A look into Houston's retail past

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

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.

Riverpark Shopping Center Sugar Land

I recently came across a few pictures of the Riverpark shopping center from the year it opened. For the most part it looks the same, the biggest exception would be the closing of Gander Mountain. Not represented are some smaller closings such as Joe’s Crab Shack and Chili’s. Enjoy the pictures!

The main anchor of the center to this day is still H-E-B


Gander Mountain closed in the summer of 2017. The building  was used as a Spirit Halloween location. It may reopen under Camping World’s new brand Gander Outdoors.



Whataburger is still as popular as ever, however the smaller strip center to the left has had a major change in tennants including the obvious level as of Blockbuster Video.


Walgreens has been spruced up a bit on the outside but remains pretty much the same overall.