Wednesday, June 23, 2010

H-E-B College Station


Just to give you an idea of the store at 1900 Texas Avenue South.


A bit of a history lesson: prior to the year 1990, H-E-B stores did not exist at all (maybe a few tiny stores in the suburbs, called H-E-B Pantry) in the Houston market, which by extension included the College Station market. Instead, there was AppleTree (Safeway until the company had to divest the division), Randall's (at the time, a respected upscale-leaning independent), and Kroger. Those were the big ones.

Around 1992, H-E-B decided to launch a plan that would put it in the competitive Houston market by operating small, low-end stores lacking expensive-to-operate-but-otherwise-standard departments like bakeries, delis, and pharmacies. H-E-B essentially carpet-bombed the Houston market with stores like this, beating Food Lion (a similar operation) to the punch by several months (and Food Lion caught a lot of flack in Dallas for lacking pharmacies). The march to conquer Houston included a few stores in Bryan-College Station, two in Bryan, and one in College Station where DSW is now.

By 2000, H-E-B was ready to build full-line stores, and in less than a decade was second place just after Kroger, which had been established for decades. Absolutely brilliant. I had been in a "full-line" H-E-B before, a location in Waco, Texas at the corner of Dutton and Valley Mills, and in 2002, H-E-B closed its Pantry store and built their first full-line College Station-Bryan store on the corner of Texas Avenue and Holleman, but facing more toward the former, in March or April 2002 (I believe it was April). This blew everything in town out of the water at the time. Not only was it far bigger than the one in Waco (which closed down a few years ago) and had all of its departments (including a tortilleria), but also had a bakery (with bolillos), a pharmacy, a florist, a fish market, and more. The Pantry had a pretty good quality and selection for a store of its size, but the real H-E-B offered all that, and more, as it was at least twice as big. It even made the Southwest Parkway Kroger look small and dated (which admittedly it kind of was).

Up until 2015, the store's décor and layout remained largely the same, with some changes have gone on within H-E-B in the past decade. Originally, they had a video game section with a display in the middle that had TVs playing the Super Smash Bros. Melee trailer (hey, it was early 2002), and you could buy a portable PSOne there. This was gutted for more of the "general merchandise" selection they have today. Unfortunately, it was one of the earlier departments scrapped when it became clear what customer's buying habits were (Yelp likewise reports the brief time they carried Caribbean imported foods, though said reviewer is notoriously untrustworthy when it comes to restaurant reviews).

There's also a sushi-making kiosk and a gourmet food sample place that was added later. In the front, there were what appeared to be large sheds (they were later removed to accommodate more garden supplies), and there was also a Washington Mutual bank inside (which may or not have been the first bank there). Fortunately, H-E-B converted it to an IBC bank (removed circa 2012) before Washington Mutual collapsed completely.

All in all, the store (which, by the way, boasts warehouse-style ceilings, unlike the old Pantry) became wildly successful today. Despite the college students which tends to have the store carry some more downscale items, it let the store have a 24 hour/7 days a week schedule during the school year, so anyone can go in for cat litter, gummy bears, and soy milk at 1 am, something even Houston suburbanites can't do (but they have Auntie Anne's and a Greek restaurant, so...)

The parking is usually full and the store is popular, but due to the tight and hilly footprint the store sits on, it can't expand, which is a shame. It was curiously bumped to the bottom of remodeling lists, leaving it with all 2002 décor intact, and now already is starting to look small, dated, and downscale compared to other H-E-B stores I've seen (though again, it's hard to criticize your store when there are still dozens of stores floating around without even pharmacies). The presence of the store managed to clean up the entire block. The land value of the nearby homes on Park Place shot up (and even sparked a mild building boom). This was a part of a big Southgate revival, though in some cases, ended up demolishing decent homes that just needed a little love for dense, student-living oriented townhomes.

In 2015, the store began to remodel, tearing off the giant lettering on the sides of the colored walls (some glimpses can be caught of that), and is currently undergoing significant changes, namely moving the florist to the other side of the store near the pharmacy, making the produce area less of a maze, and a few other things. Obviously, it won't any physical expansions.

Enjoy these few pictures I took at H-E-B in June 2010, taken with my crappy old cellphone camera.

 

 

 

 


I have two directories from the store. The more colorful one is from the 2002 opening. See if you can see the differences...the later one is from 2005. Download them both here.

There's more stories to tell, even. The space before the H-E-B included the El Chico restaurant on the corner (which was a number of things before that, including the original Allen Honda location (newspaper clipping, MyBCS confirms it), which later became Bud Ward Volkswagen (Allen Honda must have moved to Southwest Parkway by that point, more on that later), "Charlie's Under the Water Tower" (a bar), and then El Chico (which may or may not have been a rebuild). It was torn down in 2007 for a Chase bank, which may or may have not been related to the Texas Avenue widening.

From John Ellisor comes this picture of Bud Ward Volkswagen, one of the car dealerships there at some point. I think I see the Holiday Inn in the background.

The old water tower that was behind it was dismantled around 2002-2003 for an H-E-B gas station and car wash, and connected to what was the El Chico was a shabby-looking maroon building (with wooden shingles if I remember right) with Early Bird Cleaners and Aggieland Printing. This, and its adjacent parking lot (a holdover from the car dealership?) can be seen below.



Both moved to a yellow building in the parking lot, though Early Bird Cleaners has since departed.

-rewritten may/15

Friday, June 4, 2010

Randall's / Albertsons


The decaying monolith beckons.

615 University Drive East
College Station, TX

This was one of the very first "true" blog posts written on this site that actually fit with the theme that was officially adopted around 2012 and continued to the end of the blog's original run. It involves the one of the coolest-sounding stores to ever grace the area, when Randall's, an upscale-leaning grocery chain from Houston opened a new "New Generation" store in College Station fairly close to the Texas A&M University campus. With construction underway by March 1991, and opening in fall of 1991 (see comments), it was the largest grocery store in the county (not like there was much competition) and definitely the largest one in College Station. It had, according to this article featured "a coffee department with a bar and stools, fresh-made juices, pizza from scratch, a full-line floral department, a full-service bank and a one-hour photo shop", and at 80k square feet (the size of the H-E-Bs now), it was a sight to behold. It was sold to Albertsons and eventually closed during a long, slow period of decline and contraction. While today Randalls and Albertsons are one (imagine that!) this store will remain shut due to some lease issues. Read more at my new blog, Safeway and Albertsons in Texas, which is where I moved this article.

Over to the west side of the store is 607 University, a small strip center with about four or so stores. Besides Haiku Sushi & Hibachi Grill, which I remembered being here for a long time (don't know when since I never remembered the building as a Randall's), and became Kobe Steak & Sushi much later (around 2012--this new incarnation shut within months). Most of the places here were pretty forgettable: "TGF Precision Haircutters" was another that was later absorbed by A+ Tutoring.

There was a little café near Albertsons called Tuscany's that had a several year stand in the 2000s (my records show it closed in early 2008). Proudly proclaiming that it was the only gelato in miles around (a fact) plus offering upscale-ish coffeehouse goods (coffee, tasty-looking bagel chips), it opened around 2004 with being an Internet café a defining feature (that and the gelato). Any number of factors could've caused its closure: it's possible it wasn't favored by students as a place to hang out (if they wanted any students--some places don't), it was hard to see from the road (invisible heading westbound), or maybe just gelato was a novelty that wore off quickly.

A+ Tutoring is here currently, taking two places at the far end. They came in just before "The Martial Arts Studio", which replaced Tuscany's, moved to Homestead Place (the little shopping center on Texas Avenue, near the cemetery, where the library used to be, if you can remember back that far). A+ Tutoring gets really crowded on some nights, taking up a good half of the parking (which is great for them since all the other tenants had up and died).

I recently found this awesome YouTube video of a Randall's opening in 1992 in Lufkin. While not in College Station, it gives a feel for what it was like, as the décor was probably identical and so on.

This was originally known as "Randalls/Albertsons", posted on the above date. A major update was completed on February 23, 2012, and another on May 17, 2013 with name changed from "The Last Albertsons and the Only Randall's"
Updated May 7th, updated written part, reordered photos
May 22nd: apostrophe was removed sooner
10 23 2013 new video!
3-6-2014: changed the ending so it's a little uplifting, and added a new section with 607 University.
4-29-2014: new alterations, including some changes to the time it was opened
5/12/14: new sentence
June 2015: outsourced and trimmed down