Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Post Oak Mall Superpost

Currently updating. Unmarked "ninja" edits are undergoing.

I know I've made a few Post Oak Mall-related posts here lately, so I've decided to merge them all here, and update this page whenever necessary. Post Oak Mall opened in 1982 on the corner of Harvey Road and Texas 6 ("the East Loop") and was largely the catalyst for development on that side of town. It included a small extension of Holleman from the frontage road (still two ways at this point) to just beyond the highway (ooh, I should write that in my Holleman history). It had four department stores at opening, with three more coming soon by the end of the year (the seventh anchor pad was never developed, though I can take stabs at what it could've been). Post Oak Mall was actually pretty small: it was under the general "regional mall standard" of 1,000,000 square feet of retail at only around 800,000 square feet, and the "department stores" were really small. Even the largest store, Foley's, was only around 103,000 square feet, far less than the Foley's branches in Houston, which were well over twice the size. And yet it was huge: at the time, Southwood Valley was at more or less the far south part of town, and the "East Loop" was only about nine years old. There was nothing like it in town: Manor East Mall was much smaller and much less ornate, and in an area rich with the oil boom while the rest of the country was in recessionary effects, it was definitely right for its size.

Fast forward: it's December 2011, and February 2012 will be the 30th anniversary of the mall. It's seen almost a complete tenant turnover, and speckled with vacancies and low-end local stores. "That's So Me Boutique & Gift Basket Xpress" is one of the signs of this decline, and if you know dead malls, you know it's starting to get bad when a store without a lit sign and selling gift baskets, of all things, moves in. Post Oak Mall is dying a slow death, and it's only stayed constant because of the fact that there's no other mall in town, and in times when the weather is over 100°, you want to hang out in an air-conditioned place. Cynics would say that even the newest renovation won't stop the decline (read on).

There have been a lot of changes over the years, and let's start with the biggest store, Macy's. When it opened, it was a Foley's, a relatively upscale department store chain out of Houston. It downscaled in 1987 when Federated Stores (its owner) sold out to May Department Stores (eliminating many departments), and was doomed in 2005, when May Department Stores was sold as a whole to Federated (which was different from the original Federated--it's kind of a long story). In 2006, Foley's was stripped of its lettering, with only a crude-looking Foley's banner over the Macy's name, which came off in September of that year. Macy's closed the store for a week (I think) to remove all the brands from the Foley's store and put up their own (cheaper) brands, and prior to this mauling, all the Foley's brands went on clearance. The new Macy's sign doesn't even light up (the old Foley's sign, which I remember as the last logo of Foley's they had before their demise), and the last real vestige of Foley's, some worn parquet floors, disappeared in 2011 when Macy's replaced them with white tile.

But enough on that. I remember going to Foley's with my mother in the early 1990's and finding it cooler than the other department stores based solely on the escalators (the only ones in the mall, and the only ones for miles around). Unfortunately, by that time (mid-1990s), Foley's was pretty much just a brand name shared with other May Company department stores. Here are the pictures I have: they all date to the post-Foley's era.




Apparently, according to the 2011 Macy's Factbook, the location opened in 1984, which is possible, though discrepancies happen everywhere. I need a consensus on that.

The other major anchors include a Sears at 98,533 square feet, which is about the right size for a Kmart (I think even larger than the Kmart we had at the opening of this). I swear I remember this location had an Optical Department just a few years ago (2008?), with the little jingle at the end of this commercial running through my head. I believe it still has "Sears, Roebuck, and Company" near the entrances, something not seen nowadays.

There was a JCPenney, which opened in late 1982 soon before JCPenney started to dismantle the "full line" it used to have (though they were headed in this direction). JCPenney stores in the late 1960s and 1970s were more like Sears now than Kohl's now, and there are many classic examples out there of old JCPenney Auto Centers (and, in VERY rare cases, a JCPenney Supermarket! But only three stores had them). I remember getting a "Space Jam" basketball here circa 1996 (I think it was JCP, anyway) and even as late as 1990 they were still were building "full line" stores, so it's possible it had a sporting goods department back then.

There's still an 80s looking sign out front mentioning the Package Pick-up, but since JCPenney eliminated its catalog division a year or so ago, it's now a "jcp services" desk. At least the store hasn't converted to that awful new "jcp" logo yet.

There was a Wilsons initially for a few years, a catalog showroom based out of Baton Rouge. This too was a small location of only 40k square feet, though the catalog showrooms were smaller. Within a few years, the location was bought by Service Merchandise, and it lasted until the first round of "Service" closures in 1999. It was soon leased to Dillard's, which divided their main store and put the Mens and Housewares department in the store. Unfortunately, it didn't label which store was which on the outside.

The main Dillard's was a rarity in the sense that it was built as a Dillard's, and not a Joske's like in Houston and San Antonio (those would become Dillard's in '87). After '99, the Dillard's location only had the women's and kid's departments. Around 2010-2011, the Dillard's became exclusively women's, but they moved back in the kids departments back in. While there's nothing at the Dillard's womens/kids that I would remotely buy (you know, being a guy) but it has some worn carpeting and parquet floors, which are cool.

The sixth was a Bealls, which was an independent small Texan chain at the time, with the apostrophe recently dropped in the logo at the time. Bealls was one of the few anchors that maintained dual anchors with Manor East Mall, though it cannibalized the downtown one.

The food court was much more grandiose than today, featuring eateries on both sides and called "The Gourmet Court". Charter food court tenants included Chick-fil-A, Corn Dog 7, Funnel Cakery, The Great Hot Dog Experience, Giovanni's, Ken Martin's Chicken Fried Steak, Peanut Shack, Pepe's, Potatoes Etc., Salad Bartique, Sesame Hut, and Seafood Shoppe. Orange Julius opened soon after (it was leased but did not open with the mall, apparently), and Taste of the Tropics and McDonald's opened later. Because the food court had been reconfigured at one time (the corridor to the restrooms was different), it's hard to tell what became what.

Chick-fil-A was the oldest and largest tenant in the food court, until it closed after December 24, 2011, just a few months shy of the mall's 30th anniversary. Supposedly the reason for this was that the stand-alone locations were doing very well, and there was a lease disagreement (Chick-fil-A didn't want to stick around unless the mall made major updates--which they did eventually, but it was too late). In the spring of 2012, it was filled with Raising Cane's, a noticeable step-down. Raising Cane's didn't even have the interior eating area like was just a walk-up. I do like Raising Cane's, for what it's worth, but I like Chick-fil-A more. What is a Southern mall without a Chick-fil-A? A dead one.

Pepe's was a branch of Pepe's Mexican Café on College Avenue, the remnants of a small chain. At one time, it also had locations in College Station (present-day Gumby's) and even (reportedly) in Austin.

I honestly can't tell you what most of those sold. You'll have to make your own hypotheses (for example, Giovanni's is probably pizza, etc.). Peanut Shack and Orange Julius would've been harder to guess: Orange Julius is basically like what it is, selling its flagship smoothies, but back before Dairy Queen bought them and closed them en masse in the early 1990s, they sold hot dogs and french fries. Peanut Shack was always a snack stand. A few years ago the folks at Labelscar snapped a pic of a Peanut Shack at a small-town Oklahoma mall. It was obviously closed for the evening, but the point still stands.

Photo from "rcj0618" on the HAIF: though it was actually just a flipped image of an old ad from InSite Magazine which is freely available from the web

Anyway, by 1997 or 1998, the food court had downscaled considerably, but there was still a few outlets on the north side of the food court.

Here is the oldest directory I have on hand. I've dated it about 1998 or so, before Kinney Shoes went out of business nationwide, but with a significant vacancy in the form of the old Woolworth's, which probably closed a few years earlier in a 1997 round of closings. Unfortunately, due to the size of my scanner and the tendency of the directory to contort on odd directions even in the scanner, I had to take a picture to suffice.

Hopefully I could get it scanned in a better condition, and cleaned up to boot.

One "Villa Italian Specialties" was still on the north side, near Afterthoughts (we'll get to Afterthoughts later). The other "differents" back then were Taste of the Tropics being a different place (now regular store space), Subway (don't know if the "original" Subway ever opened) being where TotT is now, and McDonald's became Sonic in 2002. There was Manchu Wok and Roman Delight in the 1990s as well. Around 2003 or so Subway finally closed.

Ultimately, Corn Dog 7 closed (man, I could use a foot-long corn dog sometimes) and became Little Tokyo sushi, Smoothies Ice Cream & Yogurt eventually became in the late 2000s Nestlé Toll House by Chip (no more Blue Bell...or gyros), and Manchu Wok (don't know when it opened, it renovated circa 2011) remains open. In January 2012, Little Tokyo closed (shortly after Chick-fil-A "flew the coop", as it were), and in October 2012, Sonic closed, when the lease ran out. Luckily for the mall, shortly after closure, it was announced it would be "Flip & Peel Burgers and Fries", which would be a new concept by CharlieMac. With Stover Bros. Café increasingly moving away from the things that made Stover Boys a success (not that the menu changes at Stover Brothers are bad, mind you), I would hope that FPBF is a return to the original form. Two things I didn't like about Flip & Peel and neither are the restaurants fault:

1) I don't tend to like American cheese, and I regret I got the burger with American cheese.

2) The Canadian Fries are discontinued. I was disappointed, but the thing is I realized two things. Number one, cheese curds aren't found here at all (no grocery stores stock them), so already it's not economic if you have to ship them from out of town (even Houston). Two, I may be wrong but I'm thinking our local culture doesn't appreciate international foods very much--while burgers, tacos, and fried chicken tend to do well, non-American cuisine is rare, so the closest you get is bastardized chain restaurants. While there are Asian grocery stores and places that stock international foods, they work because of the demographics of the city. Notice that College Station H-E-B has a decent selection of international foods, but not so much for Tejas Center or Tower Point Market.

The food court is definitely not what it used to be: half of it isn't even food-related anymore. At least they took out the kid's play area, which I think opened in 2004 (but I could be wrong?).

To sum it up:
McDonald's closed, and was replaced with Sonic in 2002, which closed a decade later. It was replaced with Flip & Peel.
Corn Dog 7 was replaced with Little Tokyo (Corn Dog 7 closed in 2006 or so, Little Tokyo opened around 2009 and closed in early 2012 or late 2011)
Then Smoothies Ice Cream & Yogurt became Nestlé Toll House Café in 2009 or 2010
There also used to be a Subway until around early/mid 2003.
The Taste of the Tropics wasn't always in the same place as it is now. I believe their current place was Subway before that.

The current line-up is Manchu Wok, Flip & Peel Burgers and Fries, Raising Cane's, Roman Delight, Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip, and Taste of the Tropics.

Picture I took in 2008 of the food court

Here's the mall directory of Post Oak Mall from 2004, from what I consider better days. I remember walking out of the mall relatively recently, disgusted that I couldn't find a single storefront worth checking out.

I mean, back in the day, this had Foley's, Subway, the Texas Store, a whole block of stores where Steve & Barry's was (including Flag Expo, a tiny store which I liked), Wicks N Sticks (the classic southern mall candle store), FX Video Game Exchange, Waldenbooks, and more. It was also when they had paper directories (instead of just one non-movable one), which CBL stopped doing in May 2009 because they're cheapskates.

On Steve & Barry's, a year prior to their arrival, Hibbett Sports, Dollar Corner, Flag Expo, In Style Fashions, and The Limited were near Sears and (original) Dillard's in 2004. Can't say too much about them, but I remember one of them (could've been Dollar Corner) was this sign that had a drawing of a person on it, one side would have the person grinning with a crown, while the other side had a sad-looking old man with a beard (the beard and the crown were the same, only flipped).

Flag Expo was as noted, a tiny store, not much bigger than my kitchen, and sold little flags. According to the store owner of the time, there was a kid who bought a new flag (in general, they ran about five or six dollars) every week. I always wondered who it was. Apparently, Flag Expo had sold more than flags. This revelation came in fall of 2011 when I discovered that Military Depot was selling a bunch of Aggie-related clothing, most of which had Flag Expo stickers on them. I -never- saw clothing at Flag Expo, so it's possible they wanted to expand, were forced out, and Military Depot bought all their inventory and started to sell it off at the same price it was seven years ago.

All these stores were forced out for "Steve & Barry's University Sportswear" in 2005, the fast-growing cheap clothing store. I remember it had things like the "vintage advertising" t-shirts before they dropped the University Sportswear in 2007 or so. The chain I don't think ever was very profitable, and the cheap leases they got (they were generally in distressed malls, though this wasn't always the case) fueled growth for more stores (eventually, it got to the point where they would move into just about anything: there was a store in Spring that was in a vacant Randalls supermarket), and it all collapsed in fall 2008, with the store closing around November of that year. After it died, it served a few transient purposes, including a publisher's clearinghouse (the book selection was terrible, I tells ya), a job fair, and a Halloween store. Ultimately, it became The Shoe Dept. Encore.

The mall has also never had much luck in terms of restaurants. Casa Olé has been here since the earliest days, and still serves up its own mediocre Mexican food. There was another restaurant at one time, too: "Jubilation" (a Google search reveals a "Paul Anka's Jubilation: The Place for Steaks" matchbook, named after a famous restaurant in Vegas at about that time, though it's doubtful that the two were related; still, a fancy steakhouse in College Station that pulled out when the economy got rough isn't outside the realm of possibility), which eventually became Chelsea Street Pub & Grill, which I remember vividly (we never ate there, but I recall the facade had an exterior entrance and fit in nicely with the lampposts). Later on, Luby's Cafeteria leased a large space in the back, closed circa 1998 with some other underperforming restaurants and has remained chronically vacant ever since. Halloween stores have been here, as well as (very briefly in the latter part of the 2000s) "Rugged Outdoors Armory" with things like bows and swords, but it was too awesome to last. Most of the former Luby's decor still remains, if you'd like to check it out.

A store gone by: Babbage's. Located where GameStop is now, Babbage's was a computer software store, including Mac products that weren't games (like Kid Pix Studio on CD!). But the parent company decided that video games (especially used video games that they can buy low, sell high) were more profitable, and it became GameStop in 2002. They even quit accepting things like Super Nintendo (and later, N64 and GameCube) stuff to maximize profits.

JB's Wrestling World deserves a mention, too. Opened in 2002, lasted for a matter of months. A former economics teacher of mine once had this story about it, in which he detailed a conversation he had with the store owner (and I'm paraphrasing even more, here): "Want a wrestling poster?" "No." "Want a wrestling t-shirt?" "No." "Want a wrestling calendar?" "No." I passed by the store once. It was dark yet not closed. I think it there was a glow-in-the-dark poster.

Waldenbooks will be missed, though the store at the mall closed in fall 2006, well before the main closure waves/conversion to Borders Express hit. It was one of the first tenants, had a wood facade and two signs, "Waldenbooks" and "Waldenkids". I bought my The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker guide there. It was a pretty big store, and reopened a few years later as The Shoe Dept. (relocated from their smaller store near Bealls). In 2011, The Shoe Depot. hit the road again and moved into the old Steve & Barry's, and Borders went out of business, ending the legacy of Waldenbooks as a whole.

C&L Nut Buddies used to have a kiosk somewhere in the late 2000s. They aren't there anymore, and haven't been for the last few years. I think they may have had free samples, though.

The Texas Store had a location for years in the mall, and eventually moved out to Gateway Center (but they moved on...). "Rustic" wooden floors and decor, books of all kinds, t-shirts too, and the obligatory line of novelty hot sauces. After it closed (mid-late 2000s, 2008 maybe?) it remained vacant. A training/employment center for BJ's was temporarily there, but it disappeared after the restaurant opened. In December 2012, it was still vacant.

Gadzooks stayed far longer than it should've. It was initially a 1980s/1990s teenage-clothing shop. It had a red and blue neon sign that hung until about 2008 when it was enlarged into Forever 21, parent company since 2005. I remember reading in an article in summer 2003 that it dropped male clothing, and the Forever 21 doesn't carry male clothing either (though larger ones do). Forever 21's bags have "John 3:16" and I remember reading in an article that the current daughters who run it (the fashion side, anyway) mention that "demonstrates [their] parents' faith". I also read somewhere that some of the "fast-fashion" Forever 21 designs are suspiciously similar to other designs. I'm guessing the daughters do not share the same religion as their parents, and probably don't have any scruples about "borrowing" other's designs, but I digress. Forever 21 is a fairly open, bright-looking store and has four mannequins out front which change regularly.

Stina's Shag I remember had a wooden facade (gotta them: they're from the 1980s), a rug store that operated briefly. But rug stores, especially rug stores in 2007 that use the word "shag" do not last long at all. It later served as a temporary Buckle store. It's vacant now and no longer has the wood facade (instead, a cheap plasticy one).

Best Buy Mobile is in part of the old Express, which is reasonable. Given we're too cheap for an Apple store (yuk yuk yuk), it gives mall patrons opportunity to fool around with things that start with "i" and other mobile devices (we're also too cheap for a Microsoft store, too).

Timeless: it was there for years, and I seem to recall it sold things like home décor: Beatles portraits, overpriced pop culture things, stuff like that. It was neat to browse around in. But browsing won't pay the bills, and in recessionary times, it folded. It reopened as Kitchen Collection, a far neater store to go in, because Kitchen Collection actually has practical things. I wasn't too impressed with the KC at one of the San Marcos outlet malls, but although smaller, it has less percentage of the space being stuff you'll never use like plastic onions to save leftover onions in. And it has pizza stones for a decent price, essential for making pizza at home that actually does taste like pizza.

The Gap was always there as I remember (though it was not a charter tenant). Once an industry leader in its wooden floors and subdued lighting (the designer of that went on to do Apple stores), it fell out of favor as the Gap started to be associated largely with the 1990s and was not able to adapt. It closed in 2011. It is now fully re-tenanted, with the corner "flagship" entrance now a Kids Foot Locker, a rarity in the fact that it's not "Jan's Junk & Such" or the like.

Abercrombie & Fitch closed in early 2011, too, but I'm not sorry to see it go. It had a bad smell and loud music, and was located right out there near the pretzel stand.

Candies & More was next to JCPenney. It was a bulk candy store (found in most malls). Problem is, it was filthier than normal bulk candy stores (filth in terms of dirt, at least), and it was a convenience store as well. I don't think it sold beer, but it did sell other candies, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. It closed in 2012, since I remember going in December 2011 and buying one of those lemon ice things, and going people watching. I thought it was possibly the fact that it was too frumpy for the mall, but I was wrong. Some store called "Sports Zone" moved in, painted the white wooden facade blue, and added hats and junk along the walls. Net loss in all aspects.

Fairy Godmother was a short-lived store next to the Puppy Store that offered the chance for little girls to have a "fairy tale party" or such nonsense. Unsurprisingly, it closed by late 2012. It is now Perfume X, with one of the worst facades you could think of.


A non-store example includes the various physics festivals they've had here, but they ultimately moved out and combined with the Chemistry fairs (not enough people, apparently). And was it just me, or did the trees seem to be larger?

I thought that the neon near the ceilings especially looks cool later in the evening (it lights up) and wasn't there when the mall opened (to my knowledge), but it didn't light up anymore even before it was gone for good. The skylights were cool, too. Before they replaced them in 2008 or so, they were awesome. They were slightly tinted, very 80s, and let light in without actually seeing the sky. There's a picture here, on Flickr.

For now, I'll stop. There's more stories to tell, pictures to post, et cetera. Maybe I'll break into more than one post. Maybe I'll just keep updating. Anyway, that's all for now, will be working on next post (and beyond!) and have a Merry Christmas.

Also: BONUS POINTS if one could find out when the theater closed. I believe Wikipedia is wrong in this respect...

EDIT 1 (July 1st, 2012): They are renovating now, with most of the entrances at the front being deconstructed. Sometime in the spring Little Tokyo closed, and Sonic is closing this fall. While I haven't gone to the mall recently, I did snag this picture from the mall's website, where the original tile was uncovered. Neat!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newspapers: Mostly Supermarkets

Post removed from the Index

Hey everybody. Have I got a treat for you. Remember how I couldn't scan at the Evans Library? Well, today, we have grocery store scans.

Here we have the comics page from 1992.

Unfortunately, about half of it was truncated in the early 1990s for the crossword, the horoscope, Jumble, and the "Magic Hand" or whatever, which I think moved from another part of the paper. I may go over the history of the comics page another day, but I'm now angry in retrospect.

Yes, we really did have a Jewel-Osco, as mentioned in this post. This would become Albertsons within a matter of months (joining the pre-existing Albertsons on Texas Avenue and FM 2818), before closing when the nearby Randall's (styled with an apostrophe) became Albertsons.

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

Earl Rudder was finished in 1972. Good to know.

Is anyone besides me think it's a little disturbing that the pig wears a butcher outfit as HAM is clearly advertised in the lower left corner? (also: this provides me a hint that will be used in an upcoming feature. Stay tuned)

A genuine local grocery store from the early 1970s. Unfortunately, it seems Orr's was forced out by foreign competition, and it was dead by the late 1970s (or 1980s. Help me out here!) giving us NO local groceries until Village Foods in 2008. Regardless, it probably didn't help that both locations were quite small (like, smaller than Brookshire Bros. small), and unless they went into the convenience store biz, they were doomed. Still, I think it would've been nice if they had at least lasted long enough to open a College Station location.

This ad comes from 1970, which proves that the Wienerschnitzel has been operating in that building for over 40 years.

That's all for now. The Piggly Wiggly ad gives me enough opportunity to plan my next post...