A look into Houston's retail past

Fry’s Electronics

Fry’s Electronics

Company History
Fry’s Electronics was founded by the sons of grocery magnate Charles Fry, who’s family founded the Fry’s Food and Drug chain. Their family had sold the grocery chain in the 1970s to Dillon’s a regional grocer that would end up merging with Kroger who still runs the Fry’s grocery chain. The cash from the sale was used to fund the establishment of Fry’s electronics. Using their knowledge of volume sales, discounting, and huge stores, the Fry entered the growing Consumer Electronics industry in 1985. The first stores were in California, and were unlike other electronics stores of the time. They offered not only individual components, but also an extensive selection of GM like clothing, and cleaning supplies along with full grocery, which was rumored at one to contain produce.

While building a geek’s Hypermarket may have been their initial goal overtime the GM and grocery would shrink, and electronics, and appliances would grow. During their heyday Fry’s had the selection of a Radio Shack, Big Box Electronic Store, and Dollar Store, all in one building. The stores were physically massive, on par with Incredible Universe, who would later sell six of their stores to Fry’s. These would actually be the store’s first locations outside of California. These new locations would prove to be a success for Fry’s, and would help to start an expansion that would eventually net Fry’s with a total of 39 locations.

Houston History
While Fry’s didn’t open their first store here until 2000, the first look they took at Houston was during the 1997 offer made by Incredible Universe to purchase their stores. While the Houston store was shown to Fry’s they declined to purchase it for reasons unknown. Although, the fact the store had only been open for a few months and likely didn’t have much sales data to show didn’t help. While Fry’s did turn down Tandy this did put Houston on their radar, as they would return to scout locations by 1999. The first building Fry’s would look into was a former Builder’s Square. This store sat in what was termed a Kmart Power Center, a shopping center with three prominent Kmart owned stores. In addition to Builder’s Square there was a Pace Membership Warehouse, and of course a Kmart. As the building was already standing there was little Fry’s could do to update the exterior, however some small improvements did include enclosing the former garden center and greenhouse, adding a new trim and coat of paint, and the installation of a large dual wooden oil derrick entrance motif.

When Fry’s purchased the DFW locations they proved something that Incredible Universe executives had even been unsure about. You could successfully operate multiple large format electronics stores in the same city. The decision was made by Fry’s to expand in Houston with two new stores brining the chains total up to 4 locations. The new locations would actually end up in suburbs of Houston with the aptly themed International Space Station themed Webster location opening just before Christmas of 2004 according to ads. The Stafford store would not have a theme, rather using Houston History as a motif with huge historic photos from around town displayed along the walls. I can’t find an exact opening date on this location, but ads imply it opened sometime near January 2005. The actual grand opening celebrations including doorbusters would occur on April 1, 2005. Fry’s at the time was a very tight-lipped company, and they kept their intentions about opening any new stores very private. They would often hide land transactions under shell companies that used names related to the theme of each store, based around pop-culture references. As the first location was leased it did not publicly use its “code-name” however, the shell company was later used to purchase the Highway 59 location, and revealed the West Rd location to be named “Bubblin’ Crude“. The Webster location would use the name Kobayashi Maru, and with the reused company, the name of the Stafford store seems lost to time.

Overall Fry’s had a pretty quiet stay in Houston, they were involved in some controversies about predatory sales, misrepresenting sales and refund/cancellation techniques, but these were not limited to Houston and reflected the entire chain. As the 2000s pushed on and lots of other electronics retailers began to struggle Fry’s embraced their new online competition and started matching internet prices. This price matching system, and Fry’s expansive inventory made them the place to go they adopted a cocky new slogan of “Your Best Buys are always at Fry’s”. Despite the success the company was experiencing in sales internal struggles were occurring at the highest levels of management. One of the first issues to come forward was the 2008 arrest of Ausaf Siddiqui one of the vice presidents of the company after he was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the company to cover gambling debts. Further issues were exposed when a couple who were among the founding employees went through a divorce. According to online rumors from former employees things only went downhill from here with other high up executives having little interest in running the company, a slow Sears style crash and burn began. In my opinion, there were some clear parallels in the closures for example stores suddenly closing as soon as a buyer was interested in the property, switching to consignment inventory, and selling stuff that goes beyond random junk. Like snow shovels in the middle of summer. According to reports from employees on social media on February 23rd, 2021 Fry’s would close their doors for the last time. On February 24th these reports were vindicated by a short closing statement from Fry’s placing the fault on the pandemic and directing questions to a generic email.

Photo Gallery

 

Address
Notes
10241 North Freeway, Houston, TX 770372000-2021 First Houston location, originally a Builder's Square. Oil themed, including derricks, and refining replicas
21300 Gulf Freeway, Webster, TX 775982004-2021 Space and NASA Themed, Contains replica of ISS
11565 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX 770312004-2021 Non-themed, building style used at most locations past 2004. Photos of Houston HIstory

Reader Comments

  1. I wanted to comment and let you know that the NASA and Southwest Fry’s locations have briefly reopened for fixture sales. Hilco asset sales is running the fixture liquidation sales and they have a store list online of 21 current Fry’s liquidations. I was told at the NASA location that they will be there until the end of April. None of the old electronics merchandise is available for purchase, but old furniture, shelving, fixtures, hand baskets, office supplies, cafe merchandise, and other odds and ends are available. This is more than likely the last chance to visit a Fry’s store before the buildings are sealed for good. I doubt anything will remain once these old locations change hands in the future.

    I am not sure if West Rd. was already liquidated or if the store was just abandoned as is. The signs were pulled and nobody is there anymore. The front of the store has also sustained some damage already from falling boards above the entryway.

    1. Thank you for the heads-up. I had been watching for the sales but hadn’t seen anything. Any clue on when they’re open? I’ll have to squeeze in a trip around work! I did see the share document, and noticed North Freeway missing. That really is odd, I’m guessing something is planned for the building. Or could they possibly be locked out? It is a leased location unlike the other two. I really wonder what’s going to happen to the decor at both locations.

      1. They are open until 5pm Monday through Saturday. I am not sure what time they open but I would guess by at least 11am.

What do you think?