A look into Houston's retail past

7-Eleven is starting to get in the swing of things

Today we’re dropping in on a brand new convenience store! The last time we discussed 7-Eleven on the blog we found that progress on new stores in the Houston area was extremely slow. It all started in 2013 when the company acquired four Tetco stores to convert to 7-Eleven locations. By 2014 these locations would be had their names and signs changed and were carrying 7-Eleven branded products. It seemed like things were on track for future conversions, however this was the only progress that would be made for several years. In 2018 Stripes and Laredo Taco Co. were both purchased by 7-Eleven with an intent on conversion. The quick effects from this were the replacement of Slush Monkey icee drinks with Slurpees, and the discontinuation of Stripe’s private label products. However 7-Eleven was still unwilling to build new stores. In 2020 we finally saw the full switch over from former Tetco stores to full scale 7-Eleven concepts and the conversion of some unopened Stripes locations. Now just under a year later we’re starting to see the first new stores.

These new 7-Eleven locations are distinct from most other locations I’ve been to. They’re much smaller, and much more modern than the 7-Elevens I have shopped at in other parts of the country. The Laredo Taco Co. inclusion is also a new concept and while Stripes did test the concept at a few stores outside of Texas the brand has been otherwise dormant since the Sunoco acquisition. Hopefully these new stores will help relaunch 7-Eleven while keeping Stripes around.

This Week In Demolition: A Housing Identity Crisis

Welcome back to This Week in Demolition! This week, we see a dip in residential demolitions, and an increase in commercial tear downs. Let’s start off this week by taking a look at a house that seems to have trouble deciding on what it wants to be. On the outside 11850 Durrette has a very subdued appearance. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the simple white paint, and tasteful modern look of the lawn are kept on the inside as well. Once inside your first indication that you’re getting into something else is the Spanish Hacienda tile floor while nothing else in the house screams Hacienda, it’s not too unusual to see this flooring in Houston. Making your way into the living room you encounter the Contractor Grade Carpet Island, also notice the “cathedral” ceilings with visible beams, and for some reason a barbers chair is also in the room. Heading towards the kitchen have a look at the backless benches used for seating around the dining table. Inside of the kitchen we have what is either an exposed finished beam, or a conduit for the cook top on the island at this point I’d be willing to believe either. Heading towards the bedrooms we find what looks like a custom built bed frame in the first room, and the second featuring opposing daybeds. There seems to be no shortage of mattresses in this house. The master bath interestingly features a tub with built in towel storage, and a shower with permanently open door and window. With all the renovation that had been done on this house over the years, it really seems like the property was having an identity crisis.

If you squint hard enough this house can be anything you want it to be! Photo Source: HAR.com

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the week before this post.

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Retail News: Krispy Kreme Closes, My Fit Foods Returns, and the Montrose shakeup continues

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Krispy Kreme Closes in Pasadena

Krispy Kreme in Pasadena has turned from temporarily to permanently closed. Signs have been removed from the store and broken up. Outside of large chunks of plastic signage behind the store everything else was intact. It’s possible Krispy Kreme may try to find a new franchisee for this location. However, given the fact that expansion has been quite slow it also could be that Krispy Kreme is having trouble in our market. The first attempt at Krispy Kreme in Houston ended with the franchisee cutting ties to corporate amid a lawsuit. The company rebranded as Jumble’s and went into bankruptcy shortly thereafter. This current closure is likely related to reduced sales during COVID.

Google reviews show that this location was open sporadically towards the end and was still operating a week ago.

My Fit Foods starts construction in Greenway

My Fit Foods the Austin based meal prep company is making a reappearance in Houston. This moves comes after the company shuttered all stores in 2017 without any prior notice. Prior to closing the company had multiple locations throughout Houston with 50 stores spread through the entire United States. My Fit Foods also provided ready to heat meal prep solutions for grocery stores. H-E-B, who used to carry the products has since replaced them with their own Meal Simple line up. The company began reopening store fronts within the past two years. So far four locations have opened with a new approach. Rather than storefronts throughout the city, they seem to be using one central store with distribution mainly handled by delivery. As of yet it seems My Fit Foods has yet to release an official statement on the new store, and does not have a set opening date. Although interior demolition of the former restaurant has started.

The new My Fit Foods is in the Greenway Commons shopping center; it is taking the place of Hibachi restaurant Sumo who closed during the pandemic.

The Montrose shakeup continues…

Finally we continue to see the effects of the “Montrose Shakeup” that started with the closing of Disco Kroger earlier this year. The next round of closures is one block to the North of the former Kroger. The shopping center at the corner of Westheimer and Montrose had another round of closures this past weekend. With longtime tenants 369 Chinese Restaurant and Half Price Books departing. The plaza has seen a decline in tenants over the years. Within the past two years two Mattress Firm locations operated side by side in a space that was previously a Blockbuster and Schlotzsky’s. While the loss is sad as it means the one more bookstore inside the loop has closed, it does reflect other changes taking place in the area. While the building to replace the shopping center is still under development it will likely be mixed use with ground level retail and housing above.

This Week in Demolition: Marching orders given for a 1930s bungalow in Rice Military

Welcome back to This Week in Demolition! This week we have an almost completely residential mix with some real gems that should have been saved and a few that needed to go. Let’s start by taking a look at some of the demolitions of note from the week. The cover story is similar to last week, 4617 Gibson is another 1930s home that has been kept tastefully up to date. A house that was less tastefully updated is 2038 Banks while the exterior is quite nice the split level kitchen with obscured headroom is a dealbreaker for me. 703 Timberline on the other hand is a house that needs to go, it is a row of townhomes in the former Forest Cove neighborhood in Kingwood. The number of houses in the development had steadily dropped over the years due to flooding but was really finished out by Harvey. While some homes are still owned by individuals, most of the sites have been sold to the Harris County Flood Control District and it seems mostly empty as of 2020.

When the weather is nice this porch must be great. Photo Source: HAR

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the week before this post.

Continue reading “This Week in Demolition: Marching orders given for a 1930s bungalow in Rice Military”

What Happens when a Valero doesn’t become a Circle K?

Today, we’re taking a quick look at a gas station in an unusual situation- a former Valero Corner Store that was not selected to be converted to Circle K. This location was built in Fredericksburg, TX in 1985. Based on the exterior features, it seems to have been a Corner Store from day one. Diamond Shamrock’s rural stores contained far fewer services compare to their urban counterparts, but they were still comparable to their ever expanding competitors. After a series of take overs, mergers, and sell offs, what was once Diamond Shamrock’s Corner Store concept was sold to Circle K.

One year after the sale was completed, the first Circle K conversions began in 2018. As this began so did divestment of locations such as a failed Stop n Go prototypes, Corner Stores that were too close to existing Circle K locations, and many other stores that just did not fit the new image the company was aiming for. As such conversion from Corner Store to Circle K was extremely slow. While the remodel process was hinged around updating the stores, the biggest change was obviously the branding. As of 2021, there are still some former Corner Stores in the Houston area that operate as Circle Ks but have not received new exterior signage.

While the changeover took place, former Corner Store locations continued to operate as normal. The parent company, CST Industries, still produced private label goods to be sold in stores, while cups, lids, etc.. continued to say Corner Store. As more stores became Circle K, the private label products were dropped, and the Polar Pop branding was applied to cups and soda fountains. The sign still said Corner Store but this was a lobotomized version of the old store. By 2020, a change had to take place, and this Corner Store is a perfect example of what happened when a store wasn’t selected to convert.

The exterior of the convenience store is completely unchanged- except for the updated signage. As you can see from the outside, this was a very small store. Using the pictured pickup as reference, the building is about three trucks long.
These gas pumps are a Diamond Shamrock dead giveaway. The center number with the circular border was unique to them. Notice that the wide format double ad holders are still in place. This was a problem towards the end of the Circle K changeover in Houston with many spots going blank.
As the Corner Store brand was originally owned by Valero, their logo was combined together where possible. As the the gas station is still selling Valero-branded gasoline, no effort was made to cover up the Valero logo.
The blue and brown paint and Corner Store decor were all still in place inside. Notice the former Corner Store sign behind the chef’s hat on the wallpaper. Not every store covered that up. The store was in the process of being restocked by one of the two employees when I was there, which explains the mess.
This chip section would normally be setup for Corner Store or Circle K products. Obviously, without any affiliation, corporate branded products were replaced.
The signage above the coolers actually dates back to Diamond Shamrock. It was added during the Corner Store transition.
This long shot of the store shows about 2/3rd of the total space. This location was smaller than a normal Corner Store but was not the smallest I’ve visited.
The product selection was on par for what you’d expect to find in a Circle K. One thing I did find that felt out of place were the hats behind the cash register.
This is actually an updated Circle K condiment holder, meaning that this was replaced or added after 2018 when the transitions began.  The condiments were not stocked at the time due to COVID.
A quick shot of the counter shows another somewhat unusual feature. 2 liter bottles and boxed sodas in a small cooler. The POS system had been upgraded in the past few years to accept chip cards and seemed to be similar to other Corner Store systems.

 

All in all this turned out to essentially still be a Corner Store in all but name. Looking at county records it seems that this location along with a few others were sold to the franchisee in 2020. Interestingly the location is still on the Circle K website and the features listed are even all correct. Who knows in a few years this may end up like the old Stop n Go’s in Houston that became “Stop and Go” or Circle K’s that became “Korner Store”.

This Week in Demolition: Bulldozers to a 1938 Boulevard Oaks Bungalow

Happy “Demolition” New Year! This is the first post of the year to contain demolition permits issued in 2021. This week we see an uptick in the number permits issued for pre-1950 homes, mostly in great condition. Along with two art deco apartment buildings in the medical center. Some of the homes worth taking a look at this week include 3445 Wickersham a two story home in the heart of River Oaks including a garage apartment, 927 Lamont a well maintained 1948 single story home with a gorgeous backyard, and of course our cover story this week 1920 Banks. The demolition of this charming Bungalow is made worse by the fact that in addition to tasteful updates many original features of the house were intact. Including what was likely original 1930s stained glass in all three upstairs windows.

Photo Source: HAR.com

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the week before this post.

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Retail News: Disco Kroger Closes, On Cue Opens, and Bill Miller has their eyes on West Houston

Happy New Year loyal reader, and welcome to another edition of retail news. This month we’re taking a look at a few different developments throughout the city.

Disco Kroger Closes

Let’s start with a bit of a letdown. Unfortunately, the Kroger at 3030 Montrose Boulevard, more affectionately known as Disco Kroger, is set to close tomorrow January 7th. I visited December 30th and the pharmacy along with most full-service departments had already been shut down. Shelves were still being stocked with what seemed to be overstock from nearby stores, but supplies were dwindling. Based on supply levels when I visited it seems possible that the store may not make it all the way to the 7th. When Disco Kroger opened in Montrose, they were far from the first supermarket in the Montrose area. That title goes to the first Houston Minimax. However, it is one of the longer lasting stores in the area. With the next oldest store being the demolished Fiesta that was closed in 2012, followed by the nearby Midtown Fiesta which shutdown last year. Kroger’s official statement for closing the store indicated that it was losing money and had been for some time.

The closure of this Kroger leaves Montrose with one less grocery option. Now only H-E-B directly serves the Montrose area. It seems likely that most Kroger shoppers will shift to H-E-B. With the lack of affordable grocery stores in the area you may wonder why Kroger is unable to make a profit. Kroger expanded this store in the 1980s after demolishing the final house on the block. It seems that the original property owner never sold the land to Kroger but rather leased it to them. This expansion helped Kroger stay current but was essentially the final update this store received save for some cosmetic remodels which exposed some great Disco Kroger remnants. With the developments such as the tower next door, it’s likely the price of the lease plus limited floor space really does have this Kroger stuck at a chokepoint.


OnCue Opens

The Kaleidoscope Center was demolished over a year ago after the property was purchased by Phillips 66. The petrochemical company conveniently has their headquarters a few blocks North of Westheimer and supposedly wanted a flagship store to flaunt their brand. This however presented an issue as Phillips 66 is mainly a refiner, and doesn’t have an established connivence store brand. They called in Stillwater, Oklahoma based OnCue Express who seems to have a partnership with Phillips 66. The store was constructed by The Riverside Group which based this store off the OnCue prototype they developed in 2004.

As Phillips 66 does not maintain their own line of convenience stores this location was developed in partnership with OnCue, and marks their entry in to the Texas market. The store is nice, very modern, and the staff are all very polite.


Bill Miller’s Eyes has their eyes on West Houston

Any Houstonian worth their salt has driven passed a Bill Miller Bar-B-Q with a bit of arrogance. Different areas of Texas have always been preferential about our drive-thru BBQ joints. Houston has been a battlefield of sorts with Pappas reigning king over smaller chains like Goode Co, killing competitors like Luther’s and holding their own against newcomers like Rudy’s. According to an interview in the Houston Business Journal with Bill Miller’s CEO Jim Egbert they have the company may soon join the battle as they have their eyes on expanding in West Houston and Katy.

The newer building design used by Bill Miller will likely be what the Houston and Katy are based on Source: Google Streetview.

This is not the first time Bill Miller Bar-B-Q has discussed plans on expanding in Houston, in a 2018 interview with then newly promoted CEO Egbert it was said that the company wanted to be able to transition to new markets like Houston, Waco, and College Station. This time around the plan is to supply the Houston locations via trucks from San Antonio while previously the CEO had envisioned building a second commissary and bakery to serve Houston based stores. With new stores opening further North on the I-35 corridor Bill Miller has shown they could handle the range, the question to be answered is can they handle Houston’s market.

This Week in Demolition: Sticking out like a sore thumb

Welcome back to another edition of This Week in Demolition! This week the Oak Forest massacre continues with three more houses biting the dust. Other items of interest on the list include some older Houston houses  This includes 1340 Waverly a 1920s shotgun house, 2142 Chilton a 1935 Original River Oaks Home, and 2005 Brun a 1935 home which doesn’t quite fit the neighborhood anymore. This house is dwarfed by the multiunit structures to the right, and looks downright out of the past. From the window units I remember growing up, to the power and phone just cutting through the yard this is the Houston I remember as a child. Not the bland stucco on top of multistory monstrosities.

Do you ever feel… out of place? Photo source: HAR

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the week before this post.

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Why the newest Target in Houston was actually an early Christmas Present

With all the craziness this year I haven’t had much time to tend to my blog. I was hoping to have this post out much earlier, but today we’ll be talking about why the newest Target in Houston is so special. With the holiday season wrapping up, there’s a good chance you’ve been to a Target lately, or at least in their parking lot. Target has an old history in Houston, they were the second of the large national discount department chains to arrive following Kmart.


Some photos of the building in its post Randalls pre Traget phase in June.

 

 

Target’s first Houston store opened in 1969 and resembled a modern Hypermarket, including a full grocery store. While novel at the time these features helped Target gain a foothold in what later became a two chain race. By the early 2000s Kmart was out of the picture, Target fell behind Wal-Mart in many aspects. For example their stores were much smaller than most Wal-Marts around town. Also, outside of Super Target locations most stores did not carry fresh foods. Finally, Target had been cutting down many departments, and eliminating some entirely. While Target did try to make up for some of this with constant remodels and their P-Fresh grocery expansion, it was small compared to what Wal-Mart was willing to try in the Houston area.

 

I had a chance earlier this year to stop by the new Target in Shepherd Square. This was actually a few days before the grand opening in November. The store was open to the general public without any announcement.
The facade was updated by Target to accommodate their signage, but otherwise looks just like Randall’s did. Going so far as to use the original dual entryway corridor. The parking lot also remains unchanged, specifically lacking a Target “pickup tower”.
The former Randall’s restaurant entrance is being used as a secondary entrance with access to Customer Service, and the grocery side of the store. At the moment this is the only option for drive-up. I’m guessing Target’s lease does not allow modification of the parking lot. The patio cover is original as well.
Once you step inside though any sense of Randall’s familiarity is lost. It looks just like any other Target you’ve seen in the past few months. Target has always been pretty good about uniformity in their design and styling. This is the beauty section.
Next is the health and pharmacy department. This surprised me as the section is just about as big as most other Target locations. With six short aisles in front of CVS.
Right behind me was the home goods section of the store. Pillows, Rugs, Etc.. This along with clothing was probably one 1/3 of what you would see in a normal Target. For home goods and clothing there was a decent amount of choice and selection, but limited stock of most items.
Flipping back to the pharmacy side, you can see that the Health and pharmacy selection appears to be pretty standard for a Target. They even had an endcap dedicated to lip balm.
This whole section was dedicated to men’s beard and hair care. At this point we hit the back right corner of the store. To the left is Electronics, Sporting Goods, and Toys. These were the final departments being stocked and as such I was unable to grab any photos.
While I couldn’t get any direct photos I wanted to show how large these departments were. The baby department borders toys which is made up of about six aisles with sporting goods mixed in. Electronics had a large wall mounted TV display, along with its own service counter, and electronics displays. They had half height shelving and locked cases just like mainstream Targets.
Turning back around we can see the far left corner of the store. The backroom is located behind the toys, sporting goods, and electronics. From this point to the back left the aisles approximately double in length. These larger departments are baby, cleaning supplies, pet, and some grocery overstock.
This close up shot shows how deep the rear aisles were. The aisles are bisected with a walkway about halfway through. Without the walkway these aisles would be just above a standard Houston Target. The selection and stock in this corner of the store was also pretty close to a normal Target.
Moving closer to the far left corner, there is a large “dent” into the building that seems like more backroom space but is actually the wall of the building which is bound by a preexisting rear neighbor.
The rear of the grocery section is much smaller than the front. As such selection and stock are more limited. While the fresh grocery has a decent selection, canned and boxed goods were in limited supply compared with a normal Target.
About halfway down the grocery section the aisles open up. Selection is still quite limited on most fresh foods when compared to Randall’s but is not far off from the Galleria Target.
The coolers to the left are meant for Beer and Wine but were empty as I believe the TABC permit was tied to the grand opening date.
I believe this is where the pharmacy was during Randall’s but I can’t be positive as I hadn’t been to this location in years when it closed. Most aisles could contain two carts side by side, with the grocery section having a slightly bigger clearance.
The back stock in grocery was good compared to other departments. While I know that regular Targets have some backroom space for grocery I have been told it is one of the smaller departments.
This photo shows the selection of things like juices, and drink mixes. I’m guessing these are items that Target is expecting will drive people into their store.
These are the two aisles of frozen food to the right. It is about equivalent to what is in the Galleria Target. Directly forward is the second entrance along with Guest Services, Starbucks, and Order Pickup.
The front corner of the market provides a look at the entire Refrigerated section, along with most of the produce to the left. This was one of the busier sections as people seemed interested in what groceries the store carried.
With the business of this section of the store it was difficult to get any good pictures. The tables to the right are the extent of the fresh baked goods. From here you can also see the Guest Serbives, and self checkout a bit better.
The produce and fruit at this store is very limited. While there were a few items I didn’t get photos of in a cooler to the right it wasn’t much more.
The grocery section did feature a large amount of dairy, and dairy substitute products. Again I’m thinking these are one of the items that will draw business in.
The meat case was much smaller than most other Targets in the area. Specifically putting items like butter, cream cheese, bacon sausage, and ground beef all in the same case.
The grab and go case had some prepared meals and sandwiches, very limited but still a nice option for customers.
The front of the store consists of the cards and party section seen here, office supplies, and the seasonal section. With the exception of seasonal these sections are never terribly big in a Target.
The party and office supplies are evenly split into six short aisles, with each department taking three. To the left you can see the clothing section of the store. As with any other Target women’s clothing takes the lion’s share of the space.
In the office department the selection is about half of what you’d expect to find at a regular Target, but stock levels seemed pretty good. This was also in the final stages of being stocked, as I think some of these items are located in electronics in a full line Target.
Many Targets now feature multiple seasonal sections. With generally at least 2 per store. One is the larger display with fixed shelving towards the rear of the store, the second generally being moveable shelving near the entrance. This Target had what seemed to be a combo of these two ideas. It wasn’t a very large space but it was densely packed.
Moving past seasonal we return to the Entrance/Exit and find the checkouts. The second entrance has only self-checkout so this is your only option for larger purchases. There are also a few extra self checkouts on the far edge here.
One last shot to close us out shows that even the checkout counters in this store are designed to save space.

Houston seems to rarely be a test market for most national companies. I think we’re seen as being easy to adapt to other markets’ preferences. I’m no market researcher though… In the 2000s Wal-Mart had multiple test stores throughout Houston. For example Mas Club, a Hispanic version of Sam’s Club, along with Supermercado de Walmart, a Hispanic version of a Neighborhood Market, and Sam’s Club Business Centers which were tailored for small business owners. While these prototypes were eventually closed they did provide Houston a chance to provide influence and input for a national chain.

When it was announced that Target would be taking the former Randall’s space in Shepherd Square I assumed this would mean a full teardown of the shopping center. I envisioned everything from the former Randall’s to the right would be torn down and rebuilt as a two story Target. Once details emerged that the Target was not only to retain the original Randall’s footprint, but the building too I was somewhat shocked. I still figured things like the entrances would be reconfigured, and possibly expanded somewhat. It was only when I drove by the Target that I realized not even the brick facade had changed (save for the new sign).

After walking through the store I realized that the product selection had been very carefully crafted. The grocery selection wasn’t as extensive but provided a decent selection on par with Randall’s prices, and necessities would be well within reach for those who needed them such as the pharmacy and baby sections. This Target is an early Christmas Present not because it was the brand new two story behemoth I imagined, but because it was designed around our community and to fit our needs.

This Week in Demolition: The Most Dangerous Gas Station in the World

Welcome back to another Demolition Report. I’m trying a new format in which I compile the entire week into one post. Let me know what you think in the comments!

This week we see more commercial properties, and some expensive new houses. Maybe some demo permits were issued as Christmas presents. Anyways, one building that caught my eye was the former Valero off of Highway 6. This gas station is about halfway between Westheimer and I-10 on Highway 6. For many years it was the only gas station on this stretch of road. As the years went by the gas station gained many competitors and eventually shutdown after Hurricane Harvey. It has sat vacant with the store, canopy, and pumps all still in place since 2017. The small dirt hill behind the gas station is actually the Barker Reservoir, and the main gates are only a short distance North. I would assume that this has something to do with the gas station’s inability to sell. At least according to flood insurance maps this would be the most dangerous gas station… in the world.

While obviously not directly dangerous, I would guess high property insurance rates are part of the reasons for closure. Photo Source: Loopnet

This is a list of the buildings which received a City of Houston demolition permit the week before this post.

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