Food Lion was founded in 1957 in Salisbury, North Carolina under the name Food Town (unrelated to the Houston chain). As a regional success Food Lion expanded throughout the Carolinas and was acquired by the Belgium Based Delhaize Group in 1973. The company continued to expand and crossed state lines into Virginia in 1983. Due to the name Food Town already being utilized by a number of existing chains the Food Lion name was adopted. This name was chosen because of Delhaize Group’s use of a lion in their logo. Throughout the 80s the chain continued to expand across the Mid-Atlantic states and Southern U.S. opening hundreds of new stores. In the early 90s their focuses shifted to the newly created “Southwest” division which featured Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas.
In 1990 Food Lion announced their intentions to enter the Texas market through Dallas. The expansion was quick with 21 locations and a distribution center all operating by September 1991. When asked about the South Texas market during the Dallas grand openings, Food Lion denied any plans for stores in Houston. By January 1992, 42 Food Lions had opened in DFW, and on the heels of AppleTree’s bankruptcy they announced plans to enter the Houston market with a goal of 30-40 stores open by the end of 1993. In July 1992 two Houston properties were acquired both located in Missouri City. A groundbreaking for the first store occurred by July 15th. The Missouri City city council had spent a decent amount of time and effort attracting the grocer to serve areas which had limited choice after multiple other chains had flopped in the area.
By August, a third lot had been acquired in the Houston. This one was at Clay and Barker Cypress adjacent to Deerfield Village, a medium-sized neighborhood. At the time the houses backed up to a large forested area which was undeveloped except for a recently completed intersection. Within days of the Food Lion deal closing the land was clear-cut in preparation for the new store, this upset residents of the adjacent neighborhood who began to protest Food Lion. The protesters stated that animals had been displaced into the neighborhood by the work, they also objected that Food Lion had not chosen to use the empty AppleTree on Keith Harrow instead. After being faced with the prospect of an uphill P.R. battle Food Lion quickly ended development of the store. With the property eventually being sold to Randall’s, who built a store there.
In September 1992 Food Lion purchased a nearly 3.5 acre lot on Eldridge at the intersection with Jess Pirtle in Sugar Land, with plans to lease parts of their parking lot to restaurants or other retailers. In the meantime, progress was being made on the Independence Blvd location, but development had stalled on the Cartwright store. Despite a rocky start Food Lion continued to project Houston to be the new winner among their Southwest division. Employees were being hired by the company and advertisements were being shown all in preparation for what was planned to be numerous store openings. However, these hiccups in Houston proved to be one of their smaller issues. On November 5, 1992, ABC’s PrimeTime Live aired a hidden camera segment on unsanitary conditions in a Food Lion store. Two producers on the show obtained jobs at Food Lion. Then using hidden cameras recorded employees re-dating expired products and using bleach and marinades to disguise bad smelling meats. Food Lion immediately went on the defensive suing ABC, this lawsuit would eventually result in further footage being released showing the producers coercing their fellow employees into these acts. Around the same time the company also faced allegations of violating child labor laws, leading to even further controversy.
The PrimeTime Live report hit hard all around the nation however the worst hit stores were in the new Southwest division. On December 3, 1992, Food Lion would open their two first Houston stores, Baytown and Independence Blvd. After a less than impressive grand opening, stagnant sales throughout the Southwest division and entire chain Food Lion announced their intentions to drop back from 40 prospective stores to only 8. They stated they would resume construction on any unfinished stores once sales had rebounded. By February 1993 Food Lion seemed to be recovering and was up to 11 stores with League City opening on the 24th of the same month.
Around the same time as Food Lion’s first plans developed for Houston, H-E-B started to move in via their Pantry Food stores. A price war soon broke out between the grocers, a tactic H-E-B was already familiar with, and ended up with Food Lion losing money hand over foot. In a bid to help supplement income Food Lion moved forward with leasing pad sites in their parking lots to other retailers. By November 1993 Food Lion was up to 13 locations in the Houston area. Although the company warned that if business did not pick up they would be forced to drop their newer stores, but no firm dates were set. The company continued to operate their stores as normal until a series of sudden closures were announced on January 8th, 1994. Food Lion made the decision to close 6 of the 13 Houston locations. The stores to close were Bissonnet, Cartwright, Friendswood, Gessner, Sugar Land, and Veteran’s Memorial. Many of these locations had been open for less than a year when the closure was announced. Although the stores had mostly proved to be a loss, Food Lion wasn’t completely giving up on the market.
While the remaining seven locations limped along, Food Lion was lining up buyers for their former stores. In November 1995 The Veteran’s Memorial location was sold to Hong Kong Food Market. By November Missouri City had purchased the former Cartwright store to use as a new combination HQ for all of their emergency services. In April 1996 HISD began their plan to purchase and remodel the former Gessner store as a new elementary school. During the planning phase the school would be given the name “Food Lion Elementary” with almost no exterior remodeling being done prior to opening. A not so surprising “surprise announcement” finally came on September 17, 1997. Food Lion had decided to liquidate and shutdown operations of remaining stores in the Southwest Division. Forty-one stores would be closed in Texas including the seven final Houston stores. The stores were closed as remaining stock ran down, with the sales ending prior to the end of the year. Many locations would be sold to other grocers, and with no representation left in the Houston market the stores received almost no remodeling, with most still resembling Food Lion nearly 30 years later.
Food Lion Locations
|1139||1530 Independence Blvd, Missouri City, TX||Food Lion:1992-1997 Fiesta:1998-Present|
|1140||3002 W Baker Rd, Baytown, TX||Food Lion:1993-1994 Food Town:?-Present|
|1143||13855 Bissonnet St Houston, TX||Food Lion:1993-1994 HCC:2001-Present|
|1144||4001 Preston Rd, Pasadena, TX||Food Lion:1993-1997 Medical Center:2002-Present|
|1145||4711 Center St, Deer Park, TX||Food Lion:1992-1997 Faith Bridge Curch:?-Present|
|1300||10707 S Gessner Rd Houston, TX||Food Lion:1993-1994 Valley West Elementary:1995-Present|
|1301||1130 Eldridge Rd Sugar Land, TX||Food Lion:1992-1997 Food Town:?-Present|
|1302||2311 Strawberry Rd, Pasadena, TX||Food Lion:1993-1997 Sellers Bros. ?-Present|
|1303||15355 Blackhawk Blvd, Friendswood, TX||Food Lion:1993-1994 Vacant:?-Present|
|1304||2280 E Main St League City, TX||Food Lion:1993-1994 Self Storage:?-Present|
|1306||13400 Veterans Memorial Dr Houston, TX||Food Lion:1993-1994 Hong Kong Food Market:1995-Present|
|1311||9520 Jones Rd, Houston, TX||Food Lion:1993-1997 Food Town:?-Present Property purchased in 1992 from Safeway.|
|1312||3849 Cartwright Rd, Missouri City, TX||Food Lion:June 1993-1994 Missouri City Emergency Ops:1997-Present|
|18322 Clay Rd Houston, TX||Planned but never built due to opposition|