Sunday, January 30, 2011

Former Country Grocery

The shadows make this look far darker than what it actually is

Back way before the Harvey Mitchell overpass and before the Holleman expansion, I'd like to tell you about a building on North Dowling, 101-A North Dowling Road. It is different from 101 North Dowling Road, a house behind it that was originally associated with the property (but now is just a rental).
My earliest memories involve a Shell station, with the older logo (golden shell surrounded with red) and a gray building, with, in capital letters, COUNTRY GROCERY. Between Country and Grocery, there was a circle, but covered up with a withered ad for pet food (I never found out what the circle originally said, though evidence strongly suggests it said LONE STAR FEED...but that is apparently incorrect). It was far older than I was, existing since at least 1983.

Unfortunately, my parents never went there. Ever. I heard it was because the owners were dishonest (keep in mind that the pumps were not pay-at-the-pump, something I take for granted today), and given the fact it was a convenience store, prices were always higher than a normal supermarket. (Ed: someone on MyBCS says it used to have tasty BBQ in this era)

In 2002, the store was sold and cleaned up dramatically, with the new name of "Barker's Country Store". The sign was fairly cheap (a simple flat unlit sign) but it had some thought put into it, with a "western" font and white text on a brown background. The facade was also repainted brown. Unfortunately, it didn't last. Part of the problem was Shell's. When Shell converted the Texaco stations in 2003, shortly following it was an upgrade of existing Shell stations to the décor and signage of the company, which the converted Texaco stores received. In College Station, most of the Shells converted, but a few didn't, and this was one of them. The store changed hands in 2004 and by early 2005, the Shell signage (but not the red and yellow signs) had become Summit, very similar to what happened to Rolling Ridge. As for the new owner, it was called "Jake's Food Mart" with a sign that looked like masking tape had been placed on red poster board creating a "JAKE'S FOOD MART".

Jake's was a bust as well, and it was under Jake's that the Summit stopped selling gas (the tipoff was when the gas prices quit updating in accordance to the market). In late 2006, the property was really cleaned up (repainted light tan, replacing whatever shade Barker's had painted it) and opened as "Shortee's Café", featuring a rather strange chef character. The pumps were torn out and the ground patched (I think the tank's still there). This was short-lived as Shortee's closed within the year, and in spring 2008 the building reopened as Travis' Soul Food. This I actually ate at. It was run by these nice old ladies with southern accents...I managed to get a menu (seen below)

Food was served from metal pans that I guess were cooked from the kitchen and served cafeteria-style. It wasn't bad, but that not great either (I had a horrible feeling that I would be throwing up that night from food sickness). This too was doomed to failure and closed within a few months. In January 2009 it reopened as "Living Water Pottery". A few months later, however, the construction of the Harvey Mitchell overpass changed North Dowling Road permanently, from a stream of cars turning right on Harvey Mitchell Parkway to a minor access road that was primarily used by Moore Supply Company/Kohler trucks.

Despite this setback, the store remained open and and offered pottery lessons (and also painted the building blue). Later on, they repainted it again (and changed the sign). In fall 2019, the storefront closed, with the Facebook having this update as of September 2019.

As a result, Living Water moved out to the artist's home on Hunters Creek Road, and is by appointment only.

The next tenant to come was Legacy Tattoo Lounge South, a spin-off of Legacy Tattoo Lounge on University Drive (pictured as Rodney D. Young Insurance but originally Pizza Inn). This painted the building gray (back like it was during the Country Grocery days) and gave it a new sign composed of smaller lights, giving it a distinctly sketchy look as it had no other signage or exterior updates. Perhaps that's the charm of it.

We leave you with one final picture: the old gas station sign, empty and decaying in the sun:

UPDATE 03-31-2022: A few things were done to the latest update of the post. First was clarifying the difference between 101 North Dowling and 101-A North Dowling, but also some minor rewriting and getting the timeline correct.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Former Wolfe Nursery

Until I can get a real picture here, I'm just going to move the advertisement here up to the top. I don't have the original handy so I'm not sure what paper it comes from.

Today, you know this place as Cavender's Boot City, as it has been since September 2004 as per what I could find in the Eagle's archives. The first development here was a go-kart track. It was granted a permit in the late 1980s as per scans that are on this website. From my own material (phone books), this was "Post Oak Go-Carts Amusement", 609 Holleman Dr. East. In 1993, Houston-based Wolfe Nursery built a store here, but in fall 1997, it shut down (ahead of the Houston stores, which closed in spring 1998), leaving nothing more than gray lettering behind.

The story of Wolfe Nursery needs to be told at some point, the company was briefly owned by the late Pier 1 Imports, and the last stores were closed in 1999 (located in Austin). (The URL refers to "Wolf Pen Nursery", which got conflated into the name in my memory for some reason by the time this was published in the early 2010s).

The font in the front was greenish, and a more bold variant of Helvetica that was common in the 1980s. The building was tan and had green trim as well. I do remember being inside of it once. It had skylights but had a fairly empty feel (it also had different sections of the store that felt like different rooms).

After sitting vacant for most of my childhood, work began in 2004 on the long-vacant building (remarkably just over a decade old), gutting and expanding it. This became Cavender's Boot City, and replaced an old, almost hidden store off of Harvey Road from 1986.

Above, the two pictures, snagged from Google Earth, shows how much the building was reconstructed. These were in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Below is the design I drew up in early 2011 when I first posted this (I later replaced the image with the right name later).

Artist's conception

In terms of the Houston locations, here's a former one according to the old addresses, serving as a "distribution center" of sorts for Houston Garden Centers at least what I could tell from 2014 records. It looks familiar, doesn't it? The College Station location didn't have a lit sign.

The Cavender's had an address of 2300 Earl Rudder Freeway South and was supposed to be part of a bigger development, Wolf Pen Village. I remember seeing renderings of different buildings along Holleman Drive East all the way down to Dartmouth, but it was put on hold during the recession, and due to the failure of the retail/restaurant component of Lofts at Wolf Pen Creek, was never filled out anyway. Too bad...not that I really want there to be restaurants along that part (it's fine as it is!) but that we missed out on the awesome Cavender's neon signs, which is seen in some older locations but also some newer ones, ones that have opened after this one. It's also worth noting that Cavender's expanded in 2015, adding about 5,500 square feet to its existing footprint.

UPDATE 08-17-2021: After last rewrite (6/12/18), updated again with a new opening/closing date but also another minor rewrite (including a patched link). UPDATE 09-15-2021: Recently, I wrote a fairly comprehensive history of Wolfe Nursery, from its founding in Stephenville to its final end on Houston Historic Retail, a website operated by my friend Mike A., which gives a bit of breadth to the Wolfe Nursery story as alluded earlier.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dave's Seafood & Steak / Tom's BBQ and Steakhouse

This restaurant was built sometime in the early 1980s (build date unknown due to demolished building) as Dave's Seafood & Steak Restaurant (operating from 1983 to 1985), closing as one of the restaurants that got washed out in the mid-1980s recession. Other than the ad above I have little information on it. It was briefly another restaurant (Johnny Peppy's) in late 1985 and early 1986 (it lasted for less than six months but it did open based on a mention in a Chamber of Commerce newsletter).

It later became another restaurant known as Karin's (according to The Eagle, so far, any other proof up to and including tax records has proved elusive) and in 1991, it became the College Station home of Tom's Barbecue & Steakhouse, which also changed the address from 2005 to 2001 Texas Avenue (though I believe it was the same building). Tom's Barbecue had been in town since the late 1960s and had established a new-build Bryan site just six years earlier at 3610 South College Avenue (now home to J. Cody's). While I never remember going there, it was a well-known restaurant in town and right across from the H-E-B Pantry Foods where my family regularly went grocery shopping.

Tom's Barbecue & Steakhouse began as just "Tom's Barbecue" in 1969 and moved around town a few times before settling at 3610 South College Avenue in 1985 in a newly-built location (now home to J. Cody's). The College Station restaurant officially opened in 1991, with both locations featuring a meat-based menu of steaks, burgers, barbecue, and a few others. It was also known for the "Tom's Famous Aggie Special", which gave you barbecue (your choice of meats, whether it be ribs, brisket, or whatever), a block of cheddar cheese, pickles, half an onion, bread, and served on butcher paper with a knife. The food quality, however, started to go downhill toward the end of the restaurant's lifespan, likely when pitmaster Wayne Kammerl left following new ownership in 1998. In April 2001, both restaurants abruptly closed.

Here's a menu from Project HOLD (which was supplied by me, actually). I don't know of the date, maybe late 1990s?

Originally some menu items were removed and blacked out (like the Veggie Basket), while some were added (they were stapled to the front)

There also used to be a Buffalo Wings one stapled on, and it used buffalo clip art, again.

In 2011, I found the old Tom's BBQ website (as early as the late 1990s, the College Station Tom's BBQ website disappeared and the domain was taken over by an Arizona-based Tom's BBQ). Here's the History page from it (thanks,

If you go to the archived website, you can see that for early 1997 and late 1996, it was a pretty advanced website: you could order online for pick-up, which wasn't common back then.

After serving for parking for the adjacent E-Z Travel Inn for a few years, it was torn down for a strip center.

The main tenant was Blockbuster, which moved down from 1800 Texas Avenue South. It also featured a location of Rhino Video Games (also owned by the Blockbuster at the time, though I don't think they had interior access). Rhino was bought and absorbed by GameStop in early 2007, which was disappointing as I heard Rhino actually carried classics like Super Nintendo, which GameStop had long since scrapped by then, and didn't have GameStop's aggressive policies that made it disliked by many people. There were some other smaller stores (not listed here, but the typical nail salons and cash stores) and a Batteries Plus, which eventually became Batteries+Bulbs in a corporate rebranding in the late 2000s. After Blockbuster failed in the early 2010s, the location became MattressFirm.

UPDATE 07-13-2021: New restaurant addition with Karin's (the restaurant added in an update a year ago) downplayed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

University Square Shopping Center / Legacy Point

A still-standing reminder of what the center was. All but one was gone as of this when this photo was taken in 2012 with my old cell phone camera. The Junction pulled out in summer of 2012 and was replaced by "Piranha Fitness Studio". There's a smaller sign signed as Legacy Point closer to IHOP.

This used to be one of the more popular posts on this blog and to this day, the picture of the closed Albertsons (since demolished) is used as the Facebook header. The old Albertsons (or Skaggs Alpha Beta, or however it is remembered) is a topic in itself, which is covered at this page now.

Most of this shopping center is actually gone now, including the former Albertsons, but was composed of several buildings, which I'll try to describe going counter clockwise around the center from University to College Avenue.

Almost directly behind the Taco Bell on University was two food shacks.

For years (since approximately 1991, if I recall correctly), there was a little Cajun food place called Hebert's Cajun Food. It wasn't that cheap, but it was fast, delicious, and worth it: much like a food truck. It closed on June 15th, 2012 with more pictures (not mine) here, and later moved to a variety of locations, including Village Foods for about a year. They later built a short-lived physical location in downtown Caldwell, and the latest location is operating of the Buc-ee's in Brazoria.

There was also a coffee shop, "Java Jitters" just directly across it, which was a small shack operated by the same owners of Hebert's (the same guy ran both shacks, but obviously never simultaneously). Never went to it, it was only open in the mornings. The addresses of Hebert's and Java Jitters were 727 University Drive and 729 University Drive, respectively. You can see my pictures below.

Java Jitters, gutted.

My old compiled University Drive directory, 729 University was "Film & Photos No. 2248" in 1980 and Nachos to Go in 1993. "The wooden shack of Java Jitters was almost certainly not the photo booth. However, Java Jitters and Nachos to Go were likely the same building."

Behind these food shacks was another building, was 725 University Drive. Like the two food shacks, it is also gone. It was located approximately where the intersection of the two halves of Church Avenue meet the main driveway that dead-ends at the Stack location and faced south (behind the Taco Bell). It was torn down in July 2012.

I also took the picture (a few, actually!) of the A+ Tutoring/Fat Burger building, which had both closed after the spring 2012 semester (but before the demolition). It wasn't an unfamiliar location that semester, either, I had gone to both buildings in the semester prior: trying to pass Organic Chemistry through A+ (if you are a student or considering to be one, please do not do this, just study and know the material), or hanging out in Fat Burger (not related to a chain called Fatburger, that's different--seems it's confused Yelpers), which had a fixings bar (which is, of course, best at the beginning of the day). It lived up to its name--offering the 1/3 pound "Fat Burger" and the full-pound Bevo Burger. The fixings bar I don't have a picture of, only the gutted remains of it after the store closed. Seems like they also may have had a different logo at one time.

Neither tenant was original, Fat Burger's "goodbye" sign implies it was there since 1984, and from my notes, "Mo-Peds to Go", then "Tommy's" was at Fat Burger's site (suite A) and for suite B (A+), there was Budget Tapes & Records, which was a popular music chain at the time, then Music Express until around the mid-1980s.

I didn't take the front of A+, nor Fat Burger at night, unfortunately (Fat Burger kind of had this half-burned out light, and A+ didn't light up at all). There was a picnic bench in front of both buildings. I know I remember (maybe circa 2003) that A+ actually had the "AT+" logo on the front, but it still must have ran afoul of TAMU logo usage. A 1995 directory refers to the spot as "A&M Tutoring" (the university cracked down on unlicensed use of "A&M" or "Aggie" in business names, but it's not clear if they had already changed their sign by that time).

On the side of the building, the original logo could still be seen. They offered CHEM 227 and CHEM 228, just not at the time they painted this.

Never thought to get Fat Burger delivered.

The front of the building, taken in daytime by a cell phone camera.

This location is gone, too, with both locations consolidating near the old Albertsons/Randalls.

Right to the east of that was the main shopping center, which is now "The Stack Field" (just open space). The Albertsons was the largest tenant at the center, closed at the end of 1997, following the purchase of the Randalls store on University Drive East. While Albertsons drew up plans to reopen the store (again, covered on the post dedicated to the store itself), it fell apart a few years later when Albertsons closed down the Houston division of the company (the local stores were moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth division) and scrapped much of its expansion plans.

As early as 2003 (presumably when the Albertsons deal was completely dead), the city was looking to improve on the center (which had lost Albertsons by that point) as part of a largely far-fetched Northgate redevelopment that would see University Square (eventually) get developed into something else: a "Cultural/Science Center" anchor, citing the Exploratorium as a model (and THIS I did hear about back in '03), a think tank/business incubator, or a mixed-use project that would incorporate a variety of restaurants and a modern movie theater. This all would all change, of course, when it was revealed that the center would be dramatically altered for a new mixed-use development, but ultimately all that resulted was a new development behind it, and some demolished buildings, most of which haven't been replaced since they were torn down. Even now, only a sad-looking "Legacy Point" sign stands near the IHOP that used to be the sign of Albertsons long ago. Some "legacy". The current plan as of 2019 is supposed to replace the remainder of the shopping center with a Century Square-like development. We'll see.

It should be noted that University Square was always the name of the shopping center, not Skaggs Shopping Center as some publications have suggested.

With 301 College already covered, going down the center has these tenants.

303 College Avenue
Photo from an old yearbook.

Mitchells "department store" was a clothing store previously owned by (at least a majority of) Leonard Brothers of Fort Worth, which had been acquired in 1967 by Tandy Corporation, with a location at University Square in the early 1970s. By 1974, Tandy had disposed of the chain along with Leonard's (which was sold to Dillard's), but Mitchells continued to operate at University Square until around 1976. In 1977, Webster's Catalog Showroom opened in the spot. While this ad lists it as 306 College (for some reason), both Mitchells (per ads) and Webster's (per a 1980 phone book) had it as 303 College Avenue.

Mitchells "department store" was a clothing store previously owned by (at least a majority of) Leonard Brothers of Fort Worth, which had been acquired in 1967 by Tandy Corporation, with a location at University Square in the early 1970s. By 1974, Tandy had disposed of the chain along with Leonard's (which was sold to Dillard's), but Mitchells continued to operate at University Square until around 1976. In 1977, Webster's Catalog Showroom opened in the spot. While this ad lists it as 306 College, both Mitchells (per ads) and Webster's (per a 1980 phone book) had it as 303 College Avenue.

Notice the Tandy Corporation logo--that was RadioShack's parent company (which later adopted the name of RadioShack). They had a much greater range in those days, and ran full companies. By 1992, the store became a McDuff Superstore (according to a 1992 ad that I have), also at the address and owned by Tandy. Someone mentioned that there was a RadioShack here at one time, which may have been when Tandy ended the brand name, but I don't have confirmation of RadioShack's presence at University Square. Somewhere in the late 1990s or early 2000s, it became Rother's, which would remain (save for a rename to Traditions) until its demise.

Next to it was BCS Bicycles (at 309 University), which moved to 317 University. Even by 1980, it was Hancock Fabrics until sometime in the late 2000s or the early 2010s, then BCS Bicycles. Probably due to the fact that both the size of the Mitchells/Webster's/Rother's/Traditions and Hancock Fabrics/BCS Bicycles, there wasn't a 305 or 307 University, even looking through archives.

The last stores on the block are a little harder to track because of various expansions of Hurricane Harry's (313 College), which dates back to at least 1992. The other side of the shopping center has a slightly taller roof. This used to be the Cineplex (later Plitt) III, a three-screen movie theater. It lasted through the various names of the supermarket, but closed around 1996 and was divided between an expansion of Hurricane Harry's, and well before the theater closed, it also shared the address with what was once simply "The Jewelry & Coin Exchange" (now "David's Jewelry & Coin Exchange" since late 2013). The last tenant on the end (315 College, taking half of the theater) was TJ's Laser Tag, which was around from maybe 1996 to 1999. I remember my brother had gone there a few times for his birthday, but I was still in elementary school when it closed.

That spot later became The Junction (a pool hall that didn't serve alcohol). The Junction eventually closed around 2012 and became Piranha Fitness Studio. There was also additional A+ classrooms at 311A College Avenue, but they're gone (now offices for Eccell Group). At one time, 313C (unknown what's there now, but the building is still there) was a restaurant called "Fred's For Lunch" which sold submarine sandwiches and Blue Bell ice cream.

Speaking of hurricanes, the restaurant in the east side of the parking lot was Crazy Cajuns', created by Hurricane Rita evacuees (Lake Charles, Louisiana) and was on its second location, moving from 14841 FM 2154 (indeed, the sign on the building side still read "Wellborn, Texas" up until its closure). While I first went to the location in Wellborn (I don't know what's there now), which included only a large covered area with picnic tables (December 2006 is when I went), this eventually did end up being a favorite of mine, as I went in March 2011 to this location and had a blast. Lots of food for a good price. It was still spicy, and had been in this place since somewhere about 2008-2009. It went through a few changes in ownership, and steadily declined, notably in service first, then food, and health ratings, before finally closing for good in summer 2012. It shut down the same week as Hebert's did (sad time for Cajun food lovers). I expressed some hope that Hebert's would be able to move into the restaurant, and go from essentially a snack bar to a full restaurant where you could take your family, but that wasn't going to work.

There used to be a Thai place before it (the second incarnation of Thai Taste, and not a particularly great one), and before that a combo Mexican/Cajun place called Alicia's (thanks to HAIF user "keyser" for the restaurant history). The comments tell a bit more of the story. In fact, while wandering around around the 2012-2013 holidays, I found the canopy had some older names exposed...

Alicia's AND Thai Taste!

It started out as a Bonanza Steakhouse in 1973 (or 1972), which was more a cafeteria/buffet affair (rather than a traditional "steakhouse") and later served briefly as Cow Hop (before it moved back to the main strip on Northgate). But in 2013, nearly 40 years after its construction, it now serves as BCS Bicycles & Repair, which moved from their location in the strip.

Other shots, taken January 2011 & surrounding buildings...

Regrettably, I was never able to get a picture of the interior of the Albertsons, or any other time: the windows were painted over, and my one shot of the interiors was kind of messed up by the flash, and while it did capture some of the interior in a blurry configuration that revealed rows of fluorescents and columns, it mostly created a reflection of me, which I didn't like.

The next shot is one that's not mine, but it's a great shot, with the old Hancock Fabrics sign visible. The second and third show older tenants, like Rother's and Hancock Fabrics. These were taken in May 2012 by me. I guess the businesses didn't bother changing the signs in the rear...

You'll notice that I forgot to mention the IHOP, which is part of the center. I don't have pictures of it, nor have been inside for over two decades.

Most recently updated in February 2020.