So long Super Target in Missouri City

Target recently finished a large number of renovations on their Houston area stores. This was done to help bring their image up in line with their more up to date locations. It’s actually part of a nationwide effort to cutback and aid underselling locations.

Edit: I have received word from a reader that this same conversion took place at the Baybrook Target.

The general Southwest area received an expansion of Super Targets in the late 90s. With locations in Houston, Pear Land, Sugar Land, and Missouri City to name a few of the numerous upgrades. However a recent trip to the Missouri City store revealed a surprise, the store has been downgraded! It seems that grocery was not preforming well and the store was downsized to help remedy this.

One of the first clues was the new central sign which nearby Sugar Land did not receive during their upgrade
Despite the blurry image you might be able to make out that the separate Grocery entrance was kept.
The grocery section has been reduced to the size of a typical P-Fresh Target. With an expanded beer and wine selection taking the place of the bakery and deli.
At first glance you can tell something is off. This wall is not as deep as the the bakery and deli were. That is because about half of the grocery floor space has been closed off and is being used as storage.

Looking back towards the entrance, you can see that Starbucks has been left pretty much untouched. It still occupies the from alcove and keeps separate from grocery.

You might notice that for a Target this is a better than average P-Fresh department, that’s because most of the P-Fresh locations in Houston are actually undersized compared to normal. The fixtures were replaced for this conversion and scales along with weighted produce sales were discontinued. The conversion also meant reducing dairy cases down to one shared one, and freezers were consolidated and moved forward.

As mentioned earlier the selection is larger than a normal P-Fresh but compares closer to average sized selection when looking at newly built stores.
A new freezer bank was installed as the original freezers were demolished in the back. Notice the use of drop-in conduits for their new freezers. The original layout did not have these, as conduits were run underground.

 

This back portion of the grocery section was the original frozen section. The Dairy cases
This is looking straight to where the dairy case once stood. The curved wall is a first generation left over.

The next few photos are from various stages during the conversions completion. I was actually in a situation where I had to visit this specific Target a few weeks in a row and watched this all happen. There was no news or publication about the downgrade, and outside of the grocery section you really wouldn’t be able to tell this was no longer a Super Target.

I took this photo prior to the conversion being completed. When I saw this I mistakenly thought they had temporarily modified this area to be storage during the renovation.
Another photo from the renovation in progress. The floors were cut concrete, covered by laminate tile. Sugar Land did this as well, but did not first grind their flooring. Which means the lines show through.
One advantage of the downsized grocery was the fact that the Food Avenue or Cafe a it is now called was allowed to stay. Many other stores have had their Cafes removed during this last round of renovations.

Outside of the grocery downgrade this is still a very nice store. Honestly it’s much quieter than the Sugar Land store and easier to shop. The downgrade is a bit of a shame and means I can’t reliably grocery shop there anymore. I do think that with the way Missouri City and the Western area is expanding there is a small chance grocery could one day make a comeback, but it’s a slim chance. Till next time!

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.

A 35MM Walk down memory lane

This last summer I took some time to visit friends and extended family in Cleveland, Ohio. The whole Northeastern Ohio region is like a time capsule for retail. Chains you thought went bust like Rax still reign king in small towns. While visiting I stopped into Discount Drug Mart and was surprised to learn that they still develop film. I bought a roll, and a camera from Goodwill. Here are some of the photos I took.

This Dairy Queen is right outside of the Goodwill I purchased the camera from. I headed to Elyria (a suburb West of Cleveland) as I felt I could take better photos.
The Abbe Road Drive-Thru likely hasn’t been updated since the 1980s. The Dairy Queen is immediately behind this building, and was a former Hardees.
After a few picture in Elyria (most of which were unusable) I headed down to nearby Grafton to visit the Sparkle Market Grocery store.
I had driven by the Sparkle Market on one of my many previous trips to the area but have never stopped in before. I knew they were a local store with only the single location. Check out the fluorescent lights through the window!
This is the photo I am most proud of. The juice dividers, which were still being used to hold frozen juices, are likely from the 1980s. The cooler was painted a bright orange which can be seen below, and the chrome trim was all well kept.
Most of my photos turned out to be very blurry. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a better camera next time I shoot on film. The produce section reminded me of the original Houston Safeways with the use of mirrors above the produce.
Although a poor shot, I wanted to include at least one to show what the store looked like. Still very vintage after all these years. Not terribly busy either.
As my readers are mostly Houstonians, I wanted to give you something you might recognize. An old Kroger! Despite being an Ohio based company Kroger has not had a presence in Cleveland since the 1980s. This was due to a labor and union dispute. Most stores were sold of to regional chain Giant Eagle.

A funny little vignette to end with. While driving out of the former Kroger parking lot, I ran over a nail. I was able to make it onto a nearby highway before noticing and pulling off. This last summer hit a high temperature record for Cleveland of 97 degrees. Predictably (according to Murphy’s law) I had my flat tire on this day. Once I stopped and began to change my tire, I had multiple people stop and offer me water or help. They were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the heat. Thankfully my Texan background and Cleveland’s much lower humidity made this a relatively painless tire changing experience. By the way, turns out sweating works, it just has to be able to evaporate!

I hope you enjoyed watching me muddle through a film shoot. This was a practice run for a Houston attempt. Though I will definitely have to buy a better camera before that.

A Return to Mercado 6

A little over a year ago I made plans to return to Mission Bend’s most prominent Flea Market, Mercado 6! Well, I was finally was able to head back and get some photos of the interior of this former Kmart. Now masquerading as a flea market, store 4884  as it was formerly known was mostly built during 1992 opening in early 1993. At 110,000 Square Feet it was a notably larger Kmart store. Its size puts it on par with a standard Wal-Mart of the time. This was at a time when most Americans knew Kmart for having smaller and older stores compared to competitors. This new store was a state of the art location with a K-Cafe/Little Caesars, Pharmacy, and possibly an Auto Center. Along with an expanded selection of its basic fare (clothing, home goods, etc..) It also featured Pantry Items, which including some basic grocery, expanded cleaning supplies, and an expanded pharmacy selection.

The recent repainting has the building looking closer to a Kmart than it has in years!

The size and extra features planned for the Epmenada Kmart where due to a nearby competition. Walmart which was located at 14550 Beechnut (right at the intersection with Highway 6) opened in 1985. This location was a standard to smaller mid 80s suburban store. There was also a Target at Bellaire and Highway 6, which had also recently opened in 1985. At the time, not many peopled lived off of Highway 6, except for a prominent new housing development located on the west side of the highway, named Mission Bend. Built mostly as housing for employees of the new Shell Research complex it was on the other side of Alief Clodine and the railroad (now Westpark Tollway). It easily dwarfed any other housing project in the area, and the houses were built to “luxurious 1980’s standards”.  Walmart and Target would continue unabated, without any serious competition in the area until Kmart announced their store. The location would put Kmart literally halfway between the competitors and directly across from Mission Bend. This threat would push Walmart which was just above 90,0oo Square Feet, to plan an expansion to put their store above 130,000 square feet. Walmart would add an auto center, snack bar, and expand their selling floor considerably.

The original doors are still in use (including the central “cart door”), however protective bars have been added on the inside.

As the development of Western Houston had continued for sometime, the desirability of the Mission Bend area began to collapse. It was quite quick process, and while many people have linked it to things such as the 1980s Oil Crisis, and overbuilding, some of it is likely due to the fact that much larger homes were being built further West for the same price. Housing issues aside, all three retailers were doing well in terms of sales. As previously mentioned no new meaningful competition would be built on Highway 6 between Alief Clodine and 90-A for years, and the Kmart would be the last new Mission Bend store of any real size until HEB opened their new store in the early 20000s.

While the Mission Bend area was experiencing as decline, the West Oaks Mall area (Westheimer and Highway 6) would experience a huge amount of growth. Just as Kmart was building their store another midwestern department store had made plans to enter the Houston area. Venture had decided to enter the Houston area by building 13 stores throughout the area. As this was Venture’s first major expansion they were able to spend quite a bit of money on choosing locations. An over expansion among other things would cause Venture to file for bankruptcy. This Bankruptcy filing would motivate Kmart to acquire 10 of these “prime locations”.

The original flooring and lighting is still in place, but outside of that nothing would even hint to this building being a Kmart to anyone traveling the interior.

In August of 1997 the Venture Department Store at 14411 Westheimer closed during the final stages of a liquidation which had begun only a month prior in July. The store was still quite new, only 4 years old, making it a year younger than the Highway 6 and Empanada Kmart location. Although the age difference was not what motivated Kmart to purchase the Venture location when liquidations were announced. It was the premium position directly across from West Oaks Mall, and next to the Kmart owned Builder’s Square.

The closings of original Kmart stores were also quite sudden, with Kmart treating this as a move, rather than closing and reopening. Venture staff was laid off, although they were given a chance to reapply at Kmart for new positions. After liquidations were completed, any remaining items were removed with only the building left. The idea was that Kmart could bring certain furniture from the old stores, and implement new items were slated to be replaced during the “Big Kmart” remodel plan which was happening across the nation. The Venture stores in Houston were purchased by Kmart purely for the ability reopen as Big Kmarts.

This was the the rear wall of the store. It was demolished adding space which formerly made up the back room.

By the late 90s Kmart was known to most in Houston as being a lower-end discounter. Many even considered it below Wal-Mart, and most consider lower than Target. This image problem was not just local. With a focus on expanding stores, and opening new Super Kmarts many stores had not received and sort of decor or signage update in years. The Big Kmart remodel was the plan to fix this reputation problem. Not only would Kmart improve the decor of the store, they would improve the reputation as well. Wider aisles were part of the plan. Along with a reduction in discount items and an increase in higher end brands.

The West Oaks Venture store was quite a bit smaller than that the Empanada Kmart. Coming in at about 97,000 square feet, Venture lacked many Kmart features, such as a Garden Center, Auto Center, and Pantry. Most Houston area Kmarts were 70’s and 80s locations, which meant that the difference in size could be dealt with. However, the Empanada Kmart’s wider product selection did have to be somewhat reduced to fit into its new home.

The backroom lighting is the using the original fixtures. The white wall ahead is the area for the Rear Restrooms and Security Office, both of which are original.

After the move was completed in 1997 the Empanada Kmart would end up sitting vacant for about 5 years. In 2002 Kmart was finally able to sell the property to a group of investors who had plans to open a flea market. As the store was undergoing a remodel during the move, many unneeded items had been left behind. Including display cases, register stands, and most of the contents of the K-Cafe. These would be reused by flea market vendors, one of which would essentially reopen the K-Cafe.

In its early days the location was simply known as “Highway 6 Flea Market” and had no specific target. With a waning economy it was renamed “Mercado 6” in the mid 2000s to better fit the areas growing Hispanic population. The Food Court (former K-Cafe) began to sell Mexican treats in addition to the Kmart Fare, and signage was updated to be bilingual. This rebranding continues successfully to this day, with Mercado 6 being one of the larger flea markets in this area of Houston.

In 2003, one year after the old Kmart had been converted to a flea market, the new location would close with another liquidation occuring in the former Venture building. This time taking place under the Big Kmart label. The chain claimed it was essentially going through what Venture had done only 5 years prior. The reality of it being that Kmart was going through a scandal of hiding debt somewhat similar to what Enron had undertaken. The end of the Venture based Kmarts in Houston was the beginning of the end for Kmart as a whole. The final Kmart to be built had opened just a year prior with some newer stores even left unfinished at this point the few stores that are left likely won’t be able to hold on past a few years. The former Venture building would sit vacant for a few years, with the Builder’s Square (another Kmart property) taking the same fate as well. Burlington Coat Factory would eventually move in, performing a full gutting of the building. In 2018 the property was vacated again as Burlington moved up Westheimer to a newer building. The old Venture now sits vacant after Alief ISD purchased it with plans to convert it to a training facility.

Looking at some Costume Conversions

Greetings loyal reader, with Halloween approaching I feel it’s time to provide an update. As my sporadic posting schedule continues I don’t want you to think I have abandoned my site. Prior to this the most recent update was the publishing of my Del Taco and Steak N Shake pages. I’ll provide some more information as to what’s coming up at the end of this post.

One of the oldest trends in retail photography are photos of abandoned places. Originally retail photography seemed to be somewhat of a subgenre of abandoned photography. I remember my first connection with retail photography being a blog post about an abandoned McDonald’s in Indiana. As retail grew into its own fandom, the phraseology began to change to differentiate us. An example would be the term “dead mall”. The characteristics of a dead mall vary from person to person. However, broad strokes would include something along the lines of having most or all anchors closed, few to no major brand stores left in the mall, low tenancy, but not completely vacant either. It’s a mall which is basically on its last legs.

This Halloween Express occupies the recently closed Palais Royal at the former Westchase “Mall”.

Today we start by looking at a Halloween Pop-Up, in a former Palais Royal. Opened in 1998, it was a late addition to the shopping center and as far as I can tell was the replacement for long defunct Craig’s Clothing. Usually pop-up shops, Halloween or otherwise, do a poor job covering up what store used to host them. For the most part they come in put up their racks, merchandise, and do the best they can to cover at least copyrighted decor or anything which confuse the customer. This also happens to be the way in which vacated chain shops in dead malls are usually converted. However, there is a key difference between the two examples.

This photo was taken in the center of the store looking forward. All the fixtures were brought in, very little was left from Palais Royal.

As seen in this photo fixtures, shelving, and all merchandise are all generally pulled. Although, much is left behind showing this store’s history. Examples from this photo include the well kept tile floor, and the difficult to see built-in shelving towards the front of the store. What sets conversions apart from pop-ups is conversions are far more permanent. This shoddy work is usually a requirement of the lease which prohibits any changes to the structure.

The Fitting Room sign was removed from the wall, but was nearby. This may have happened during liquidation.

If appropriate for the situation, conversions will generally utilize built-in features such as Fitting Rooms. However conversions will usually install their own temporary fitting rooms, to better suite their needs. The Halloween Express folks were still in the process of building out the store when I visited in late September. The Fitting Rooms were still accessible, but the removal of the sign, and layout of merchandise as seen above indicated that they would probably not continue to utilize this space.

The use of the plastic black tarp helps to better hide the back end of the store.

“Crowd Control” is generally limited to strategically placing shelving material along whatever sections the temporary tenants wishes to close off. Unfortunately I was unable to capture an image of the vacated sales space, as it was being used as a backroom. This seems to be somewhat common for conversions. My guess would be that back rooms are often much hotter, and less desirable places to work in. As conversions generally don’t utilize all of the floor space their hosts once needed, this makes sense. However, not all conversions have this advantage.

You can tell this building has sat unmaintained for quite sometime by the amount of grime building up, and trash around the edges.

One pop-up which has no trouble using up floor space, is this Spirit Halloween in the former Walgreens on Highway 6 and Westheimer. The smaller size of this location compared to big-box pop-ups means that floor space and back room layouts are still somewhat preserved. After Walgreens closed in early 2017, this building has sat vacant for nearly 3 years. Mostly being used as a garbage dump, and occasionally a stop for outdoor “vendors” (Not unlike the rug vendors who squatted at the vacant Exxon across Westheimer for years). Before we take a look inside, I wanted to demonstrate how horrific the exterior conditions had become.

When electricity was restored to the building the sign automatically reverted to what was last programmed in. Leading me to believe that this location closed shortly after February.

 

After sitting completely abandoned, with no security around many holes had developed in the glass. No doubt, someone was throwing rocks or other large items into the store for amusement.

 

All the junk that had built up around the store was “hidden” by the Spirit folks and by hidden, I mean pushed under the Drive-Thru Pharmacy canopy. This picture doesn’t not capture all of the junk.

Less apparent but still noticeable in the signage photo, is the lack of attention to the plants growing around the edge of the building. The trees and bushes were so thick they felt like a curtain which was protecting the store from the highway. As well, the grass was high enough that you would want to look at the ground before walking. I personally would not have felt the building was in ready to open condition. However, pop-up shops seem to open quite early, due to their limited time frame.

The interior of this former Walgreens wasn’t in terribly bad shape. Despite the holes in the window and exterior decay.

Getting into the Walgreens we see some obvious pop-up compromises. Walgreens used those huge mirrors up above to assist their employees and cameras in loss prevention. However, Spirit is far less concerned and covered up about half of the mirror space with their banner. Some other remnants would be the huge security camera domes. Although the iconic blue “Security Camera” placards had been removed. Most of the rest of the store had been covered up.

This would have been where the Refrigerator and Freezer would have been during the Walgreens phase of life. As it was all removed, Spirit was using this as a box storage area.
This was the former pharmacy waiting area. The pharmacy walls and counters are still present. I wanted to get a better photo of this, but I also visited this store while it was being built and full of staff.
Looking towards the front of this store, the iconic front architecture would be something that a conversion would have a difficult time covering up. As Walgreens divested many stores in Houston around this time period, there are some good conversion examples to compare to.
The reused of the original checkout location is likely not a coincidence. It was the location of power, and internet drops. It’s likely that Spirit develops a plan for commonly used stores.

Overall this wasn’t a bad setup, although the exterior conditions were lacking, a nicely detailed interior helped to make up for it. One thing you may notice is the number of boxes everywhere. Boxes are kept at stores like these as when they shut down everything is shipped back, and warehoused until next Halloween. It’s not like a liquidation where everything is sold off.

The exterior of this store is much cleaner, and neater than the previous.

Speaking of Liquidations, our next stop is Babies ‘R Us a chain of stores which recently went through liquidations. As such Spirit is also the first store to open up in the former space. However the wait is not quite as extreme as the Walgreens. Notice the exterior theming is much different that the last location. No inflatable displays, banner signs, or anything really other than a very plain sign. I would guess this is either signage permit requirements in Sugar Land, or a requirement by the shopping center.

Much of the themed flooring was purposely covered up by displays. The orange tape on the floor was meant to show where the aisles were.
Spirit only used about 1/3 of the store space. this is a shot of what was behind the wall. Unused space, tons of boxes, and a single leftover Babies R Us shelf!
One thing the larger stores seem to be adding is an interactive experience. This location had a mini haunted house you could walk through. I visited this location shortly before Halloween and was not able to get a chance to go through the haunted house.
Coming up to the front end, I found they were using original Babies ‘R Us fixtures for their checkout stands. Most of the returns counter, along with the first checkout stand remained.
On the way out, I got a pic of the back end of the hanging decor above the checkouts. I assume the logos were once part of a decor package.

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at some Costumed Conversions for Halloween. Be sure to stick around, I have multiple updates planned between now and Christmas (lets see if I stick to that!). Anyhow, if the slow update pace bugs you, I do update my Facebook somewhat more regularly.

 

See you next time, loyal reader -Mike

Portofino Shopping Center

The idea of being a “fan of retail” has gained a good deal of traction in the last couple of years. With the prevalence of Facebook groups, YouTube Channels, Discord Servers interest in retail is growing. My interest in retail began with the discovery of some of the earliest retail blogs. As retail has become more mainstream it has started to develop an “aesthetic”, based mostly around nostalgia. This aesthetic extends to an interest in abandoned things and Vaporwave. Fun stuff, but it’s not what really got me started with retail. What really got me started, all the way back in the days of dial-up, was an interest in unique design.

The Sam’s Club is the only original tenant to receive any major updates while keeping the original theming. The updates includes the new paint, added pickup canopy, and additional/updated signage.

Today we’ll be talking about The Portofino Shopping Center. Located off of I-45 in Shenandoah, Texas, Portofino is closer to The Woodlands, than Houston City limits. Although it does fall inside of the Houston Metro Area. My first encounter with this shopping center must have been around the about 2000. It would have been with my grandfather on to his home town of Groesbeck, a tiny berg East of Waco. The drive required us to take I-45, which was at the time a small two lane highway. Driving through what was mostly pine forest, I noticed something in the distance a massive shopping center. The trees mostly obstructed the view, but you could tell that this was a MAJOR project for what was at the time a mostly rural area.

In my opinion, Sam’s did an excellent job of updating the gas station. Especially as the new colors are in line with their new pallet.

Speeding down the highway chauffeured by my grandfather in his ’88 Ramcharger. The height of the car helped to make up for the somewhat obstructed view. The further along we followed the shopping center the thinner the tree line became. With more and more of the brilliant architecture peeking through the green curtain. At this point most of the buildings had yet to be painted. Although a primer coat had been applied making all the unopened shops shine brilliantly white. The huge spires, and detailed plaster work burned an image of the unfinished leviathan into my brain. One that I would be sure to look for on our next trip to Groesbeck.

The TJ-Maxx was originally a Conn’s while Petsmart is one of the original tenants.

After my first glance at the Portofino Shopping Center, every trip North gave me a chance to check out at the developing complex. My grandfather who was also intrigued by the center kept me updated with the occasional newspaper articles he would encounter as an avid Chronicle reader. On one of our trips we took the exit and attempted to drive up to the view the shopping center. Unfortunately at the time I-45 was undergoing a huge expansion, which meant access to the store was quite difficult. We ended up getting back on the highway and I never again had occasion to actually stop and visit Portofino again until this summer.


I think this is Petsmart’s approximation of a Roman Priest.
Which would make this a Pur-iestess? I’m not sure…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


My fiancee and I were on my way to a get together, we made plans to buy shoes meaning I only had a short amount of time from the parking lot. Some eagle eyed readers may notice that I had to leave some stores out. Some like Old Navy, have been redesigned and no longer resemble their original Italian inspired design. Others like Stein Mart, I was just not able to get a good shot of due to the weather and time limits. After taking these photos I did some research into the background of the shopping center. I had remembered some of the story from my grandfather’s Chronicle Article updates, those memories had mostly faded.

This centerpiece of the shopping center, this section was the first to open. Unfortunately the trees seemed to cause an issue with my phone’s panorama mode. This portion of the architecture is inspired by Doge’s Palace.

What I found on the Portofino Shopping Center turned out to be quite an interesting story. The brainchild of Jim Fisher, a developer who was inspired to build this after a trip to Italy. Some of the special features included a bell tower, fountain, actual imported limestone; all of which are located in the central shopping center shown above. The shopping center also had 8 Gondolas imported from Italy soon after the grand opening. This is something I actually remembered from my grandfather’s updates. My grandfather was quite interested in trying out the Gondola ride, until seeing the price of $10/ticket.

Michaels and DSW both look much nicer than their normal counterparts.

The Portofino Shopping Center held its grand opening celebration on August 26, 2000. Some of the major opening day tenants included Bucca Di Beppo, Famous Footwear, Men’s Wearhouse, and Stein Mart. This first wave of stores would quickly be followed by a secondary set of stores. In the original section stores were divided into two generations. Those which took part in the grand opening and those that did not. All of these stores were designed to the original shopping center specifications in terms of decor and design. For the most part many spaces seemed to be leased prior to the grand opening.

PGA Tour Superstore was most recently a Sports Authority which was converted from an Oshman’s. This was likely one of the last Oshman’s built. This represents a “second generation” store.

Stores such as Michael’s were “first generation” stores. While, Oshaman’s (Now PGA Tour Superstore) is an example of a second generation store. It is difficult to tell first and second generation stores apart, generally the only difference being the opening date. According to newspaper articles the majority of the budget was spent constructing the original section. This is also apparent when visiting the shopping center. The smaller tenants, which were added on to the second generation stores, were not nearly as elaborate earlier designs.

Although slightly nicer compared to most shopping centers, the ends do not match the center.

With staggered openings, and a blown budget the developers began to tone down their designs. This is more apparent when you realize that the arches are not even finished on the right side of Buffalo Wild Wings in the photo above! Although built on a smaller budget, the unique aspect is still kept with this design. The arches and bell towers, all add to a unique beauty not really seen in modern shopping centers. Influenced by classic design and architecture, Portofino does not seem to simulate the Italian Shopping experience, but rather to create an experience.

These buildings are closer to I-45, they were part of the original opening of stores.

Overall my first visit to Portofino was a positive one. I enjoyed getting to see all of the stores up close. Although as far as I could tell the Gondolas had not been run in quite some time. The Portofino Shopping Center lives on as a monument to unique, high budget retail architecture. I should be back soon, with a Halloween Post (Time Permitting) in the meantime check out Houston Historic Retail’s Facebook for more occasional updates.

Target Galleria Remodel

Take yourself back to the early 2000s, now try to remember, were there any Walmart locations inside the Loop? There was a location just where the canceled Bay City Freeway stub jabs in to 610, but that was on the outside of the loop. In fact, until the 2012 opening of the Heights Super Center, there was no Walmart presence inside of Loop 610. That meant if you needed clothing, a TV, and snacks all in the same trip, you were stuck with going to Target. While over the past few years Walmart has increased their inner loop presence, they still don’t match the number of Targets within 610. With the large number of Targets, and lack of any real competition. Target’s Inner-Loop stores aren’t exactly the nicest.

The exception to this rule has always been The Galleria Target. While not actually located in the mall, the reputation of the Galleria as Houston’s premier shopping district this location means this location gets spill over traffic. While some of the customers do live in the surrounding “River Oaks” areas, a large portion of traffic comes from international shoppers hitting up The Galleria.

The exterior of this location received its first major exterior update since P-Fresh added a dedicated grocery section in the early 2010s. Target seems to be going very minimalist with their new design.

Almost all text has been removed from the building, however you’d have no issues identifying this as a Target. Some small text based signs do still exist for “Order Pickup” and “CVS/Pharmacy” but those are hidden off to the sides and under other design elements.

The plastic carts are on the way out! Target was one of the first retailers to introduce a completely plastic cart. While they preformed well initially, the bodies were subject to cracking which rendered them useless.

The new carts look somewhat similar to the carts Target had prior to the plastic ones. They use a Metal frame with a plastic body.

Entering the store you can immediately tell that something has changed in this store. It look me a bit to figure it out, what exactly was different here. Many of the full size floor to ceiling displays in the girls section have been removed allowing a view all the way to the back wall.

Across from the Dollar Spot, we find the former Food Avenue. During the P-Fresh Remodel a separate Starbucks counter was added. After the most recent remodel, the Food Avenue was removed. The Soda and ICEE machines are still there and operating. The Starbucks counter might sell the cups for those, but it was too busy to get a picture.

Right outside of the former Food Avenue, and in what was Women’s Clothing, is the new location of Target’s Seasonal Merchandise. For many years the Galleria has had their Seasonal selections all the way in the furthest corner of the store.

 

Notice the new flooring replacing the carpet. This flooring is just used the Seasonal Section, to help with the fact that the displays are all static and can be moved.

Stepping out of Seasonal and looking to the back of the store, notice that what used to be Women’s Clothing all the way back and to the right, is now Kitchen Supplies. Women’s Clothing does continue to take up the space on the left side of the aisle.

This back corner of the store was once the Fitting Rooms. However, with clothing no longer occupying any space on the exterior edges the Fitting Rooms had to go too.

This back wall display is REALLY big. Especially for something you’d see in a Department Store. You wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to reach up and grab the plants on the top shelf, but I guess Target wants to build a tall clientele.

The “Bat Phones” have survived another remodel at Target. The last time I needed to use one, the associate informed me that they are timed as soon as someone picks up the phone. Presumably trying to guilt me in to never using it again.

The Toy Section received something I haven’t seen in a while, Toys mounted for play! Not just the obvious buttons and spinners on the shelf, but the yellow and pink voice transmitting pipes. These used to commonplace in Toy Stores, good to see places like Target picking up the slack.

Pet Care has been moved next to the Hardware department, both of which were given new signage. This signage was first rolled out to the Super Target locations, and is now being implemented on all remodels.

This was taken with my back towards the groceries facing down the center aisle. The lights and displays are all new, it looks a bit cluttered from far away. Although close up it’s not that bad.

The central displays help me to make the case that Target is stepping up their display game. They’ve always been ahead of the curve, being one of the first stores to introduce “body positive” mannequins, back in the late 2000s. Now they’ve upgraded their displays to something you’d see at a mid-level department store. At this point, it honestly looks better kept than the last couple of Palais Royals I’ve been to.

Heading around to the front of the store, the path breaks into two forks near the Pharmacy. The makeup selection at this Target has always been upscale, but it looks like they’re going for a store-in-a-store feel.

The reason the path breaks into the aforementioned forks is to make room for another central display. However the one in the photo above is actually from back in the center aisle.

Heading out to the checkouts, notice everything has been replaced. From the belts to the lighting. The only original elements appeared to be things like the battery holder, and drink coolers.

 

Going to this Target was an experience. It felt more high-class then I had felt at a Target in the past 15 or so years. It felt more like Target did when I was a kid, with the glaring lack of a Snack Bar. It makes me greatly sad that I can’t get popcorn at Target anymore, but the future does look nice.

 

At the Old Ball Game

The Astrodome served as the first home for Houston’s one and only MLB team from 1965 to 1999. As far as baseball stadiums went, it was incredible at the time. The Astrodome was fully enclosed, air conditioned, and provided a ton of food options for hungry stadium goers. At the time of construction, the Astrodome helped set the standards for modern baseball stadiums.

In 2000 The Astros made the decision to move from the Astrodome to the newly built Enron Field. Just as the Astrodome had nearly 50 years earlier, Enron Field was full of innovation, including a retractable roof, outdoor A/C, and increased retail opportunities.

I recently had occasion to catch an Astros game. While I’ve been to Minute Maid Park a few times before, most of my memories the Astros are in the Astrodome. Making the trip up to our nosebleed seats provided many opportunities for surprise. As I learned that retail operations in baseball stadiums had changed from the simple Hot Dog, and Beer Stands I remembered as a child.

One of my first surprises was Shake Shack! A newcomer to the Houston area, the New York based chain has been beloved by many. Growing from a single Galleria location in 2016 to four by 2018. Constantly compared to In-N-Out Burger, who has yet begin any construction in Houston as of May 2019. The menu has most of the normal Shake Shack offerings, but is not complete.

Directly across from Shake Shack was a Pluckers. An Austin transplant, both Pluckers and Shake Shack are extremely popular with younger crowds. While the overall attendance at Minute Maid is mixed in age, the customers in this area skewed to the younger demographics. Pluckers was extremely busy which made it difficult to see the menu.

Located above Shake Shack and Pluckers was Torchys. While the sign might look incomplete the “T” on the left was so bright, that I couldn’t fully frame it in the photo. Located in a small corner the area is dark, this along with the bright signage help to match a typical Torchys.

I was able to catch a picture of the menu at Torchy’s. Showing that the menu is somewhat limited compared to the selections at a normal location. Although since it is a Torchy’s one has to wonder if they have any secret menu items.

 

One of the things I wasn’t expecting was the numerous carts around the stadium. I mostly remembered carts as selling only alcohol for those who didn’t want to wait in a food line. This is no longer the case, and in addition to selling alcohol many carts now sold food that was exclusive to the carts.

A great example is, Bahama Buck’s a familiar sight to anyone from Lubbock has been expanding their presence in the Houston area over the past five years. They had multiple stands around Minute Maid. All of which shaved their own ice. While the selection of flavors is limited compared to a normal Bahama Bucks, they have more than you’d expect!

Box Frites, Box Frites! Your parents cut you off!

This house brand sold fries, and for those like me who can only afford nosebleed seats, it’s one of your only options for fries on the top level. The name did remind me of Red Cow Entertainment’s BoxMac.

This was a big surprise to me. The La Michoacana Meat Market chain of stores, began in Houston. While they’re relatively well know for as a grocery store, I was unaware that they sold ready made food. This stand was located on the Concourse of the former Union Station.

Now with all the options available to a retail connoisseur such as myself, you might be surprised to learn that what I really wanted to eat was just a normal hot dog and some popcorn. Part of this is due to the enormous up charge all of these chain establishments take on when entering any kind of closed venue. Part of this was also nostalgia for Dome Dogs, which are not served at Minute Maid.

While some standard concession stands exist in the park, many have been updated. With half of the stalls being replaced by Order Kiosks and the other half a pickup stand. As far as I could tell there was little to no consistency between locations. Some of the hot dogs were Nolan Ryan Beef, some weren’t. It was just luck of the draw wherever you ended up.

One of the stands even used H-E-B Bake Shop Hot Dog Buns. I wasn’t expecting this and chose to buy my hot dog from this stand. Figuring that a store brand bun would be slightly better than whatever the default offering was. Unfortunately, my hot dog did not stand up to a Dome Dog. It could have been rose tinted glasses ruining my hot dog, but I’m guessing the quality just wasn’t that great.

 

Overall this proved to be a fun time, even though the ‘Stros lost, and the hot dog sucked. Going to a baseball game is fun because of the people you’re around. Not the food you eat! If you’ve liked my Facebook Page you had some idea that this post was coming. If you haven’t liked it, consider doing so. My Facebook page gets some extra content.

Memories of Highway 6

Growing up on the West Side of town meant when you wanted to go shopping you generally had to drive a bit. Around the time I entered Middle School my family moved from rural Richmond, to a suburb near Clodine. Driving in East on 1093, meant we would usually end up in one of the many shopping centers around Highway 6 and Westheimer. My family moved again shortly after I started college giving me little reason to visit the area. I took some time to visit the area, and see how things are going.

Originally an Eckerd later a CVS, the prime location helped attract a new tenant quickly.

 

This was one of the first Stripes locations in Houston. At one point Stripe’s owned the Ice Box brand as well. Notice the original atm sign.

 

Most of the decor in the store remains unchanged from this store’s days as a Stripes.

 

The former Laredo Taco Co. remains mostly unchanged although they now go by the name “Jack’s Taqueria”

Due to living in the city now, my journey began heading Westbound. I noticed the former Eckerd turned CVS at Westheimer and Eldridge has closed, and is in the process of being converted to La Michocana. I also got a chance to stop at what was one of the first Stripe’s locations I ever saw. It has since been converted into an Ice Box location, but still mostly resembles Stripes.

Once a Big Kmart, after a decent vacancy Burlington moved in. They closed in early 2019 moving to Eldridge.

 

The Builder’s Square was subdivided with Floor and Decor predating the Trampoline Park by at least 5 years.

 

These buildings were an Office Depot on the left, and a Service Merchandise on the right. The S.M. later became a Conn’s which moved across the street when Academy expanded.

Making it to Highway 6, we begin with the shopping center at the South East corner. This shopping center has seen major changes with no original anchor tenants from it’s late 90’s opening surviving past the mid-2000s. The three restaurants, and some smaller tenants are original. However, they recently lost Party City and Burlington to the newer center on Eldridge. With the Burlington replacing a Gander Mountain.

The label scar from Circuit City still remains to this day.

 

Across the street the Sears Auto Center sits abandoned.

 

This started life as a Pier One, later Goodwill moved in. They would stay here until Office Depot vacated.

Moving down Highway 6 a bit, vacant commercial space is abundant. Strangely for the most part the vacant spaces shown here are newer. Vacancy at most of these shopping centers hit its peak in the early 2000s. While it’s not at the level it was back then, things are noticeably light.

I spent many evenings at this Joe’s Crab Shack. It was a fun place for my parents to get cheap drinks, and feed us essentially for free.

 

The former James Coney Island, was recently vacated. Some time in late 2018.

The Northern side of these shopping centers has always been very food focused. With the exception of Chili’s, pretty much every food choice on the North side has changed. It was fun to go back and visit somewhere I had spent so much time at during my youth. Some aspects haven’t changed, but many have. For the most part the changes mark the changes in the neighborhood.

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Resolving to have a Resolution

When the new year rolls around, it invites a certain amount of reflection. Unfortunately I’m a procrastinator. Which means I didn’t really think of a New Years resolution until the end of January.

This reflection led me to realize that this blog is no longer and un-monitored sub project of mine. Rather, I have at least a couple of regular readers linked via click-throughs from other blogs. So I wanted to extend a thanks to everyone who not only reads my blog, but especially to those who return to check for updates. I know they are somewhat sporadic, but I do can only work on this website as my schedule allows. If you’re looking for a slightly more modern way to check for updates, I ask that you give Houston Historic Retail a like on Facebook. I’m going to resolve to have more regular updates on Facebook to make up for the occasional downtime here.

In the mean time, please enjoy another addition of Random Retail!

Over Christmas, I was invited by a friend to visit Mobile, AL. I happened upon this Golden Arches McDonald’s by accident, while trying to visit a “Dirt Cheap” location across the street.

Most of the photos I took, were spur of the moment. Anything I hadn’t seen before that caught my attention. I’m not sure if the McDonalds was an original Golden Arches that was remodeled, but the building had the long layout most modern stores have.

Near our hotel was a Winn Dixie. While they never made it to Houston proper they maintained a few locations South of town.

I can’t ever recall having stepped foot inside a Winn Dixie. They had a measurable Texas presence, albeit focused more towards Dallas. This location was very near our Hotel, in a suburb of Mobile known as Tillman’s Corner. The area is quite low income. This particular store features a “Dollar Shop” Which was just an extremely wide aisle, with shelving removed selling this at a Dollar price point. Honestly, if I wasn’t in dire need of some ibuprofen I likely would not have bought anything there. Despite their location, and obvious target demographic with the Dollar Shop, most items were extremely expensive.

This Rite Aid was recently closed, due to the failed merger of Walgreens and Rite Aid.

Rite Aid is another chain that I have never been to. As far as I know, they never made it into Texas. There were many former Rite Aid locations in Mobile. I believe that all were purchased by Walgreens after their failed merger. Many locations are in the process of being remodeled. However, Walgreens already had a presence in Mobile. Meaning there were some duplicate locations which were closed.

Despite it’s updated Walgreens signage, this still looks very much like a Rite-Aid.

 

This staggered checkout, looks almost like a Walgreens out of the late 70’s or Early 80’s.

 

I do miss Krystal, they have been in and out of Houston a few times. Never really catching on here.

You better believe, I did stop and get some delicious steamed hams, pardon me steamed sliders. This proved to be a more difficult endeavor then you would think. Requiring a trip to a second location, as this one had run out of buns. Then arriving at the second location, only to find it highly understaffed to handle the rush caused by the bun shortage.

There are many former Stuckey’s locations throughout the South. They can be identified by their distinct architecture.

Trying to fit in a stop by Frostop on the way to Mobile meant that I wasn’t able to really make nay other retail based stops on the drive-in. On the way back, I decided I wanted to try and seek out a Stuckey’s I hadn’t been to before. I had the perfect spot in mind. A newly opened location, converted from an independent C-Store with Exxon gasoline. A while back I had a discussion of, What makes a Stuckey’s a Stuckey’s with my friend Zap Actiondowser. We found that new Stuckey’s locations were being built. I had noticed a billboard in Louisiana touting this location as Stuckey’s return to the state.

In reality this store was just an Exxon, which sold some Stuckey’s branded merchandise, hot “food”, and trashy souvenirs.

 

Gator Heads are common at places that sell souvenirs in Louisiana. The only other Stuckey’s I have a memory of going to was in East Texas, and they had them too.

 

For the most part the prepackaged Snacks looked like normal gas station fare. Not everything was Stuckey’s brand though.

 

I was tempted to buy a Stuckey’s Mug. I was split between the old fashioned one, and the billboard one. In the end my indecisiveness led me to not buying one.

 

Located in an unassuming strip center, the original Raising Cane’s is easy to miss.

One other stop I made we made was the original Raising Cane’s location. It’s located in a small strip center just outside the North Entrance to Louisiana State University. Reflecting its LSU heritage the outside of the building is adorned in Gold and Purple, and the interior features luxurious tiger skin seating.

I really liked this Chicken Fingers sign. I’m not much of a drinker, so I would totally hang this in a man cave as opposed to a Budweiser sign. Not pictured was a modern “Open” neon sign.

 

The old Wolf Bakery Sign sits out in the open. This is featured in modern Cane’s locations via a Cane’s mural in the same theme, and a small plaque explaining the inspiration.
To round it all out I wanted to include a picture of the North Main Sears from while it’s still around.