked via click-throughs from other blogs. So I wanted to extend a thanks to everyone who not only reads my blog, but especially to those who return to check for updates. I know they are somewhat sporadic, but I do can only work on this website as my schedule allows. If you’re looking for a slightly more modern way to check for updates, I ask that you give Houston Historic Retail a like on Facebook. I’m going to resolve to have more regular updates on Facebook to make up for the occasional downtime here.
In the mean time, please enjoy another addition of Random Retail!
Most of the photos I took, were spur of the moment. Anything I hadn’t seen before that caught my attention. I’m not sure if the McDonalds was an original Golden Arches that was remodeled, but the building had the long layout most modern stores have.
I can’t ever recall having stepped foot inside a Winn Dixie. They had a measurable Texas presence, albeit focused more towards Dallas. This location was very near our Hotel, in a suburb of Mobile known as Tillman’s Corner. The area is quite low income. This particular store features a “Dollar Shop” Which was just an extremely wide aisle, with shelving removed selling this at a Dollar price point. Honestly, if I wasn’t in dire need of some ibuprofen I likely would not have bought anything there. Despite their location, and obvious target demographic with the Dollar Shop, most items were extremely expensive.
Rite Aid is another chain that I have never been to. As far as I know, they never made it into Texas. There were many former Rite Aid locations in Mobile. I believe that all were purchased by Walgreens after their failed merger. Many locations are in the process of being remodeled. However, Walgreens already had a presence in Mobile. Meaning there were some duplicate locations which were closed.
You better believe, I did stop and get some delicious steamed hams, pardon me steamed sliders. This proved to be a more difficult endeavor then you would think. Requiring a trip to a second location, as this one had run out of buns. Then arriving at the second location, only to find it highly understaffed to handle the rush caused by the bun shortage.
Trying to fit in a stop by Frostop on the way to Mobile meant that I wasn’t able to really make nay other retail based stops on the drive-in. On the way back, I decided I wanted to try and seek out a Stuckey’s I hadn’t been to before. I had the perfect spot in mind. A newly opened location, converted from an independent C-Store with Exxon gasoline. A while back I had a discussion of, What makes a Stuckey’s a Stuckey’s with my friend Zap Actiondowser. We found that new Stuckey’s locations were being built. I had noticed a billboard in Louisiana touting this location as Stuckey’s return to the state.
One other stop I made we made was the original Raising Cane’s location. It’s located in a small strip center just outside the North Entrance to Louisiana State University. Reflecting its LSU heritage the outside of the building is adorned in Gold and Purple, and the interior features luxurious tiger skin seating.
I was recently able to collaborate with Youtuber Scott Dailey who has made some interesting and unique videos around the Houston area. We made a trip out to Simonton where an old San Antonio and Aranssas Pass bridge still stands, providing a connection to a railroad which was abandoned nearly 20 years ago. I was able to provide some history, and got some footage using my drone.
To kick off the new year, let’s try something new. We’re going to take a look at a Broken Chain. I was inspired to do this by my friend Zap Actiondowser who runs the blog Broken Chains, which I highly recommend all my readers go check out. A while back he featured a blog post on the Frostop Root Beer chain of restaurants. Admittedly I had never heard of the chain prior to Zap’s post. After reading his description of their root beer I was immediately hooked on the idea of getting my hands on some. I was able to try and love the bottled version sold at Rocket Fizz, I knew I had to get some from a fountain.
As luck would have it, my fiancee and I were invited to Mobile, Alabama to visit some friends over Christmas. The drive to Mobile required us to drive through Louisiana, and thus a stop at Frostop was in order! Checking Google Maps I found that there was Frostop was right off of I-10, in Baton Rouge. This would bode well as we had a deadline to meet for hotel check in. Approaching the building, I noticed that this particular location was still sporting their original mug sign. You could tell that the place had seen better days. While scouting out the location, pictures from earlier this year indicate the signage was in better shape earlier this year.
Making my way towards the building, I noticed something peculiar. Rather than an exact date the signage sports a “Since The 1950’s”. Frostop Root Beer has a history on its own website tracing the company back to 1926. While I understand that this location may have originated in the 50s, I still found it odd. Looking around the building, exterior features had been updated in a patch work fashion. Only giving attention to the spots that truly needed it. This would make it easy to believe to the casual passer by that Frostop was not a chain, but rather a single restaurant.
We made it to Frostop at around 4:30 PM. The inside was pretty quiet, with only a few diners. The menu features some curious additions to suit local tastes, namely the Po-Boys and Fried Fish dinners. Which I doubt showed up at the original Springfield, OH location. To keep things simple, I ordered a Chili Dog and my fiancee order a Chili Cheese Dog, we split an order of fries, and a large root beer. The order was taken and put into a modern POS system. Which printed a receipt at the grill for the cook to start. Despite the luddite-esque exterior the interior was jammed pack with technology, including multiple tablets for Uber Eats and the like. We were given our root beer told to have a seat, and that our number would be called shortly.
I tasted the root beer, which despite the photo above, was served out of a modern Coca-Cola Fountain. The root beer was served from a mostly unlabeled dispenser, which someone had cut a Barqs tag for leaving only “Root Beer” behind. I was immediately concerned about not being served the authentic Frostop Root Beer. There was something different about it from the bottled root beer. The flavor was still the same. However, it did not come across quite as strong as the bottled. I’m guessing this is down to someone not properly setting the syrup to carbonated water ratio. After waiting for a few minutes, I got antsy and in the interest of time decided to take some quick pictures of the dining room, rather than waiting until after the meal.
With plenty of time to wait, I found bits and pieces of the old restaurant starting to show through. There were many decorative root beer barrels, one of which was pictured above. However, none were original Frostop barrels. The laminate tiles were worn down in places like the front of the counter, and near the doorways. The seating was tired and torn up. Being just a few blocks North of LSU you would think that this was a popular college destination. However, for the most part we only saw small families or single diners throughout our time here. After about 20 minutes, a family who had ordered after us, received their food. Upon going to the front counter to find out where our two chili dogs were, I was told they had “completely forgotten about that”, and they’d get it out ASAP.
Well ten minutes later, our food finally emerged. Spending 30 minutes at Frostop was definitely something we did not plan for. Meaning I had to wolf this chili dog down. The Hot Dog, and the bun were delicious. The Hot Dog tasted like it may have been a full beef dog, and the bun was toasted on the griddle. The Chili however was another story. It tasted basically identical to any other fast food chili you could imagine. The closest analogue would be the hot dog chili served at fellow root beer based competitor A&W. We ended up taking the fries to go, they were just standard kind of chunky fries. They could have absolutely used some salt.
Sitting in our booth in the back corner of the restaurant gave me some time to admire the view. The parking lot of Frostop literally backs up to these two houses. I also noticed that this location may have been possibly converted from a drive-in into a diner. My reasoning behind this is the distinctive slanted roof that Frostop used on their other drive-ins, and although I didn’t get a picture of it the bathrooms were very obviously originally outdoors as evident by the windows, and heavy doors.
All in all, I enjoyed my experience chronicling a broken chain, and while I wouldn’t necessarily make a trip out to Baton Rouge, just for Frostop. I could see myself stopping to get some root beer. Once again, I would like to give a shout out to Zap Actiondowser and his blog Broken Chains. I really recommend checking it out, along with his Facebook page.
Greetings loyal reader, I’m glad you’re back! It’s been too long since I’ve written an update for the blog section of Houston Historic Retail. Fear not, as more blog updates should be on the way soon. However, that isn’t to say that updated have not been made to Houston Historic Retail. Most of the updates made were located in the pages section. You can access them through the menu above.
Go ahead, and have a look around. These are not the only updates made, but are the most major. If you have something you’d like to see featured on Houston Historic Retail, or just want to pass on some words of encouragement I always appreciate a comment or two! Also keep an eye out for what’s coming up next.