Showing posts with label hypermarkets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hypermarkets. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Walmart, Albertsons, and Other Stores

Wal-Mart 1995
Our two stores, back in 1995

Back when this blog started, I mentioned that I had a bunch of stuff back at the now-defunct Two Way Roads (well, not entirely defunct--if you're a fan of an old computer game called "Yoot Tower", and not the iOS one, check back this Thanksgiving, it will be worth your while).

One of these posts was about the local College Station Wal-Mart. This wasn't just a Wal-Mart, this was my Wal-Mart, this was College Station's only Wal-Mart, and I remember when blue-vested employees handed out smiley face stickers and there was a lot more American goods there than today.

Too often you'll find most blog posts about Wal-Mart being either adoration of the store or how Wal-Mart is the Devil. Not here, there will be criticism, but it is what it is.

College Park Station is the "official" name of this strip center (mentioned on a PDF I forgot to download before it disappeared), announced in 2009 when the Wal-Mart said it would remodel. I don't know if had anything before that (I think it was Southwood Place, like the mini-strip center behind it). Either way, neither of these were mentioned ever again.

This post deals primarily with Wal-Mart (or Walmart, depending on stylization). It was also written about the time of the remodel, of which I was excited about (it was the biggest thing happening at the time), and that takes up the majority of the article.

Unlike the nearby Albertsons (1991-summer 2008, which you can read more about below) Wal-Mart was a success, and from opening in 1988, helped drive Kmart out of College Station (and other cities, for that matter).

It should be noted that the unusual layout was from this early era, and will not be altered, even though it no longer tends to "fit" with the rest of the blog.

My story dates back to 1995 when the Wal-Mart was ditching its 1980s-era brown facade for a slight refreshening and expansion (see top of the page).

I forgot what the 1988 Wal-Mart facade looked like: it didn't have the enclosed tinted-glass breezeway you see on some small-town Wal-Marts, and I'm not sure of any "Discount City" signage either. But soon after, it did remodel to the 1990s Wal-Mart format (star between WAL and MART, American flag, blue, McDonald's inside).
This came at a time when the nearby Bryan added a new Supercenter format, closing down a 11-year-old location at Manor East Mall.
Talks arose that the Wal-Mart might move to a Supercenter format. For years, the idea was bounced around, but zoning permits and citizen outcry blocked any serious attempts. Ultimately, the Albertson's would perish and the Wal-Mart moved in for the kill, expanding to a Supercenter.

I remember a bit about the original store. On the right after you entered was the One-Hour Photo, then the Customer Service, then the restaurant.
Customer Service had restrooms (admittedly pretty dirty, but remember the "hand" shaped water fountains? I overlaid my hand on them as I pushed them, but eventually they just switched to the regular "PUSH" buttons). I remember they had atlases there, and even at one time, a Daytona USA arcade machine!

The restaurant was a McDonald's after the renovations (I don't recall anything before that), complete with a bench with Ronald sitting there. Ronald was a great photo-op (you could sit next to him) but sometime later they removed the bench and replaced him with a creepy (and not at all affable) statue of Ronald standing up. This monster Ronald was, I believe, one of the causes of the McDonald's closing circa 1998-1999. It was replaced with Radio Grill, a vaguely-1950s themed restaurant that piped out generic greasy food. While some may liberally toss the "greasy food" label around, Radio Grill was nothing more than that. And forgettable greasy food, since I don't remember much about it. This lasted until 2006, when it was torn out for Subway. Subway was a bit different, featuring a false brick facade, and instead the food in the back, the serving line was in the side.

In 2010, the restaurant space met its demise when it was torn out for the renovations.

The electronics section was largely a "pen" in the middle of the store, kept that way so they could check out items (as they were high-price). Originally, games were on the left, videos on the right. The games had a scanner system so you could scan a bar code and watch a video of the game on overhead TVs. By 2004, it mostly not working, as was the terrible GBC model they had bolted in to the wall (the right button on the D-pad was completely screwed up by 2001). I remember this because one time I had stayed behind in the electronics section to play The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. The right button on the D-pad became the least of my concerns when my dad found me...

In 2005, they rearranged the store, so that from left to right (you entered from the right, so it was left to right in your perspective): computer peripherals, DVDs, music, video games, iPods, AV equipment. The electronics section really was a nasty place, as it was cramped, misbehaving kids would mess up the place with their disgusting hygiene and over-aggressive video game playing.

Early yet random memories include a floor-to-ceiling stack of N64s and either a stand-up Donkey Kong 64 or Pokémon Snap display. Or both.

I think the electronics section became the pharmacy later: our family's now-defunct Performa 550 came from this Wal-Mart, but I don't remember it being the 1995-era electronics section.

The hardware section I seem to remember had fans overhanging the section. There was also a paint chip center which I remember being abandoned out in the rain (complete with all the old chips) after the renovation happened.

Funniest memory? They had a column near the spray paints where people (illegally) tested them out.

I also remember a rack of different signs you could buy (they were basically plastic) that had stuff like "Garage Sale" on it. I bought one that was black with red letters that read "Keep Out!". I kept that on my door for many years.

Along the back wall, there were large pictures, one had a family eating watermelon, two boys laughing, a moon with some 1990s script lettering. The boys section was where I got most of my clothes (my mother bought them, anyway), and the jewelry was the place where I got a few of my watches. I remember seeing a "Baby Ear Piercing Kit", which was about as bad as it sounds.

Fabrics was a huge section, and had all the thread, rugs, creepy dolls that you can paint, and wax fruit you could ever need. It wasn't as big as Hobby Lobby, but had all the basics (including a particular flowery smell).

No big memories on toys. I bought a Pokémon board game here and some Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars, but that was long ago (to put it in perspective, I used to get said little cars at Kmart). I don't really have a lot of toy memories: the KB Toys and Toys R Us were both far away from home, and I never went to either. Most prominent section was the bicycles, which ran down the corridor to the Garden Center.

The pet section had huge racks of dog food and cat litter. On the back wall, there were lots of embedded tanks in the wall with fish with colors on how they'd behave with others (green, yellow, and red). Red fish were aggressive (but there were few of them). Green fish would coexist with others peacefully.

The pharmacy was huge, it had images of medicine stuff above the pharmacy window, a large seating area, and a large section with shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, over-the-counter medicine (many of Equate, the house brand), hair coloring kits, and more.

Mens section had a huge row of jeans.

Shoes was another huge section, and in the 1990s, had a slanted mirrors on some benches. My siblings would pretend the floor was tilted and try to roll down.

The pesticide/herbicide section was near the garden center. It smelled strong of chemicals, but that was where we got the Amdro, something always needed in a land plagued with fire ants.

Food section had a candy aisle, chips, two-liter sodas, and other dry staples.

The Vision Center, located to the left from the entrance once had a way that you could run all the way through the Vision Center, out the door, and in through the Wal-Mart main entrance. Near the Vision Center were old refrigerated shelves that had faded red, yellow, and blue striping. They sold milk.

Dressing room was located in the middle of the women's clothing: a shoddy operation, with only five dressing rooms and only one mens room.

There was also a reasonable selection of books and magazines. For years, they sold most of the "Wizard of Oz" series. The garden center was also there, being a humid place where plants were sold.

And up until the early 2000s, there was an occasional tent sale in the parking lot.

I grew to hate Wal-Mart, because they played terrible music in it, and a strange overall smell permeated me, feeling like washing hands when I got home was not enough. In the mid-2000s, they replaced the carpet in the clothing department with faux hardwood, which quickly got quite nasty-looking from scratching carts.

But around September 2009, the local Wal-Mart decided to finally start remodeling into a Supercenter, ending rumors and putting to rest their plan to open at a proposed shopping center off Rock Prairie Road. And for the next six months or so, I was really excited. I took pictures. I attended the grand opening. I got cake at the grand opening, two types.

But the Supercenter wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

It was really huge in terms of square footage, 254,000 square feet (likely counting the garden center). This put it on par with the late 1980s "hypermarkets". The store's layout also resembled Target in many aspects. Unfortunately, they wasted a lot of space, in the backrooms, in the main store, it was a real disappointment.
They actually admitted to lowering shelf height and widening aisles. The lights changed, making the store much more sterile than before. I didn't like it.

Every department shrunk. The electronics section was admittedly more open with even a display Wii, which I'm sure won't last long. Electronics was the only one that didn't downscale dramatically. Everything, Cosmetics, Jewelry, Health & Beauty, Pharmacy, Mens, Pets, Womens, Fabric, Shoes, Vision Center, everything pretty much was sliced down.

Not a lot of new checkouts opened up, and they didn't even open a portrait studio in the front arcade area. A larger Subway opened up, however.

The food section wasn't that impressive: it had HVAC ceilings but plain concrete floors. They didn't bother to do anything to it. And rotesserie chickens, one of my favorite features of the Hewitt Wal-Mart Supercenter, weren't really phased in until months later. I think I got my hopes up, because I was comparing to a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hewitt that opened in 2003 or 2004.

They took out a section of parking lot for a retention pond as well.

Also, the name irritated me: they just called it "Walmart", even though it had a Supercenter inside. Much to my chagrin, Wal-Mart Supercenter stores in Houston were later repainted tan and redubbed as "Walmart".

So it was back to not liking Walmart again, though I did appreciate the fact I could buy delicious foodstuffs at the bakery, and I'll admit it, it was fun having a Supercenter, being able to pick up a few groceries while going to Wal-Mart (it was no H-E-B). Eventually, the Walmart started to get a bit of bad publicity. Not much sooner had it reopened that it was the opening to an incident that left a Fort Worth police officer critically injured, and shoplifting started to dramatically increase, culminating in a shooting, wherein a military-trained LP officer was forced to shoot a shoplifter, which had both a gun (which he managed to get out of him during a struggle) and a knife.

Here are the photos taken during the remodeling process.

These first ones were taken early on in the process, around October 2009 or so.

The first order of business was to rip into the old Albertsons.

The new pharmacy, then floating in a sea of cheap t-shirts

The new pharmacy, again

A barrier was put up on the side of the store where the addition would come in. As of February 1, 2010, the actual walls had not come down yet, but this is looking up to the ceiling. I never did find out when the walls actually came down.

Old vision center. This was a fairly open area originally, with this part of the lobby in front of the checkout stand. A bench was around here.

Checkout stands have been moved back.

Makeshift vision center. It eventually moved to an alcove spot in front of the store.

This is around Easter break, after the original entrance had closed

A rainy day in February, I believe. This has the original walls of the store, and also proves that the Yelp photo is incorrect.

New signage. Identities obscured.

I'm not sure when this picture was taken. It was early 2010, that's all I know.

Another angle.

EDIT July 1, 2012: Changed "in" to "circa".

EDIT July 29 2012: More pictures (Set 2)

Look out! A giant spider! This was what the "Outdoor Living" entrance area looked like when it was new and fully enclosed.

I think I have this as my cellphone wallpaper. It is a cool shot.

This used to be Subway, taken sometime in April or late March.


Velcro board so departments could move around.

Those are the only pictures worth mentioning: I had some pictures of the back wall of what is now the lunch meats, but those aren't particularly good or historic. It's a bummer that the supermarket section isn't particularly large or very good at all. I think that some of that 250,000 square feet is all storage space (apparently, they DO have some storage space in the back of Albertsons, which was painted from a reddish brown to a yellowish brown).

I'd like to say that should Wal-Mart have been a competent grocery store owner, I would like to say that the new supermarket section was all that the Albertsons lacked and more. The butcher section was good--the meat selection is comparable with H-E-B or Kroger. The florist has great arrangements, the international foods section has brought a lot of great stuff that no one else carries, and the bakery is wonderful. There's free samples every day.

But that paragraph is a blatant lie: there's no butcher, no florists, rarely a free sample, and the bakery is average at best (I doubt they make anything from scratch there).

1815 Brothers Blvd.

Albertsons (no apostrophe, something I found a few years back) had never really thrived in my town, despite reaching a peak with three stores between 2002 and 2006. Similar to Winn-Dixie, which slowly perished in the area years ago (closing its last local store in 2002), Albertsons held out in the region, with this (its first store) opening in 1991 and closing its last one in 2011

This particular store closed in summer 2008.

My family never shopped at Albertsons. Not because it was far away: it was actually one of the closer grocery stores, but because the prices were substantially higher (and overall quality worse), so we ended up going to H-E-B Pantry Foods and Kroger. It's a mystery it survived for as long as it did.

The Albertsons in question doesn't have a lot of fine memories for me, but I did visit it often enough to remember some things about it (that couldn't be said for AppleTree, for instance) but here's what I do remember:

- It remodeled in 2002.
- The renovated part included a Starbucks kiosk (really).
- The original store had a cool checkout counter with a cool circular conveyor to get the food to the bagger. I don't know exactly how it worked, but it made the checkout conveyor belts at Wal-Mart, H-E-B Pantry, Kroger, and Target downright boring.
- A section in the front rented DVDs at a ridiculously low price but the discs were dirty and scratched. We got these around 2004-2006. It eventually closed toward the very end and sold Aggie merchandise.
- The fish market was smelly which is actually a bad sign. It wasn't fresh.
- The front of the store, looking up, had a huge mirror. This was removed in the remodel.

Around 2006, Albertsons was split up and sold to different companies. A few years prior (or was it in 2006?) the Albertsons also was rebranded as "Albertsons Sav-on", though no one really called it as such.

2205 Longmire

The Circle K opened circa 1989, after Wal-Mart but before Albertsons. This was the first and last Circle K stores to be built in College Station as a Circle K. There were other Circle K stores in College Station, but they were all dated stores from UtoteM without gas pumps. Well, by 1998 or so, Circle K had left town and it became a "Handi Stop" and Conoco. Later, this gave way to Diamond Shamrock (early 2000s?) which ultimately became a Texaco by the late 2000s. Unfortunately, I also don't have a picture for it. 2201 Longmire Drive.

The Church's Chicken opened circa 2005, replacing a Wienerschnitzel, which opened in the early 1990s. The buildings were almost identical, except Wienerschnitzel had red trim instead of blue (also, don't have a picture). I don't know when Wienerschnitzel closed: I want to say 2002. In any case, the older Bryan location still is open. Likewise for Circle K, I don't have a picture for it. 2800 Texas Avenue South.

Opened in the late 1990s, this has gone under one significant change--circa 2007, they redecorated (with the "lotz better" décor instead of the "Silly Name, Serious Sandwich" décor), dropped the "Deli" part of the name, and started serving Cinnabon.
2210 Harvey Mitchell Parkway South.

There are other stores to the right of the (former) Albertsons, all with blue awnings (which I all lack pictures for, but you can see a few by visiting Wikimapia, but the photos aren't mine. The Western Beverages hasn't changed probably since day one (1991?), but the others have. There used to be a Kirk's Cleaners (which moved out a bit further down Harvey Mitchell) apparently. Current tenants to the right of Western Beverages (and face Longmire) include (in order) RICOH [former Kirk's Cleaners?], Sun City Tanning, MediSpa & Salon, D.V. Nails, and State Farm Insurance.

There's another whole strip on Brothers, behind Walmart. That's going to be covered another day.