Wednesday, June 23, 2010

H-E-B College Station

Author's picture of 1900 Texas Avenue South from June 2019

This H-E-B store opened as the FIRST full-line store in the Bryan-College Station area (as opposed to a Pantry store) and it replaced the H-E-B Pantry Foods across Holleman. The store opened in spring 2002 around the time that the H-E-B Pantry stores in Houston were being replaced at a rapid rate, and while I had been in a "real" H-E-B before, the now-defunct Valley Mills/Dutton store in Waco (that's a link to my other site, Carbon-izer), the H-E-B here blew it out of the water, offering everything the Pantry had (except for the nice ambience) and adding a real bakery (with bolillos, which were a favorite when visiting the Waco store), a tortilleria, a pharmacy, a floral department, seafood, and a deli.
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, though it was for the better (H-E-B's merchandising is not quite as sharp these days). The sushi-making kiosk and "Showtime" were added later during later reconfigurations, and at some point in the early 2010s, H-E-B moved away from plates in the deli (though there wasn't much besides dried-out fried chicken and potato wedges) in favor of cold "grab-and-go" items (and later, "Meal Simple" kits). 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.

The store really is big.

Until COVID, the store was 24/7 all year, which made the store extremely convenient (and not even all of the Houston area stores did that). Of course, night hours meant that the stores were cluttered with boxes and the service departments were shuttered, but it was still extremely convenient (though H-E-B wasn't the only one that stayed open that late)...though the store's popularity and tight footprint meant that parking was an issue, and that tight footprint meant that the store could never be physically expanded. The 2015 remodel mostly just replaced the existing décor ( tearing off the giant lettering on the sides of the colored walls), moved the florist to the other side of the store near the pharmacy (where the books and magazines used to be), rearranging the produce area so that it was easier to access the main store instead of winding around it, and adding the "Curbside" service to the store (using old bank space, but taking up even more parking).

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





In the early days of this post, I used to have H-E-B directories from 2002 and 2005 available for download, but I figured it wasn't worth re-uploading from the Dropbox Public folder where it used to be.

The H-E-B saved part of the parking lot that El Chico used (though a few years after H-E-B opened, El Chico was torn down entirely for a bank), which was once part of a larger parking lot. Across from El Chico (on the other side of the parking lot, further down Holleman) was a shabby-looking maroon building (with cedar shake shingles if I remember right), built in the mid-1980s, holding Aggieland Printing (1801 Holleman), and later Early Bird Cleaners. Both moved to a new building in the parking lot of the H-E-B at Park Place. This was the only other retail the H-E-B had near it.

Aggieland Printing was at 1902 Texas Avenue South from 2002 to 2019 when Aggieland Printing owner John Stimson retired, and it was merged into Angonia Print and Copy of Bryan, which adopted the Aggieland Printing name, and in 2020 was replaced with a HOTWORX fitness studio. 1904 Texas Avenue South held Sew Vac City by 2005 and into the mid-2010s when it was replaced by Mattress One. They were still here in 2018 but a few years later had been replaced with F45 Training.

Smoothie King moved into 1908 Texas Avenue South in early 2010 (they used to be at the Kroger shopping center, 2416C Texas Avenue South). LA Weight Loss had previously been here since 2003 and through the 2000s (and I believe that this is where Early Bird Cleaners might have been when it first moved, didn't last long...but the drive-through presence would support that). There doesn't seem to have been a 1906 Texas Avenue South...everything has been accounted for. Below, you can see the configuration of El Chico and surrounding retail before the H-E-B was built.

UPDATE 07-19-2021: Spun off El Chico (and the car dealerships before it) into a new post. This is not the first update of this post. Major rewrites had been done in 2015 and June 2019.
UPDATE 04-05-2023: Another significant rewrite, better incorporating the adjacent retail building.

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 in that strip center 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 why the owner of A+ ended up buying the property).

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 almost identical.

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
February 2020: Minor fix and additions, including new category.
March 2020: Archived link to KBTX