Pace Membership Warehouse was a concept launched by Kmart around in the early 80’s right after major competitor Wal-Mart had developed their own Sam’s Club. The stores were similar in concept, selling different items in bulk at a substantial discount. Customers had to become members to shop by paying a $25/year membership fee.
The concept while successful in terms of traffic, became a money drain on Kmart. The chain first tried closing a few locations to help solve the money issues, however this didn’t do much. The decision was made to sell the profitable stores to Walmart. The money from this sale would be put to Super Kmart expansion, but came a bit too late which put Kmart in the position it is in today.
In Houston the first warehouse chain to enter the city was GEMCO who opened five stores in the early 70s. After experiencing issues Wal-Mart purchased 3 GEMCO locations to reopen as Sam’s Club, the other two were sold to Fiesta. Sam’s would continue unabated until 1992 when multiple warehouse chains expressed interest in expanding into Houston. These chains were Price Club (which would eventually merge into Costco), Costco, and of course Pace Membership. The Houston Chronicle stated that there was only one warehouse chain not interested in moving into Texas, BJ’s Wholesale who still only operates East of the Mississippi.
The first location selected by Pace was part of what was termed as a power center. Three stores were built to be anchored by Kmart brands. The stores were Kmart, Pace, and Builder’s Square with parcels left for future expansion including an anchor spot. The location selected was at the Southwest corner of I-45 and West Road. Previously the location had held Houston’s final drive-in theater which had been built only 7 years prior. The building which is now Fry’s was originally Builder’s Square. Fry’s enclosed the garden center to extend floor space. The Kmart is now subdivided by Ross and Fallas Parades. The Pace Warehouse was converted into a “Compaq Works” store. A discount store which was owned by Compaq Computers. The store was shuttered and the building converted to furniture retailer The Dump. While the external facade has been dressed up, the original shape of the store has been kept. Pace was the first to leave the shopping center along with the other Houston store in 1994. Builder’s Square was next to leave in 1998 with Kmart finally vacating in 2003. Since then the strip center has done pretty well, and had some spots fill out although the 4th anchor location is still vacant.
Another store was opened at 8715 West Loop South. This was in another Kmart owned center. However, rather than the Power Center this location was simply a Builder’s Square and Pace Warehouse in close proximity. The buildings were not connected and the stores around the shopping center were leased to various tenants, mostly restaurants. The Builder’s Square location was eventually demolished for a Lowe’s. After Pace’s failure, the building sat vacant for many years. It would eventually be subdivided and split among multiple tenants. The first to move in was Hobby Lobby in 1997, with Mars Music following shortly after.
When Pace made the decision to leave Houston the stores were not sold to Sam’s Club.