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

5 comments:

Pseudo3D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pseudo3D said...

Part 2:
This is the new H-E-B.

Of course, some changes have gone on within H-E-B in the past eight years. Originally, they had a video game section with a display in the middle that had TVs playing the Super Smash Bros. Melee trailer, and you could buy a portable PSOne there.

Today, that's gone, but between the general merchandise, greeting cards, cosmetic, and baby section, it's still surprising for a grocery store, but the general merchandise doesn't stack up to any discounter you name.

There's also a sushi-making kiosk and a gourmet food sample place that was added later. In the front, there was what appeared to be large sheds (they were later removed to accommodate a "garden center" of sorts), and there was also a Washington Mutual bank inside. Fortunately, H-E-B converted it to an IBC bank before Washington Mutual collapsed completely.

There was also a pre-existing El Chico restaurant in the parking lot that was torn down in 2007 for a bank.

All in all, the store (which, by the way, boasts warehouse-style ceilings, unlike the old Pantry) is wildly successful today. The parking is always full. 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), a large (but low-end) shopping center was built nearby, and an old barbecue restaurant (Tom's) was torn down for another shopping strip.

There was also a Long John Silver restaurant on the corner of Park Place and Texas Avenue that was closed after it was discovered that it was a front for a drug operation.

Anyway, enjoy these pictures I took at H-E-B a week or so ago (I took 'em with my cell phone).

AggiePhil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AggiePhil said...

I remember making a few trips to the original HEB during my freshman year of college. AppleTree had become rundown by then so the HEB or Albertson's were our preferred stores. Like you said, HEB was rather small and had started to look rundown itself.

I also remember the old metal water tower, located much closer to Texas Avenue than the current tower. It was probably close to where the HEB fuel pumps are now. I remember when they built the huge water tower behind the new HEB store, originally painted with the old City of CS "snail" logo. That was changed sometime around 2004 when the new logo was adopted.

I also ate at the El Chico a few times. It wasn't very good. And I'm surprised to hear it was anything but a restaurant before. The building looked like a full-fledged El Chico, not like a significant adaptation.

And we can't forget the Olive Garden (now a Chase Bank) that burned in 2004. Do you remember the old Mr. Gatti's Plus in Bryan, closed when GattiTown moved into the old HEB? I think it's a gymnastics place now.

Pseudo3D said...

I do remember after swimming lessons...this must have been 2001 or 2002 (maybe the latter), I remember seeing a bright "star" on the yet unfinished water tower as they were welding.

H-E-B Pantry was small, but not particularly run-down. After all, H-E-B is approaching the point where it's outpaced the Pantry's lifespan.

IIRC, Olive Garden burned in 2003, not 2004.

I do remember Gattiland in Bryan. Apparently, it replaced an older Mr. Gatti's in Northgate area (near or on present-day Chipotle).