Sunday, March 26, 2017

The World of Albertsons

No more excuses--since this blog's relaunch I admit I've been a bit lethargic. I didn't even break that the distribution center and the offices for the Houston Division would be closing, which is disappointing but had to be done (the Dallas division is a bit far off for those Louisiana stores, though) although it does keep the Houston stores. While I'm afraid that this blog will go silent again, I encourage everyone to visit my other endeavor, and The World of Albertsons.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

[FROM THE ARCHIVES] Albertsons and Cinnabon

Rather than a store post today, let's take a look at one of the few food partnerships Albertsons did before the ubiquitous Starbucks. This article from Supermarket News, titled "Albertson's unit opens its doors to in-store Cinnabon" appeared in the August 26, 1996 issue.

AUSTIN, Texas - The first Albertson's to house Cinnabon retail outlet coincided with the opening of a 65,000-square-foot food and drug store here at the end of last month.

Dubbed "The Village Market," the new Albertson's is the first chain unit to lease space within the store to other businesses, according to a statement.

Located in the front of the store near the entrance, according to Cinnabon spokeswoman Sharon Roberts, the facility offers its trademark cinnamon rolls, as well as coffee, orange juice, lemonade and an iced chocolate mocha drink called Mochalatta Chill.

Only time will tell how Cinnabon's arrival will affect Albertson's in-store bakery, said a spokeswoman at the store's Boise, Idaho, headquarters.

"It's a very good question, and right now Albertson's is searching for answers since it's a new experiment, and it's only been a few weeks in operation," she said. "We are looking at this closely."

A Cinnabon development executive said it is currently looking at several other Albertson's sites.

"We're definitely nurturing the relationship with Albertson's, but nothing has been confirmed yet," the executive said. "It could be that we'll be in more Albertson's stores in Texas or in other places. We just wanted to open [the Austin store] and see how it goes, and so far it's just been terrific."

The article doesn't say which store it was, and since Albertsons pulled out of Austin a decade ago, this store has definitely closed. Still, it does look at one of the ways Albertsons was doing in the 1990s. I presume the Cinnabon rolls were the same as ones offered at many (all?) Schlotzsky's shops these days, shipped in frozen. I know Albertsons had a Krispy Kreme program as well in the early 2000s but it wasn't done in-house, they were simply sold from nearby Krispy Kreme restaurants, which sounds like cheating at best.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Randalls #1066 - Houston, TX

12850 Memorial Drive • Houston, TX

A Randalls today won't bring tears to eyes like seeing the deterioration of Sears stores (at least mine, the Willowbrook Sears actually looks decent), but was once supposed to be the best isn't going to impress many people these days.

A two-level shopping center!

Opened in late 1996 as a 60,000 square feet store, this store put the screws to a tiny Lewis & Coker (the last store in the chain, it once operated the Kmart Foods stores from College Station to Galveston) less than a mile east and was equipped to be a Randalls Flagship store. Sadly, while the Randalls remains popular and busy today, no "Flagship" features remain of this store. Flagship stores from what I heard all had an upper level added (we'll talk about that more when I cover the Bellaire store) to house a restaurant. I don't know if Randalls here has an upper level, if it did, it's definitely inaccessible (the shopping center itself does, I would be surprised if the store here didn't). Despite a Walgreens right next to it, the Randalls does has a pharmacy. It has also been upgraded to the Lifestyle layout, though some remnants remain of its past. By the time it opened in 1996, Randalls' financial situation was in need of help, their net store count (openings to closings ratio) had flatlined, and Kroger's new Signature stores were starting to dig into the market share.

It's a bit washed out, but the sign mentions sushi.

Originally, the floor featured some sort of brick-like tile around the perishables, which Safeway later covered with their tile. I'm pretty sure that the store only remodeled once or twice (the latter being Lifestyle, of course), despite its age. These pictures were taken just soon before the chain's 20th anniversary (taken in January/February 2016).

The bakery has a refrigerated case, which allowed to carry things like bread pudding, and even though it wasn't great (I can't expect world-class stuff here), it was nice because most supermarkets I've been to don't carry bread pudding, and Safeway (Randalls) does. Can you match that, H-E-B and Kroger?

Despite being right off the highway, access is quite rough. The location is near the CityCentre development, which was built on the site of Town & Country Mall. If you're not accessing it from Memorial Drive proper, have fun getting to it from the Sam Houston Tollway or Katy Freeway.

From the north, you'll have to exit more than a mile and a half up, go through two stoplights before turning left at a third, then going straight through a fourth (and before the Katy Freeway rebuild in the late 2000s, that would be "go through FOUR stoplights before turning left at a fifth").

From the south, you'll have to go through two stoplights after exiting before turning right at a third if you don't want to exit and then fight several lanes over (any time of the day) to turn right.

From the west, that's two miles on the highway frontage roads and five stoplights, and from the east, ALSO five stoplights. So much for highway access, right? With Memorial City Mall accessible from one exit from all four directions, it's no wonder why Memorial City Mall is successful and Town & Country Mall died off.

But since Town & Country Village actually was successful even when the mall was not (in fact it came back to life right around the time the mall was starting to die), that's all right, and since it did NOT die when Safeway began to destroy the chain, though doubtless it harmed its volume.

What can I say for T&C's Randalls now? It's a nice Randalls, but not a terribly distinct one. It has a sushi bar, it has a pharmacy (despite Walgreens next door), it has everything else you'd expect from a store that was under Safeway's control.

I've been trying to find information on Randalls Town & Country opening through the Houston Chronicle archives but I've come up short. I'm not even sure if I can say what they were doing at three Randalls stores were doing as of early 1996, making real homemade water-boiled bagels (the bagels nowadays are just shipped in frozen and baked), so I'm not exactly sure what the amenities what this store were like when it opened twenty years ago.

The Lewis & Coker to the east of the store was sold to Rice Epicurean, which operated it until 2013 when it was sold to The Fresh Market (which closed down within 3 years).

This Campbell's soup kiosk was here on my first trip in back sometime in late 2015, but it was gone on later visits. I'm tempted to say it was just a promotional thing. Note the in-house soup kiosk behind it.

The in-store tortilla chips, which all the area Randalls carry. Sometime in 2016, H-E-B introduced its own in-store tortilla chips, which is kind of cool that Randalls had something BEFORE them. When was the last time that happened!

I want to say that this is Beer & Wine sign is a holdover from the original décor though a little research shows that this might be Safeway's after all.

Inside the more dimly-lit "wine cellar" area. The camera messes up the light a bit, but it's not as "intimate" as I'd like or even offer a lot of high-end vintages.

Pretty sure that signage is an Albertsons carryover.

While The Fresh Market is no more, the Randalls has two major competitors in the area, the small Kroger of the Villages, which I hope to repair the page with new information soon, and also the massive H-E-B Bunker Hill, a 100,000+ square foot H-E-B with high volume and an in-store restaurant. Of course, being H-E-B, it misses a lot of the things and just feels like the same relatively bare-bones H-E-B in a nicer coat (I would like to cover that H-E-B at a later time). With some remodels rumored in the Randalls division, it would be nice to see the Randalls Flagship restored to its former position with some unique décor and different options (let's start with actually cooking dishes again). Randalls' long-time California counterpart, Pavilions, recently had a store with one-of-a-kind decor and new options, and it looks terrific. I would like to see Randalls to experiment further with larger and more stores, and generally restore itself from the damage caused by Safeway, but that's unlikely. Remember, if Albertsons didn't come along, then this would've closed by the end of 2014, certainly.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Market Street #556 - Plano, TX

Market Street in twilight

1929 Preston Road • Plano, TX

I'm still trying to get back into this whole Albertsons blogging thing (the two year anniversary of the merger is coming up and not much has happened, sadly) so we'll be switching gears. Maybe I should get into the habit of it being on not just AFB's off weeks but weeks where the recycling goes out the next day.

Our first United Supermarkets store on this blog (Albertsons Florida Blog has it so easy, all they do is cover old Albertsons, the Albertsons-turned-Safeway stores, and Save and Pack, while we cover Randalls/Tom Thumb, Safeway, Albertsons, AND United), this store is part of the United Division out of Lubbock and despite some streamlining, is still blissfully largely free from the mediocrity that plagues Albertsons and Safeway, it is not independent from it. On one hand, it frees up space that might've been slower-moving product but on the flipside loses competitive advantage and distinctiveness.

Sadly, no Market Street stores appear to have been built post-Safeway acquisition (at least the DFW area anyway), and they seem more focused on building the Tom Thumb name with a few urban stores ranging from "modest but not very large" to "very small" (former Fresh Market stores), though it does fit Tom Thumb's range anyway.

Always cool to see multiple logos in the cart collection.

This really is what Tom Thumb and Randalls are supposed to be like (well, Randalls was moving toward the whole "Wegmans of Texas" thing and I'm confident that in a better timeline, they'd be 100,000+ square feet now). Anyway, I was in town for the State Fair (never been before), and I actually originally wrote most of this (it's been edited to better fit the context for this website) as part of a longer document on what exactly I did there (that document was strictly for my own records and my friends--sorry, it will never be released on the Internet).

After the somewhat haphazard Dallas roads (like Houston's roads, they tend to have the "never seen a concerted effort in repaving the road in a few decades" appearance), I finally reached the Market Street supermarket. I was intrigued by it as it was owned by United Supermarkets, which was owned by Albertsons, which between its ownership of stores was hit or miss (to put it lightly), and Market Street was definitely a hit.

Do you like pumpkin spice flavored everything? If so, Market Street is the place for you!

It was clearly related to Albertsons and Randalls, but more like their better, more educated cousin. It was well staffed even for a Saturday evening (a common complaint for ALB/SWY stores is a lack of staffing). It didn't feel like a terribly large store, though it was really was one of the larger stores in the chain at 70,000 leasable square feet. I was happy to see that it was different enough from its contemporaries to make it worth visiting. I passed by two Tom Thumbs to see it, which was refreshing as in at least that part of Dallas, Tom Thumb had a far better hold on Dallas than Randalls does in Houston.

What it was not was particularly well-visible. Originally, it was a Wal-Mart with a Chick-fil-a and later a Black Eyed Pea in front of the store, but in 2006 it closed, replaced by an "upscale" Wal-Mart Supercenter prototype. By 2007, it was demolished, and by 2008, Market Street and new stores in the parking lot were under construction. The smaller footprint of Market Street puts it farther back than the old Wal-Mart it replaced. I measured in Google Earth...from the outermost southbound lane of Preston Road to the front entrance of the store, it's almost a quarter mile, though part of this is due to right of way in case they want to build an overpass over West Park Boulevard.

Like most modern grocery stores, the perishables are clustered to one side of the store, and even though it was a Saturday evening, the sushi bar and the bakery both had samples, and the wine department too. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of this part, because I wanted to see it in real life (plus not attract attention).

I grabbed a cart and perused the aisles. For one thing, it downplays the now-common Signature brand, which was a rebranded version of Safeway brand foods (which Albertsons officially rolled out with great fanfare earlier this year). The entire soda department didn't have a store brand in sight, and I was able to pass an entire aisle of soft drinks and others before I finally saw some Signature-branded cranberry grape juice. The other big difference that separated this store from the "mainstream" stores was that the HBA section was huge. It didn't have much in the way of general merchandise, but it had a large supply of hair colorings and even things like beard trimmers and hair dryers.

Between the "Healthy Living" and the big HBA section, this part of the store is huge. Most stores lump some dollar-store quality merchandise near their HBA section, but not Market Street!

Unfortunately, I had found out through RetailWatchers that they had recently gone through and excised a lot of the more upscale center-store items that skewed toward the Whole Foods style product mix, but it still felt good like a grocery store was supposed to be, much like a nicer H-E-B sans the warehouse atmosphere and general chaos.
A fire escape plan/floor plan in plain view.

The store also featured the Market Street "Dish" department which was supposed to stock gifts and dinnerware but instead had a strange assortment of Christmas stuff, all of which gave off a weird smell (like how Hobby Lobby smells).
Keep in mind that when I took this picture, it wasn't even Halloween yet.

I ended up buying an expensive bottle of cucumber and mint infused water, something that I would normally never buy, but ended up doing so since I was both thirsty and wanted some vegetables (again, I had gone to the state fair, there was nothing I ate that wasn't mostly saturated fat and/or sugar).

Turns out other Safeway/Albertsons stores stock this too nowadays.

One more view showing the corner entrance

So that was Market Street...a refreshing look into one of Albertsons/Safeway's finest banners. The two year anniversary of their merger is coming up tomorrow, and what has happened is a disappointment so far (though not a disaster, by any means!)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Former Albertsons #2773 - Pearland, TX

7121 West Broadway Street • Pearland, TX

A large part of WHY I never ended up posting again was some computer-related issues and some burnout issues, but I'm back, and I'm trying to get stuff in my backlog sent out. The other very large part of why this blog did not become what I wanted it to become is my goal was to get a job in a different city than the one I grew up and went to school in, and that never happened, leading to a mish-mash of whatever I could get. I probably said something like this before, but yes, that is why this blog never worked the way I wanted. I really should post the other stores soon.

Like 2773, this store suffered from a bad location but at first glance, it was supposed to be in a very good location. Exciting things were happening in Pearland, Texas in the early 2000s as a wave of new development was building west of "Old Pearland" closer to 288. There was a Home Depot, a new Kroger, a huge new shopping center, and all manner of new homes. Albertsons must have thought it picked up a pretty sweet spot at Reid and Broadway to build a store and ride the wave of the future in an expanding suburb. After all a Kroger was to the west, and in addition to being the closest supermarket to Old Pearland, it should be better in the future, right? After all, Reid was going to expand north and maybe even connect with the Beltway (presumably to South Wayside Drive, which still is far from connecting to the rest of the 'hood). Wrong. Today, the center with Food Town seems to be in the middle of nowhere with an overdeveloped shopping center on a stub road to the north and to the south, a side road with some of the same rural homes on it that were there since the 1960s.

Pleasantly, the store still retains much of what other sites call "Blue & Green Awnings". It was one of the first store decor packages to use warehouse ceilings. The pharmacy is in the front part of the store, on the far left if you were looking at it from the front. You can see that there was once a much larger collection of health & beauty aids (at least I think that sign's from Albertsons, although the image got cut off), and that has been dramatically downscaled (unfortunately, this seems to have happened in "real" Albertsons stores as well). You can also see they kept the circular check-out stands, too.

Other than that, I got nothing. It was one of four Albertsons Houston stores sold to Grocers Supply Co., which leased them to Food Town. Once again, my camera kind of screws up lighting and contrast making the ceiling look really dark. Don't worry, I'll be upgrading my iPhone soon...

With that said, the question remains--will I get back to posting semi-regularly? Hopefully! Today happens to be the day that it's AFB's off week (which was my intention), and contrary to popular belief, I do have some partially finished posts that I am eager to show off. I'll try to get it at the Sunday two weeks from now.

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 weren'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).