A look into Houston's retail past

Incredible Universe

Incredible Universe

An Incredible Idea

Incredible Universe was a chain of stores operated by the Tandy Corporation. Already well known in the United States, The Tandy Corporation was an electronics company based out of Fort Worth, Texas. They began to sell pre-assembled microcomputers to home consumers, and became a huge name in the electronics industry. The company would eventually purchase a mail order company called Radio Shack which they would expand as a distribution network including retail locations. During the 1980’s electronics superstores began to take off through the success of companies like Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry’s. Tandy was having great success through their Radio Shack stores but wanted to expand into the superstore market. The decision was made to open a chain called Incredible Universe. The stores were huge in comparison to other super stores averaging around 185,000 square feet. The stores almost resembled IKEA locations. They had McDonalds, day care facilities for shoppers with children, and  huge showrooms for displaying and demonstrating products.  Two test locations were opened. One in Arlington, Texas the other in Wilsonville, Oregon. These two test stores were very profitable and helped Tandy make the decision to expand the chain. Eventually reaching a total of 17 total locations.

This was likely the Dallas location. All photos were saved from a now defunct engineering site.

An Incredible Flop

The Houston location opened September 30, 1995 to much fanfare,  including a firework display. The Houston store fared relatively well but was not one of the top performers in the chain. They managed to do pretty good business on weekends but failed to attract customers during weekdays. The store suffered cutbacks along with the rest chain in May of 1996 when two locations were closed and 320 jobs were cut from the remaining stores. The chain continued to falter and the Houston location finally announced their intent to close on January 6, 1997 along with the rest of the locations. At the time of closure the six top preforming stores were sold directly to Fry’s Electronics with the rest of the properties being sold to developers after a going out of business sale was completed by February 1998. The Houston property sat vacant with plans to turn it into a mixed use retail entertainment center including a movie theater falling flat. Other tenants were considered such as a call center who wanted to turn the building into office space. In 1998 Houston Community College reached a deal with the property owner to purchase the space with the intent of replacing the leased Galleria Campus in the now demolished 1200 Post Oak Office Tower. Upon purchasing the space HCCS gutted the complex, and removed the loading docks. They then built inside the shell adding a full second story and raising the usable square footage to around 300,000 sq ft. The outside of the building has received a bit of a face lift including an architectural addition to the rotunda, although it still pretty much resembles the Incredible Universe portion of its life with the original sign being used by HCCS up until 2014.

The huge video screen in the rotunda was a feature at the Houston location as well.

Full Location List

Phoenix2300 West Baseline Road Tempe, AZ 85283
Sacramento4100 Northgate Blvd. Sacramento, CA 95834
San Diego9825 Stonecrest Blvd. San Diego, CA 92117
Denver8585 South Yosemite Littleton, CO 80124
Fort Lauderdale3401 Oakwood Blvd. Hollywood, FL 33020
Miami7800 NW 29th Street Doral, FL 33122
Atlanta4000 Venture Drive NW Duluth, GA 30136
Indianapolis9820 Kincaid Drive Fishers, IN 46038
North Carolina
Charolette11425 Carolina Pl Parkway Pineville, NC 28134
New Jersey
Elizabeth1001 Center St Elizabeth, NJ 07201
New York
New York City999 Corporate Dr, Westbury, NY 11590
Columbus3599 Park Mill Run Road Hilliard, OH 43026
Virginia (Credit BatteryMill Retail)
Washington D.C.14011 Worth Ave, Woodbridge, VA 22192
Portland29400 SW Town Center Loop Wilsonville, Oregon 97070
Dallas12710 Executive Drive Dallas, Texas 75238
Arlington102 East I-20 Arlington, Texas 76018
Houston5601 West Loop South Houston, TX 77081
Salt Lake City11100 S. AutoMall Drive Sandy City, UT 84070
Seattle1101 SuperMall Way,Suite 1275 Auburn, WA 98001

Reader Comments

    1. Unfortunately, no. You might possibly get a response out of Radio Shack, but given their present status I doubt that little to any Incredible Universe info still exists in their files. Good luck!

  1. I was fortunate to grow up in a small house just two streets down from the Houston location, and I’d frequently walk there as a teen and browse their wares. I probably spent hundreds of hours in that store, playing video games, demoing cds (they would allow customers to listen to any disc before buying), browsing posters, reading magazines, and eating at mcdonalds with friends or even alone. It was a massive store and in retrospect it was a very unsustainable business model, though I’m sure I didn’t help things as a broke teenager eternally browsing, rarely buying (though I did whenever possible).

    Some things that stand out in my memory – browsing the latest cd releases from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, and No Doubt. Buying some sweet blacklight posters. Demoing several failed consoles including the Nintendo Virtual Boy, Panasonic 3DO, and Atari Jaguar. And playing Doom on a very primitive early LAN setup with several other players (one of the first networked multiplayer games). Oh, and getting some of those giant gumballs from the huge gumball machines. Great memories.

    1. See, I don’t remember stuff like the Incredible Universe having a McDonald’s location. However, I do remember the tech demos like the video games. I think that their failure was more due in part to management. I’m sure it didn’t help that us geeks are usually early adopters of buying things online (I can’t remember when we first ordered something from Amazon in my family but it was when they were still just a bookseller) However, the fact that Fry’s can be so successful with all these oddly designed stores just proves how successful the concept can be if you can get the right backing.

      1. Depends where you were – The Wilsonville, Or (Portland) location had a Pizza Hut, the later stores had McDonalds

    1. Full location list is a bit misleading. I mean full as in including the locations outside of Texas as well. I doubt I’ll ever be able to find a complete list due to the manner in which the project was dropped leaving about 4 stores in limbo.

      I’ll add the Pineville location to the list though!

  2. When a friend learned that the location on the 610 loop would be sold to Houston Community College, he said that should keep the sign out front and change it to say “Incredible University”

  3. I have been attending the HCC West Loop campus for a few years and now I see why the building has such a unique design. I love going to computer stores and I bet I would have enjoyed going to one of those Incredible Universe stores had I lived (and had money) close to one of them.

    1. I was a student there myself, although I went in knowing the history. If you still want the experience check out the Fry’s in Arlington it’s about as close as you can get. Still nothing like IU. Better hurry though!

  4. Looking for people that worked at the Tempe Arizona store in 1996/1997. I worked there during this time and wanted to talk with a few that I worked with back then.

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