Sunday, October 2, 2016

Temporarily Closed Again Actually Not

Hey guys, I just wanted to say that although I do have a lot of time these days I wanted to say that because of some technical difficulties and other things going on in my life, I can't maintain the blog even biweekly anymore. Until otherwise, I will post when I feel like it, which will come at an uneven schedule. Sorry.

Monday, September 19, 2016

No Post This Week

Sorry for not posting this week. Yeah, I know there's no REAL excuse for it, but I plan to get my business in order by next posting cycle.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Former Randalls #1013 - Houston, TX

1407 Voss Road • Houston, TX

Built in 1973 (according to HCAD), this store has a somewhat long and storied history, but not always as a Randalls. This was built as one of the earlier Handy Andy stores in Houston. Based out of San Antonio, the grocer was a far cry from the dying small-town grocery store purchased by Arlan's Market in late 2012.

Back in the early 1970s, Handy Andy ruled the San Antonio grocery market, with gourmet foods, including European meats and cheeses and far more modern than H-E-B was (given the grocery market in San Antonio today, this may considered ultimately a tragedy), and tragedy it was as even though Handy Andy grew in the Houston market to upwards of nine stores (not just four as previously found), H-E-B engaged in a vicious price war that destroyed Handy Andy.

In 1979, Handy Andy pulled out of Houston and its stores closed, despite being fairly modern with cookware departments and full-service deli departments at a time when many did not. Handy Andy would file for bankruptcy in 1981 and its stores never again a serious threat.

In 1980, Randall's purchase four stores of the chain (considered the best), including this one (it became store #13, becoming 1013 only after the Safeway purchase). In 1985, Randalls decided to renovate and expand the store into a new concept, the Randalls Flagship, expanding the lower level of the store by 15,000 square feet to a total of 45,000 square feet (the store also included an upper level to make 56,000 square feet). The new store, which debuted in November 1985, featured fresh-made pasta, a French bakery, an expanded seafood and meat counter, a salad bar, and a 24-hour full-service restaurant called The Flagship serving items like eggs Benedict and grilled snapper. The merchandise mix featured most of what could be found in a traditional supermarket (including air conditioning filters) but it also included a wide range of magazines including The Robb Report and computer magazines (almost certainly Byte), televisions, orchids, expensive perfumes, and live rainbow trout.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and while the store did last another quarter century, the store went down with the chain as Safeway took over the chain and slowly altered the chain so it resembled just another Safeway. By mid-2013, there wasn't a whole lot of nice things to say about the dying store. It was not remodeled and what was once renowned for being the best grocery store in Houston area was to be demolished, with rumors of the chain's demise swirling and getting stronger.

Today, a Whole Foods Market stands in the spot, and in many ways, represents the store that Randalls could've been. You can have an awesome sandwich made for not a whole lot more than what Subway would charge (but made with superior ingredients), drink a glass of wine after work, and peruse the bright and airy stores for WFM-approved foodstuffs (no Diet Coke or Oreos).

My references for most of this article will be posted soon (possibly as a bonus), but in the meantime feel free to comment on this.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Former Albertsons #4021 - Victoria, TX

1309 East Red River Street • Victoria, TX

We've done so many old Albertsons stores in Houston, how about something different for a change?

About a month or so ago I went to Victoria (for a job interview, which I didn't get to much disappointment) and while I was there, I sought out their only dead Albertsons. Victoria is an hour or so southwest of Houston (directly off of 59) and it was part of the San Antonio division (not the Houston division), which had stores from Austin to the Mexican border.

The Victoria store closed as part of a 2002 bloodbath that ended the Houston division, the San Antonio division, and generally Albertsons' shot at becoming a coast-to-coast retailer with the Albertsons flag flying from SoCal to Florida, from Seattle to Philadelphia, although if you wanted to be pedantic, it closed later that year. This article notes that Kerrville, Victoria, and New Braunfels were the lone (non-Austin) San Antonio remnants that weren't closed with the 20 in San Antonio and the stores in South Texas, and that did hold true—the New Braunfels and Kerrville stores were sold to H-E-B in 2011 with a College Station store.

I am not sure if Albertsons in Victoria opened as a Skaggs Albertsons or not when it opened in 1977, the same year as the partnership dissolved, but if it did it was a very short time and if it didn't, it sure maintains the exact same model. Stopping in around noon it was not the best part of town but the old Albertsons looked well-maintained for a building shuttered over a decade ago, but upon further examination, the building had been gutted for offices, which was strange because there was no signage on the building at all (not even a number) regarding that. I'm glad no one was there, otherwise it would've raised some questions why I was on the property taking pictures. Note the side entrance (reduced for office use) that was common to Skaggs Albertsons model stores. I have no idea what they were used for specifically. The Florida ones used it for liquor if I recall correctly, and like Texas, distilled spirits are not sold in stores. Unlike Florida, I have determined that publicly traded companies couldn't have liquor stores (explaining why Albertsons had no liquor stores at its peak). Maybe it was for the HBC side.

One more thing for you: Victoria also has a relatively untouched (exterior-wise) Kroger Family Center! This closed in 1986 but spent the next 7 years as three different brands (see my post on Groceteria).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Former Albertsons #2766 - Houston, TX

9125 West Sam Houston Parkway North • Houston, TX

Apologies for not getting this out on Sunday, but I'd like to share with you another former Houston Albertsons. One of the more popular posts on Albertsons Florida Blog (which is this blog's main inspiration) is their look at #4466, the Port St. Lucie Albertsons, which closed in 2012 despite a recently renewed lease and supposed profitability (it's possible that it did well right before the recession, where the PSL area was hit heavily with foreclosures). Well, PSL did have a twin store (more like a multiple birth), 2766. Unlike 4466, which was mauled for a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, 2766 closed a decade prior and is now a Kroger, which kept the store intact.

Despite being updated with the same Kroger décor I've seen everywhere else (don't know the name), it still holds remarkably true to the 4466 layout. It has the same ceiling style and bore enough of a resemblance that I was able to look at the map with my phone and more or less follow it through. I could probably look at the pictures in AFB and visualize the "Theme Park" décor being in this store. The Starbucks was in the same place, the deli and meats were in the same place, and while the center store probably saw a rearrangement at some point, there were a few notable changes in the front. The old camera center had been converted to offices with the pet supply area converted to HBA, with the pharmacy next to it (it also added a walk-up pharmacy), and a bank space as well (this may have been part of the original layout), as well as a few other changes. The area around the florist was downsized (didn't see evidence of the former laundromat), as the customer service desk was moved either next to the restrooms or in front of the "Albertsons Reading Center" area. Assuming this store opened in 2000, it spent just about two years as an Albertsons before being sold to Kroger.

This part of town is very Kroger-concentrated due to their Albertsons purchases. Just two miles west on West Road is another Kroger (a Kroger Signature built around the turn of the millennium), and at that point, it's where you can find four Kroger stores within a three mile radius, two of which were former Albertsons (the other, of course, is 2790). This store replaced another Kroger store (at least functionally, I'm pretty sure there were a few years when both were open) 2 miles south (a former AppleTree) which had managed to co-exist with another Kroger store (closed around 2009) located a mile and a half southeast from that (also 290). Incredible!

I didn't get a lot of pictures of the store, unfortunately, but the former Albertsons Express is still in business as Kroger's "Kwik Shop", which is run by their convenience store division (a full Kroger-run and Kroger-branded convenience store was opened in College Station in 2016, and that made industry headlines).

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Former Albertsons #2773 - Houston, TX

Once again, we're forced to use Bing. I tried to get a good picture of this store except a combination of dangerous traffic patterns and the whole thing being fenced in have forced me to do differently.

1770 East T.C. Jester Pkwy.• Houston, TX

While Acme Style and Albertsons Florida Blog are off for vacation, I have returned. Why did we go offline in the first place? Well, only a few know the real answer.

In any case, we're back and back with stuff I had been working on prior to the hiatus. As part of a site "renovation", a few posts were culled until I can revive them somehow (a few other posts still remain to be reworked), and once again, we're working off of the dead Houston division, though rest assured—a new post on a San Antonio division store (South Texas) is coming soon, as well as another Bonus Store coming soon. The Houston division was one of the very first markets Albertsons pulled out of post-ASC and for good reason. There were, of course, a number of problems.

• Competition, for starters. From the time Albertsons entered to when they left, the Houston market was highly fragmented. In addition to Whole Foods (which had a few locations), supercenters (Wal-Mart Supercenter, Auchan, Super Kmart, although the latter two disappeared shortly after the departure of Albertsons), and independents hanging around (even AppleTree, the Safeway Houston division spin-off, still hung around with a few stores until 1997), there were the big guys. Randalls, of course, was #1 until 1999, and by 2002 they were losing a lot of ground under Safeway but still very much a threat. Kroger was building new "Signature" stores and unseated Randalls for #1, and they would keep that seat solidly (thanks to the acquisition of many Albertsons stores) until around 2013 when H-E-B caught up (today they bounce between #1 and #2), Rice Epicurean (a long-standing traditional Houston grocer that reinvented itself as a more upmarket store, though today it's down to a single location), and of course, the ever-growing threat of H-E-B, which by the time Albertsons left was beginning to upgrade its small "H-E-B Pantry" fleet into full-line full-featured stores.
• The expansion was part of a major store-build push in the 1990s that included the Southern United States as their main target. Albertsons was reaching a point where they almost (or perhaps did) have stores stretching across the I-10 corridor from California to Florida. To cap off their expansion, they bought American Stores, though that came at a heavy cost, namely rebranding Lucky to Albertsons (the Lucky stores would compose a third of the Albertsons store base in early 2000), which didn't go over so well.
• An inherently flawed plan that involved forcing their way into a crowded market where they would spend enormous resources for a market share.
• The weak economy (September 11th, Enron scandal, soft 2001 economy in general), though Albertsons denied this when they pulled out.

Above all, another major problem was building full-size stores in unproven locations. H-E-B Pantry did that to some extent but it was okay since their stores had little to no service departments and could shutter stores at little cost to the company. The closest analogue to H-E-B Pantry stores today would be Aldi, which had not entered the market at the time, and even that's not a great comparison, since Aldi doesn't sell a lot of name brands nor has a "real" supermarket elsewhere.

Make no bones about it, the Westheimer and Voss location as previously covered really was a good location...high traffic count, high population, and great access but failed due to the whole market situation and never became another supermarket again because everyone else had their own stores.

The East T.C. Jester store, not so much. This specimen and a few other stores in the area are especially perplexing, as things like this just seemed to suggest a "just throw them anywhere" attitude involving the Houston division, and that's not just speculative thinking...I've been told by someone who worked as a merchandiser for Frito-Lay that traffic count was not one of the things Albertsons looked at (some managers also had this particularly bizarre-like obsession with paperwork at the exact same time and signed by the right people, hearing him describe it brought to mind the film Brazil). This isn't a good thing if you're building large stores with full-service bakery, seafood, and deli departments.

The most immediate problem of this store (which originally had a larger parking lot, removed for a water retention pond) is that its access is very limited. Today, it only has one customer entrance in and out, but while the original design did include a few more entrances, it still had substantial access problems. There were a few other access portals on the side streets for trucks, but the surrounding roads are narrow and those don't do any favors for loading docks. I once spent several minutes stopped at one of the nearby roads for a truck to wriggle itself into a company that delivered flowers to florists.

I've spent a bit of time around this intersection and trying to navigate the area, and even getting into the former Albertsons driveway from the north was a pretty difficult experience. The building is certainly visible, but when you're trying to navigate the four way stops and then trying to make another left turn, it's easy to miss.

Compounding this access difficulty is the absence of traffic counts. I've been told that the road was extended circa 1999 as part of the deal of Albertsons coming. So you've got a dubious location to begin with, which is never good. The other things that tend to screw over individual locations are competition and demographics.

First, let's look at the immediate competition when this store was still alive.

Like the Bryan Albertsons, being the big dog in terms of being nice and big doesn't guarantee you success. Neither Foodarama (formerly an AppleTree/Safeway) or H-E-B (former Pantry, which we had covered here) are big stores but both draw a reasonable crowd for what they had. Generally, they were less expensive than Albertsons at this point, as well. To the southeast was (and is) a large Kroger, benefiting from the heavy crowds of Shepherd Drive, a four-lane, one-way road (the southbound traffic, Durham, goes behind Kroger). To the east was another Kroger, nestled in the Greater Heights area.

You'll also notice a large building with a dark roof at the northeast corner of the picture. This was a Kmart that opened in the 1970s and probably did okay (at least initially) because it was a Kmart. It closed in 2002 because it wasn't making a profit, and I believe it...I passed it by in 2011 for the first time and was astounded that a Kmart even existed in such a desolate location. Like the Albertsons, it didn't reopen as major retail, ending up becoming a dance studio and a wholesale store for the restaurant industry.

Both the H-E-B and Foodarama had better access and although they tend to draw a rather scruffy crowd (even in 2015), they at least seem moderately popular and have far better access. The Foodarama had been originally built as a Safeway and had been a Foodarama since 1994 when it took over the AppleTree that was there. The H-E-B had been built a few years prior but it replaced a legacy of grocery stores that dated back to the 1980s.

Furthermore, while it was true that the main Heights area was starting to gentrify at this time, the Heights had previously been a really bad area in the 1980s and building a giant supermarket in a neighborhood just starting to get on its feet isn't the best plan. The smarter move would've been to buy the land then build once demographics are favorable, but that wouldn't have worked if traffic counts are unknown and the city wants you to build. Even if the traffic counts weren't an issue, it was separated from the stores and neighborhoods west of the bayou and too far from the stores and neighborhoods east of it. In other words, this store was in the middle of nowhere.

Reality is this store wasn't open for much longer than two years. It quietly closed in February 2002 along with the Tidwell/Antoine store (another terrible, terrible location) and was never picked up by another supermarket. H-E-B could've picked it up like they did a few other Albertsons stores to upgrade Pantry locations, but they didn't.

Not all of the Houston stores were bad, far from it. There were some very nice locations that probably fetched the struggling Albertsons chain some cash as they were sold to other operators like Kroger or H-E-B. But combined with the problems that Albertsons was facing with some bad locations like this one doomed the entire division, one they wouldn't return to until 2015 when they bought Safeway, bringing the Randalls stores back, which is longer than the gap between Safeway spinning off their old Houston division and purchasing Randalls...and Randalls has problems of its own.

After it closed, a large part of the parking lot was removed for a retention pond (likely to prevent flooding) and it became a self storage facility called Heights Self Storage. In spring 2016, this changed to LifeStorage.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Former Albertsons #2701 - College Station, TX

January 2011. The Albertsons had been closed for about 13 years by this point.
301 S. College Avenue • College Station, TX
I originally covered this subject back in 2011 on my other blog, Brazos Buildings & Businesses. This store is a little bit weird. It was #2701, the "first" in the Houston division...though it actually opened in 1992 as an Albertsons after #2702 opened in 1991. It was also #2797. And yet, it was not. Read on.

For those that don't know, this began as a store called "Skaggs Albertsons". One of the more interesting partnerships in supermarket history, Skaggs Drug Centers ran a highly successful group of drug stores. It was only natural that they would team up with a respected (but regional) name to create a chain of large food and drug combos when such a thing was more of a novelty than something expected, and Skaggs Albertsons was born.

Courtesy John Ellisor

The store opened in July 1971 and remained through the years with minimal exterior changes except in the front facade (the side entrance would remain the same, though it was eventually sealed). In the late 1970s, Skaggs and Albertsons split ways, and while Albertsons would rebrand their stores in other markets (San Antonio, Florida, and a few others), Skaggs would keep theirs. A few stores briefly got rebranded to Skaggs SuperCenters, but this store was spared and in November 1979, a full page advertisement in the paper announced that the store would be changing to Skaggs-Alpha Beta, facilitated by buying the Alpha Beta name with purchasing the American Stores grocery chain that same year (it would also change the corporate name to American Stores).

The new "American Stores" company continued to manage this store until it rebranded it as Jewel-Osco in 1991 (giving it a minor renovation in the process). Shortly after, American Stores sold the remaining Jewel-Osco stores in Florida (these were new-builds), Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma to Albertsons, as well as a dry goods distribution center in Oklahoma.

It was soon closed and reopened as an Albertsons, giving it another remodel, the "Blue & Gray Market" as Albertsons Florida Blog calls it. I don't know what the original store number under Albertsons was, as it was opened after 2702 and renumbered as part of the Houston division later in the 1990s.

And so from about 1992 to 1997, Albertsons managed a store on the corner of College and University. However, Randalls, an upscale supermarket further down University, sold its store to Albertsons, causing the small supermarket to quickly be abandoned (it closed in November 1997, according to sources I've heard), and it continued stand for nearly another 15 years, longer than it had been any name. Amazingly, something almost happened that would've prevented that fate.

Albertsons must have had second thoughts about closing down the store, as the store had been popular (24 hours!) despite its obvious age, so in May 2000, they filed plans with the city to re-open the store as Albertsons #2797. This time, the Albertsons would gain a fancy "Albertsons University Market" branding and come complete with a Starbucks and "J.A.'s Kitchen", a deli concept (JA stood for Joe Albertson) that Albertsons played around with for a short while in smaller stores (from what I can tell, it was just the regular deli usually placed in smaller stores or drug sores).

This never got off the ground, obviously, and it remained vacant for over the next decade, despite some plans tossed around for redevelopment. Of course, a vacant building won't last forever, and in 2012, it finally began to come down, with demolition halting for months but continuing about a year later. The north wall stood for a long time, revealing that there was a second floor holding offices. While the demolition was intended for redevelopment, it and about half of the remaining shopping center just ended up becoming a field for a nearby apartment complex located behind the strip center.

An ad from the brief Jewel-Osco days. Note the "Special Supplement to The Eagle" to the left.

There's even a shot of a Sunny Delight bottle as I remember it, before they changed it to "Sunny D" (and later "SunnyD"). Tangy Original was called "Florida Style" and "Smooth" was "California Style".

Other shots, taken January 2011...

Regrettably, I couldn't get any of the interior on that shot, or any other time: the windows were painted over, and my one shot of the interiors was kind of messed up by the flash, and while it did capture some of the interior in a blurry configuration that revealed rows of fluorescents and columns, it mostly created a reflection of me, which, of course, I'm not posting.

Whoa, Albertsons was open 24 hours! Must have been super-convenient, relatively rare (I don't think even H-E-B did when it first opened), and must have been fun to see at night when the bars had closed for the night.

What was left of Albertsons after the first major demo.

The first Christmas at the store.

Albertsons interior. This looks like the "Blue & Gray Interior" (Official Stalworth Picture)

From The Eagle, shortly after the demo began.