Half Price Books has left The Village

In July of 1981 Half Price Books opened in a prominent spot on University Boulevard. The first store to be built at the corner of University and Kirby was White House, which opened in June of 1941. A local department store chain, they were known for building smaller sized locations throughout the Houston suburbs. It would be purchased by the Meyer family, a group of family members who had been employed in various positions with Foley’s until they sold out to Federated in 1947. At this point they would switch the name to Meyer Bros. White House. In 1950, Only nine years after opening the original White House location, Meyer Bros rebuilt the University store. This was done to create an anchor location for the new announced “Village Shopping Center”. The grand opening included two free Braniff all-inclusive trips to Cuba!

The Original White House store in from a 1941 ad.
The renovation was done in a Ranch Style to compliment the homes around, and the new “Village” shopping center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the 1950s and 60s Meyer Bros. continued to operate out of this location. The company would eventually sell out during the late 50s to another department store chain which would quickly fold. The store space was rented out during the late 60s and early 70s to a few short lived clothing stores. In the early 70s, the space was divided. With the right side (Jos. A Bank) becoming a Vespa Dealership for many years, and the left side was first an exercise equipment shop, then an asian grocery store.

The Terrazzo tile entrance is one of, if not the only remaining original piece of flooring.
This was one of the original entrances into Meyer Bros. The store would have expanded to the left where the bookshelves now sit.
This wall is what was added to separate out the two parcels. This would have happened during the 1970s split. When the “Thai-Asian Market” took over the left half of the original building.

During the 1970s Rice Village experienced a decline, with the popularization of indoor malls, and suburban bound movement. The worst of this was during the late 70s. Many people focused on the idea that Rice Village was full of adult shops, seedy bars, and bad clubs. At one point, the Jos. A Bank portion of the building was used as a club. The reality of this was actually that Rice Village had become a mix of bars, some adult stores, and multiple ethnic food shops. Regardless traffic dropped, and so did the quality of tenants.

So far as I can tell, the balcony is in its original location.
The grand staircase at the rear of the store does not actually sit against the rear wall. There is a small passageway leading to what would have been the other half of the store.
I’m relatively sure a chandelier sat here at one point. It would have probably been removed after the Meyer Bros left.
This was one of the coolest things in the store, an elevation plan showing the facade which was approved by the city. Notice that Fu’s Garden sits where Joseph A. Bank now sits.

When Half Price Books announced their intent to move into what had most recently been a Thai grocery store, some updates needed to be made to the building. It was basically the leftover 2nd story portion of the original Meyer Bros store, and whatever little space existed under it. As such HPB also acquired a small piece of the building next door.  A book store was considered a higher end tennant for Rice Village at the time, even if it was used books. This would begin a chain of gentrification that gives us the Rice Village of today.

This back corner was expanded at some point with the room straight ahead being added on. The murals were one of my favorite parts of the HPB. Very well done, and providing useful information too!
A floorplan of the first floor from 2010. The two rooms in the top left, were built as an addition, and the Kids rooms actually expand into the building next door.
This was an addition room.
As was this one, the difference in floor level leads me to wonder if this is a result of leftover portions of the original 1940s store.

In the end, according to Half Price Books what finally drew them out was the hike in rent. It’s somewhat ironic to consider that the fact that Half Price’s own existence is what led to its eventual downfall. In a city like Houston it’s not hard to imagine Rice Village falling apart, and being torn down for condos, or other cheap housing. However this building has managed to stick around into 2020, let’s hope it remains a bit longer.

My attempt at a classic, February’s Retail Demolition Report

As with many of my current readers, I still have a huge, Swamplot shaped hole in my heart. The rise in my frequency of posting is largely due in part to a few readers contacting me and mentioning that this site helped somewhat to fill the void. In my research I sometimes check demolition reports. I have been wanting to share the demolition reports I’ve seen. However, I wanted to make some distinctions from Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report. I’m only featuring commercial properties which have: some connection to retail, are interesting, or are historic.

1134 Hamblen according to some old Chronicle Ads this was originally a Phillips 66. Source: Google Street View
02/03/20 – 1134 Hamblen Rd Humble, TX 77339 Late 70s Coastal Station looks like it hasn’t sold gas in a few years
02/04/20 – 812 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77006 Theo’s Greek Restaurant which closed in January due to planned demolition of the strip center it leases space in.
02/13/20 – 747 Dairy Ashford Rd Houston, TX 77079 Originally a Bill Blankenship Firestone most recently an independent auto shop.
02/24/20 – 2600 S Richey St Houston, TX 77017 UTBAPH (Used to be a Pizza Hut) property now owned by 7-Eleven
02/25/20 – 1508 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77006 Demolition of a storage shed by new occupant “Cutthroat” possibly a third location of the Barbershop?
02/28/20 – 4111 Fannin St Houston, TX 77004 Demolition of the former Sears Midtown Auto Center, great Street View from when it was still open. Seem like it will become a parking garage.

Retail News: Closures and Openings

Welcome back loyal reader to another edition of Random Retail. This one comprises some photos from the past month as today we take a look at openings and closures in the Houston area.

Let’s start with the new Meyerland H-E-B. It had its grand opening January 29th, and I was there about three days prior. When Meyerland Plaza opened in 1957, it included a Henke & Pillot grocery store as one of the major tenants. Located in the Southeast corner of the shopping center, near where Cafe Express sits today. This store would eventually be converted to a Kroger, and would shut down in 1980. It was used by a number of short term liquidation businesses before being demolished during the 1990s renovation of Meyerland Plaza.

The store was built to the West of JCPenney which meant that they lost some parking space, and the former Meyerland State Bank was required to be demolished. The garage does have signage directing banking customers to the new location across Endicott Lane.
The elevated parking structure helps on two fronts. One it does add some parking back to JCPenney, with some spaces on the first level being reserved for the store. Second it helps prevent excessive flooding damage. The issue is bad enough that it required HEB to permanently close their old Meyerland store prior to building a replacement. Some infrastructure doe exist on the first floor, but it’s mostly off the ground by a bit.
This new parking structure has given JCPenney a new entrance. If you so desire you can either swap between stores, or even purposely try to fight HEB traffic to visit Penney’s!

Next, Xfinity is coming to Highland Village. Replacing long time tenant VisionWorks, previously known as EyeMasters, who replaced Workbench, a furniture store in 1989. This new store represents a growth in retail presence by Xfinity. The goal of the stores is to boost technology sales, including mobile phones.

VisionWorks closed prior to (or right at?) Christmas, with Xfinity immediately starting demolition and renovation. At this point it looks like the new store should be poised to open by the end of February.

Other previous tenants included Chez Orleans Creole Restaurant, however the building has been substantially rebuilt from those days. Older readers may even remember when Suffolk street went all the way through Highland Village into Oak Estates.

The next story takes us Southwest of Houston. The former New Territory Randalls has a new tenant, Al-Rabba an international food store with a decidedly Arabian name. This Randalls was one of the last non-Safeway locations to be built. It was the 70th location (likely including the Austin stores) and rightly opened to quite a bit of fanfare. It was a concept store, ditching a drop ceiling for exposed roofing. It also included new features like in store dry cleaning, photo and video processing, along with a full in store restaurant. It was painted in a hunter green color scheme that was also used in the Woodlands store. New Territory was also rumoured to have sold beer and wine prior to any other location.

This very Randalls was actually my first job during high school. While the store had recently been converted to the standard Safeway lifestyle format it still had hunter green shelves in the back.

The store did quite well serving not just New Territory but the quickly developing Greatwood and Riverpark subdivisions as well. They were initially open 24 hours and would remain so for many years. The scaling back in hours would actually happened slightly before I started working there, but it did not affect me as I worked in the deli. The stores decline began in the mid 2000s when the Riverpark Shopping Center was developed. A pad side which had been purchased by Albertsons was sold to HEB when the prior company exited Houston. This new HEB was the first in what would become the Richmond (later to become Sugar Land) area. Both stores were able to maintain steady traffic for many years. With HEB handling the majority and Randall’s getting the overflow.  However conveniences like Curbside pickup, and lower prices led to HEB winning out.

I visited a day or two after the store’s lease had finally expired. Everything left in the store was for the new owner to deal with. There was actually a meeting going on inside of the store. Even ripped apart this store still looks so much nicer than a standard location.

Finally it seems that Carl’s Jr. has exited the Houston market for good. Right after Christmas I stopped by the North Shepherd location to snap a couple of pictures. Via Google Reviews it has been confirmed that all except the N. Highway 6 locations have closed. The company website has not been updated and lists all locations as open, except for the missing N. Highway 6 location. Carl’s Jr. entered the West Houston market in full force in the early 2010s with aggressive growth. The plan was to get a steady foothold on the well developed West, and then build to the newly developing East.

Although all signage had been removed everything else was pretty much business as usual in terms of a store closure. It does raise the question, could these stores come back?
All product in the store had been removed so it was obvious that this store had a proper shutdown. However it was filthy, which leads me to believe they have little intent to return.
While most of the lights were off, enough were on that you could get a sense of everything left in the building. Electronics were mostly still in place. With the only thing missing being food and packaging.

Open 24 hours Carl’s Jr. attempted to compete with the likes of Whataburger and Jack in the Box. Their food initially was good for the price, but the quality dropped quickly and prices rose. The restaurants also generally had a reputation of poor customer service, and long wait times. Ultimately poor management/franchising was likely a key, as the Houston locations had a history of randomly opening and closing with little to no notice to employees.

The single location may be where the product from these stores ended up. We will see if this round of closures is permanent or if the stores reopen. Although with Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s trying to seperate themselves at the moment I doubt they’re focusing on a slow market like Houston.

Adiós to Casa Olé in Stafford

While out taking pictures for an upcoming blog post, I passed the Casa Ole on Murphy Road and saw only a single car in the parking lot. I thought that maybe it was just an extremely slow day, and gave them a call to see if they were open. I didn’t get an answer, so I decided to turn back around and snap some photos.

The neon sign is now turned off, the sky wasn’t very overcast but had tall clouds which blocked out the sun and muted the colors of the building. The address of this location was 12203 Murphy Rd, Stafford, TX 77477

The sign facing Murphy Road gives notice of the closing, however the thick bundle of cable and telephone wiring block the view of the sign to Northbound motorists.

Moving back from the sign to face the corner of the building, you can see the fountain was removed at some point. I’m not sure when the last time I stopped at this location was, but the fountain was still there.

Up at the front door, signs have been taped to the door which was written by the founder of Casa Ole, Larry Forehand. It also includes a map of other locations in the Houston area.

I believe this was the To-Go entrance at one point. However, it didn’t have any signs indicating what it was.

There is a used car lot located directly to the right of the building. To help preserve some of the charm of not looking at old cars while you eat, a fence was built and this area was styled with potted plants, and mulch.

Looking into the restaurant not much has been touched. Some of the lights are still even on.

You can see the lit accent lighting on the support beam to the far left, along with the Exit sign above the emergency door.

Moving further down the right side of the building we come to an “abandoned” window which has not seen any love in a while. There’s another phony abandoned window on the opposite side of the building, in much better shape. This was never seen by customers.

The back end of the building really goes to show how great of a theme job was done with the stucco, and building additions. Notice the window on this side, which includes the original awning.

This location had an extra grass lot, which I remember parking in quite a lot. Although, it looks like it hasn’t been used much lately.

A better look at the nicer window reveals that is is just building decor, also notice the outside of the emergency exit on the right.

This side of the restaurant looks the same, like it’s ready to open back up at any minute.

I couldn’t figure out exactly where this door led, but I’m thinking this was maybe a private room from the dining room?

These tables even had table cloths on them. Someone must have stopped mid-setup.

A final look back at Fort Bend County’s sole Casa Ole made me some what nostalgic. I remember Case Ole as being quite the celebratory place. The food was delicious, and reviews show this held true up until the end. If anything this restaurant has been effected by a demographic shift in the neighborhood. The Stafford area, which has shifted from established Upper Middle and Middle Class African American families, to newer immigrant families. Many of which are from African and Indian backgrounds, and are either lower-middle class or lower class. Only time will tell what will pop up in here, but Casa Ole will be missed.

Its final day of operation was July, 21 2018.

Two Closures in Galleria IV

Upon visiting the Galleria last week, I was surprised to learn of two recent closings. One of them I saw coming from a mile away which was of course Best Buy Mobile. The stores, which were more similar in fashion to a cell phone retailer, than a real Best Buy. I had tried shopping here a few times, and never had an exceedingly pleasantly experience. Best Buy announced the closure of all BB Mobile locations back in May of 2018. I did not see the store have a clearance or going out of business sale.

The exterior has been left untouched so far, although black covering was added to the doors and windows. It’s likely in this case, that there’s either not a tenant lined up just yet or Best Buy Mobile still has a lease which has yet to end.

The next closure in Galleria IV, came a more of a surprise. It was the former studio of KPRC-TV (Channel 2)’s “Houston Life”.  The show which is still on the air, has moved to another location, but that’s a story for Mike McGuff to tell.

I wanted to include one final shot to show where the studio was located. It was shoved under the escalators next to Nordstrom. It was directly sandwiched by the ebar.