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.
I had been in a full-line H-E-B store before, specifically, at a now-defunct location in Waco, Texas at the corner of Dutton and Valley Mills, and when H-E-B opened their new store in College Station in April 2002 (pretty sure it was April, possibly March), and blew everything out of the water, not just the Waco store but also the Southwest Parkway Kroger and the Albertsons next to the Wal-Mart. The Pantry had a pretty good selection for what it was (about 10-12 aisles, produce, and a tiny bakery area), but the H-E-B had all that and more, including a 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 (Yelp likewise reports the brief time they carried Caribbean imported foods, though said reviewer is notoriously untrustworthy when it comes to restaurant reviews).
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.
All in all, the store (which, by the way, boasts warehouse-style ceilings, unlike the old Pantry) is 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 year-round, which is fantastic because not even the suburban H-E-B stores in Houston do that.
The parking is usually full (even after the opening of other stores) 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), namely moving the florist to the other side of the store near the pharmacy, making the produce area less of a maze, and adding "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 wooden 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 after it was built. Aggieland Printing is still there, though Early Bird Cleaners moved on. A few years later, Smoothie King moved in from Parkway Square.
El Chico itself was the site of a car dealership in the 1970s and 1980s (see the link) and the configuration of the El Chico and 1801 Holleman is seen below.
UPDATE 7-19-21: Spun off El Chico (and the car dealerships before it) into a new post