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.

 

Mercado Cerrado

In a somewhat shocking update to the Mercado 6/Big Kmart saga, the flea market in West Houston has bit the dust. The store which I visited on two separate occasions in the past few years, has been purchased and gutted. The news seemed to break early this year around the time I published my last update. A few online reviews noted that “the store” was closed, but I naively assumed this meant individual shops. Driving back to the future 7-Eleven from Sunday’s post I noticed the vacant parking lot and stopped to snap a few photos.

The doorways which were Kmart originals have been removed to allowed construction equipment to enter the building. Many doors in this structure were welded shut essentially forcing the demolition of this entrance. Much of the metal caging has also been removed from emergency doors.
The new owner is listed on this paper, but other than the fact that Mercado 6 closed there isn’t really any information. It seems like vendors weren’t told anything either.
Look straight back you can see that for the most part the structure has been gutted. A couple of lights have been installed to help construction, but these older Kmarts have almost no natural light.
Looking to the left of the entrance you can see that the loading docks have had their metal caging removed. The caging around the doors has also been cut open. It’s a bit scary to think what would have happened if this place ever caught fire during the flea market days.
Look up and into the ceiling you can kind of see where the central customer service desk would have sat. It would have been under the sideways metal framing.
This is pointed in the direction in which the KCafe sat. It would continue to operate as a snackbar mostly untouched from the Kmart days.
Moving down the building the next significant thing is the former Garden Center. This has been multiple things over the years, but was most recently an event hall for the Mercado.
This is where the Garden Center’s greenhouse sat. At one point it served as an outdoor gym. The fencing stayed up through much of the life of the building but was eventually cut down.
This display case was left by one of the tenants when they moved out. Looking online this does resemble some of the Big Kmart Jewelry displays. I can’t say so definitely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this unit was left behind when Kmart took over the Venture space.
The last remaining business on the property is the used car lot in the Southwest corner of the parking lot. This always operated separate from the Mercado. While there were outdoor businesses which leased space from the Mercado they were limited to opening on Saturday and Sunday.

Trying to look up what is going to happen to the building is unsuccessful. The company which bought the property was created solely to buy it. It does share an address with some other retail investment properties, but again it doesn’t point to much. From what’s going on inside it does look like the building shell may be saved, although we’ll have to wait and see if anything on the exterior is saved.

7-Eleven’s less than triumphant Houston return

As with many of the subjects of my website, Houstonians of a certain age will remember when one of the largest convenience stores in the area was 7-Eleven. Originally founded in urgh… Dallas, the chain operated under the name “Tote’m” initially. It would not be until after World War II that the store would famously change their name to represent store hours of “7-11”. This name change would also allow for expansion into territory, like Houston, which was already held by the similarly named “U-Tote’m” convenience store chain.

These “six-sided” stores were some of the last that 7-Eleven built in Houston. They were so new, that when Stop n’ Go acquired them they made it a point to note that the stores would not be remodeled.

Houston’s first 7-Eleven would open in 1953 at 5115 Allendale in Southeast Houston near Sims Bayou. With the company announcing plans to build up to 100 Houston area stores within the next few years. A number which they would not only quickly reach, but exceed. Finally after years of fighting a highly diversified market compared to many other parts of the country, 7-Eleven decided to Exit Houston in 1987 (Thanks to Aaron J. from Carbon-izer for helping me confirm). They sold their 270 location chain to Stop-N-Go who converted most, but not all locations over closing a few in the process.

In 2014 the first hint of the Slurpee Giant’s return to the Houston area was teased when 7-Eleven acquired the majority of Victoria Based C-Store Speedy Stop’s retail operations. Included in the purchase were four locations in the Houston Metro area. These stores had all previously been operated as Speedy Stops, but after the acquisition the branding was covered up and the Tetco name (another brand which was acquired) was used instead. This was kept until 2018 when some Tetco signs were replaced with 7-Eleven. During this time 7-Eleven would also acquire Stripes. The plan seemed to be to convert all stores into 7-Elevens, using Stripes as a distribution channel.

5700 New Territory Blvd Sugar Land, TX 77479
2480 S Hwy 35 Byp, Alvin, TX 77511
18555 Tomball Pkwy Houston, TX 77070 (Converted to Tetco, had some type of conversion but was not completed)
6102 Hwy 6, Houston, TX 77084 (Was a Speedy Stop, then was quickly sold to an independent likely never Tetco)

This is the New Territory location, I had a chance to check it soon after it was converted. As of the publishing of this article this is the closest 7-Eleven to the Houston City Limits. Originally the white sign was completely green for Speedy Stop, then the middle was swapped for a white Tetco sign. Finally, it was all turned white.
The logo stripe is a new addition. It stretches across all the windows. Another update worth noticing are the shopping baskets. I know these were somewhat more common in convenience stores of the past. However, I’m unsure if these baskets are a remnant of a heyday or an import from their Japanese parent company.
Slurpees and Big Gulps are among some of the most iconic 7-Eleven products. They were actually available as soon as the Tetco name switch was complete.
Although the brand availability has changed somewhat, the GM section of the store remains mostly the same. The coffee bar is on a reused island, but has been modified somewhat.
Most updates, including those related to the Deli section was done under the Tetco banner. This includes the section seen here, and an open face cooler to the left.
And here’s the aforementioned cooler, Now this does somewhat resemble a Japanese convenience store, where “grab and go” selections are very prevalent.
I believe the wood paneling and tiles all received updates, but have no easy way to confirm this. The store had very little backroom space compared to how much product a 7-Eleven tends to keep. Meaning there was a bit of “organized chaos” mostly made up of the drink back stock.

As mentioned earlier in the article, I took these photos around 2018. The reason I have been sitting on them for so long is I, along with many other Houstonians had been expecting the return of 7-Eleven. The acquisitions were made with quite a bit of fanfare, and with press coverage. The reality is that outside of being able to buy Slurpee’s and other 7-Eleven exclusives at Stripe’s we’re not much closer to having actual locations inside Houston city limits. At least this was what I thought until I took Eldridge Parkway home a few nights ago.

This gas station was originally an independent selling Chevron branded gasoline. At some point it was slated to be converted to a Stripes. Exterior vinyl signage said to apply at the Stripe’s up Westpark a few blocks.This would have been the last time I saw it. The store sat vacant for quite some time.
This sign replaced the old Chevron sign and was clearly one of the newest pieces added to the gas station.
However it looks like within the past few months new signage has been added. Combining 7-Eleven with Laredo Taco Co. ( I went back to get better photos but with the cloud cover most of my night shots ended up better)
The gas pumps and canopy are essentially untouched from the independent days. Although a large inter-modal storage container now sits between pumps 2 & 3.
The car wash system looks like it completely replaced, including new draining dug.

At this point it looks like the remodel is fully underway. Hopefully I can try driving by on a weekday and see if the shutters are open. If this is the case, we will likely have a new 7-Eleven within Houston city limits by summer.