Friday, June 4, 2010

Randall's / Albertsons

The decaying monolith beckons.

If you're reading this article from the archives, this isn't the first blog post (a number of other early articles were removed), but it is the oldest one available.

In the fall of 1991, Randall's Food Markets, based out of Houston, opened a "New Generation" store in College Station at 615 University Drive East, fairly close to the Texas A&M University campus. Until H-E-B began building larger stores in the 2000s, 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. Unfortunately, due to ongoing difficulties with Randalls' financial conditions, in 1997, it was sold along with stores in Pasadena and Round Rock to Albertsons, which renovated and reopened the stores. In College Station at least this resulted in the closure of the University Square store, though as you can see from that page Albertsons at some point realized this to be a mistake and made plans to renovate and reopen that store until financial difficulties scuttled the plan.

By 2011, this was the only Albertsons remaining in town, and it was sold, along with the Kerrville and New Braunfels stores (the latter two remnants of the defunct San Antonio division) to H-E-B, which reopened the Kerrville store but simply closed the other two. While parking was used for A+ Tutoring, it continued to hold a lease on the store for the next decade.

Eventually, H-E-B's lease expired, and plans have been filed to renovate the building into a REI Co-op and Crunch Fitness.

Some of my additional interior photos can be seen at Safeway and Albertsons in Texas.

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).

The side closest to University Drive East (Ste. 100) is currently GoldStar Barber (opened as Mike's Barber Studio), Anything Bling Boutique from 2015-2017 (roughly). Notably, from 1998 to around 2013, this was Haiku Japanese & Korean Restaurant, though changed names to Kobe Steak & Sushi in its final years. There was also in Ste. 106 briefly, I don't remember signage on the building for it but it took up the Albertsons signage on the roadside for a while until it rotted off.

Speaking of signage, Early Bird Cleaners also sub-leased space since 1995 (it was kept through the conversion!) and was accessible from the store itself. This was Crown Cleaners when it opened in 1992. It looks like Early Bird may have closed as early as 2002, but it was definitely shut by the time Albertsons died. Finally, you should see 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.

UPDATE 02-01-2024: Partially rewritten and updated. Previous updates have been commented out, with some new edits to restore it closer to what it was originally before the outsourcing.