Houston -- like most other cities -- was once home to a broad array of supermarkets and grocery stores like Weingarten's (whose last grocery store closed in 1984 -- the company is now exclusively in the real estate market), Continental Finer Foods, and Lewis & Coker before it gave way to being dominated by a small faction of corporate-driven grocers. Although some grocery stores have changed their names (the once ubiquitious Gerland's now operates as -- alternately -- Food Town, Food Fair and Grand Market) others have gone away entirely.
As we close out the Oughts and move into a new decade, we look back at the five biggest departures from the Houston supermarket scene in the last 10 years (and yes, we're counting the decade as 1999 to 2009).
Randall's: What? you may exclaim. Randall's still exists! Not in the state that it used to, it doesn't. The Onstead family once had a staggering 29 percent share of the Houston grocery market. And with every boom comes a bust. Overextending themselves by purchasing the Tom Thumb chain in Dallas, they doubled the company's size in only two years. It proved to be too much for the family to handle, and they ultimately sold Randall's -- along with Tom Thumb and Simon David (another Dallas grocer) -- to Safeway in 1999. This marked Safeway's return to the Houston grocery scene after a ten-year absence. The current incarnation of Randall's bears little resemblance to the old, family-run stores and the market share as of 2006 was a dismal 6.9 percent, reflecting Safeway's inability to compete with newer stores like Kroger and H-E-B.
AppleTree: This Texas-based chain once boasted 100 stores in the Houston and Austin area. Of those, the majority were here in Houston. The chain was founded when AppleTree purchased 50 defunct grocery stores in Houston from Safeway in 1988, and was instantaneously popular. For a period of time in the late '80s and early '90s, AppleTree was ranked third in market share behind only Kroger and Randall's. But as the decade wore on, market share plummeted and AppleTree soon found itself selling off its stores to competitors like Fiesta, Rice Epicurean and Randall's (and, of course, those same stores later became part of Safeway once again). The last AppleTree in Houston closed in 1997, but the chain still operates in Bryan-College Station, where the only AppleTree left still stands at Highway 21 and Texas Avenue, after the February 2009 closing of the Briarcrest Drive location.
Albertson's: In 2002, less than seven years after arriving in Houston with a flourish, Idaho-based Albertson's departed our market (and several others in Texas) as dramatically as it had arrived. It closed ten of its 43 stores virtually overnight, with the rest sold off as quickly as possible. In San Antonio, grocery giant H-E-B began buying up the leftover Albertson's stores, signaling its impending takeover of the grocery market here in Houston. Although Albertson's stores remain in Dallas, no one really cares.
Food Lion: Although the last of its Houston stores closed in 1997, Food Lion is worth a mention on our list solely because of its entrance and exit into the market: In like a lion, and out like a lamb. The brash North Carolina company expanded into the Texas market like gangbusters, opening nearly 100 new stores in the early 1990s. But overexpansion and a devastating report from ABC's PrimeTime Live that insinuated the chain was knowingly selling spoiled meat and fish were death blows to the hatchling stores in Texas. Just like Albertson's, the grocery stores -- which had become ubquitious almost overnight -- quickly disappeared, and the chain retreated back to the Eastern seaboard.
Auchan: Probably the most anticipated grocery store opening in Houston's history was the 1988 unveiling of Auchan Hypermarket, the very first American location of the immensely popular French grocery chain. We can vividly remember going shopping at the brand-new store as children, our parents excited to shop in a "global" market, especially one as enormous as Auchan was -- its footprint was nearly the size of a football field. Its location far on the west side of town, in a sparsely-populated area of Beltway 8 and Bellaire, surely didn't contribute to its popularity, but it was a huge hit nevertheless...at first. Over time, the store saw fewer and fewer visitors. A second store on the South Loop that opened in 2000 was also a failure. Neither could compete with Houston's entrenched supermarkets and finally closed in 2003, when Auchan pulled out of the American market entirely.
Looking into our crystal ball, we see similar futures for a few other Houston grocery stores, most notably the always quiet Rice Epicurean. Which grocery stores do you think have a future in Houston? And which do you think will go the way of the dodo in the next ten years?
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