Bottom Dollar was a discount department store chain founded around 1962 by Houstonian Joseph Lebow. While Bottom Dollar did not have any locations in Houston proper, the chain did serve areas around town, including smaller towns along the Gulf Coast. While the stores had no presence in town, all operations were based in Houston. Lebow had already established a highly successful Wholesale Distribution business during the late 40s. The company named Lebow Wholesale Distributors supplied non-food items to grocery stores. Product lines would mostly consist of Housewares and Hardware. Specifically, they would supply mostly independent stores or those aligned with smaller grocery suppliers who did not carry non-grocery merchandise, like the Sugar Land Mercantile. In 1955 the success of Lebow’s Wholesaling business led the company to expand to a second facility to supply the space needed. It was around this time that the idea of Discount Department stores would begin their earliest incarnations. Witnessing the success of these stores, Lebow would attempt to
Unfortunately, the earliest history of Bottom Dollar Stores seems to have been lost to time. However, among the earliest locations were Rosenberg and Galveston, which only lasted around ten years. The company quite obviously sought out areas in which other Discount Department stores had yet to set up shop. While Bottom Dollar was not shy about other locals, they were not trying to take on Kmart or Target. The earliest locations were true discount department stores with a mix of hard and soft lines. To help supplement Lebow’s limited selection, he would contract out certain departments, including things like clothing, which was operated by K-Wolen, and shoes by Kinney. As time went on, the size and selection of Bottom Dollar locations grew. The leasing system provided innovative departments like food and a pharmacy. By 1969 Bottom Dollar was up to 6 locations with the addition of Port Lavaca. These six stores continued to be served out of the same distribution center as the wholesale business. By the 1970s, the company had outgrown its original headquarters and found refuge in a newly constructed combination offices, warehouse, and distribution center. The jump in capability helped to fuel another expansion with larger stores featuring new amenities. Some larger locations even featured amenities like a photo counter, which put Bottom Dollar above chains like Gibson’s while still being much smaller in scope and size. With services like these Bottom Dollar helped make them attractive against competitors like Wal-Mart. Although their previously untouched territory was being quickly encroached upon.
Around the 1970s Bottom Dollar would begin to open a newer type of stores. These locations were clearly different from the original stores, which were essentially built as metal barns and covered in a brick facade. The new stores were built with cinderblock walls and flat roofs like other big box stores of the time. The stores also featured truck wells allowing 18-wheelers to back into the store and unload, improving efficiency. The new stores would be Cuero, Wharton, Bay City, and finally Angleton. Bottom Dollar would top out at 11 locations built, ranging from ~1962-1979 the stores were very different from each other, but all formed a cohesive chain with about 8-9 stores ever operating simultaneously. Bottom Dollar had its own share of the spotlight a few times. Early on, the company was involved in a Blue Law dispute where they were fined for selling prohibited items (a toy) on Sunday. Joseph Lebow the owner would be fined for this, in a time when most companies were given a blind eye in terms of blue law sales. In a more positive light, Bottom Dollar’s most desirable location would turn out to be the Angleton store which was leased to Wal-Mart from 1983-1994 by Lebow. In 1983 the final concept associated with Bottom Dollar would debut, a membership warehouse store named Club Warehouse. This was operated out of Bottom Dollar’s Houston-based warehouse and offered either yearly memberships or the option for non-members to purchase items with a surcharge added on.
The Club Warehouse concept would last until 1986, when the single location, along with all but two Bottom Dollar stores, were closed. Port La Vaca and Clute would remain open only for a short while as Bottom Dollar began to wind down operations. While it is unclear exactly why the decision was made, it was not unexpected. The issues of leased departments not being responsive to merchandise requests and, more importantly, the prices had caused Woolworth’s backed Woolco out of business just three years prior. While this was an unfortunate outcome in most cases, Lebow owned the property and continued to lease back his space to other retailers, sometimes fellow discounters, like the Wal-Mart mentioned above. By the end of 1987, the final Bottom Dollar stores shut down, and their properties were put on the market. Lebow would continue as landlord until his passing in 2001, when it seems most properties were sold off. It seems that Lebow may have simply come to the realization that you make much easier and more consistent money as a landlord than a tenant.
|0||2200 Schlumberger St Houston, TX 77023||Headquarters 1962-1967, Now Building 14 UH ERC|
|2?||Rosenberg||196?-197? K-Wolen Clothing Department, Closed prior to making into records|
|3||5110 Broadway Avenue J Galveston, TX 77551||1963?-1971|
|4||800 US-288 Business, Clute, TX 77531||196?-1987, K-Wolen Clothing Department|
|6||212 TX-35, Port Lavaca, TX 77979||1969-1987 K-Wolen Clothing Department, Had a pharmacy, Final store to close, outlived the DC by a month!|
|7||2500 TX-35 Alvin, TX 77511||1972-1986, Had a pharmacy, K-Wolen Clothing Department, Later Budget Chopper Grocery then Super Warehouse Foods|
|8||1101 N Esplanade St Cuero, TX 77954||1973-1986, Had a pharmacy, K-Wolen Clothing Department, Cuero Plaza|
|9||1110 E Milam St, Wharton, TX 77488||1974-1986 K-Wolen Clothing Department, Had a pharmacy|
|10||3508 Avenue F, Bay City, TX 77414||1978-1986, K-Wolen Clothing Department|
|11||1524 E Mulberry St Angleton, TX 77515||1979-1983, Later Wal-Mart|
|9645 W Tidwell Rd Houston, TX 77041||1980-1987 Club Warehouse (Also HQ from 1967-1987)|