Houston Chain Grocers of Yesterday

Typical A&P of the 1950's.

Typical A&P of the 1950’s.

Before he had Kroger and HEB out there in the Houston market – and soon competing with Walmart’s/Sam’s Club, Costco, and Target for leadership in the national chain competition among the big national grocers in the Houston area market, a number of Mom and Pop grocers and olden days chain operations swatted it out in the city for the local breakfast, lunch, supper, and dinner plates as the providers of foods that people actually cooked or prepared at home.

The names of these national and local chain grocers included: Piggily Wiggily, Henke & Pillot, Weingarten’s, A&P Super Market, Minimax, Safeway, Globe, Federated, and Lucky Seven, for sure. What else have I forgotten?

As a former employee of A&P, I know I’ve probably forgotten a number of the others. Please help fill in the blanks with a comment below on who is getting left out. You need to remember (or be made aware) that back in the years after WWII, grocery stores sold groceries only. If you wanted drugs, toys, clothes, or anything else inedible as food, you  had to go search for those items in the specialty shops or department stores that sold everything.

All of our A&P products were labeled “Ann Page” and they each came in a coded date package. One of our shelf stocking instructions at the A&P on Lawndale near 75th was; Never show the customers how to read the code. That information might cause them to pass on products that were near or past “best sell by” dates. If the customers already knew how to read the code, assure them that the “best sell by” date is not  the same as an “expiration date.” What is it then? Just tell the customer that “best sell by” is A&P’s way of keeping the stock moving toward earlier sales. If the customer paused to ask, “then what the heck that does mean?”, try to depart as though you had a clean up to do on a distant aisle.

One of those days in the summer of 1954 that I almost got fired, a woman tapped me on the shoulder to ask: “Young man, where does this store keep their all-day suckers?”

“Well, you’re talking to one of them,” I wise-guy answered with a pitiable smile.”

In spite of the fact  that she laughed and that I right away directed her to the aisle location of the wrapped suckers, my boss was in the next aisle and heard the whole brief exchange. He threatened to fire me if I was ever caught saying another smart-Alec thing to a customer in the future and, as my punishment, he pulled me off shelf stocking at that 3:00 PM time and had me go out in back of the store and spend my last three hours cleaning up the produce delivery crap in and outside the loading docks.

I was 16. The penalty didn’t keep me from being a smart Aleck ever again. But it did teach me to be more careful about who was standing in the next aisle the next time the opportunity for a timely comment arose at work.

Like all matters of long-term good fortune, I finally outgrew my need to be a smart Aleck. I never was aiming to hurt anyone else’s feelings; I simply had a knack for coming up with comments that were sometimes funny, but always inappropriate to the communication exchange at hand.  As many of you may also have discovered in your own life experience over time, I have also now lived long enough to have learned that not all young smart Alecks get that lesson, no matter  how old they grow to be. And the worst of them are those who  really want to cause hurt feelings in others.

At any rate, the subject here today is Houston’s old grocery chains. – Who am I leaving out?

 

 

 

 

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15 Responses to “Houston Chain Grocers of Yesterday”

  1. materene Says:

    I don’t remember ever seeing a Piggly Wiggly in Houston, the first I saw was in the summer of 63 and that was in Arkansas while on vacation. I remember the first Studewood Market in the Heights, it was just an old wooden floored store and very popular, they built a new modern store on the same spot and it wasn’t long after that Weingarten’s bought the property and remained there for a couple decades. All those you listed were on my Grandmothers list every Saturday, it was those stores that had the kiddy Corrals I liked, a huge table with chairs and a little wooden fence around it, you put the kids there to look at comics while you did the shopping. Of course that paper head band with an Indian feather was high on the list also.

  2. Rick B. Says:

    I’m not sure what chain(s) you might be leaving out, but this post got me to thinking about the stamps that grocery chains used to give out – with Safeway it was S&H Green Stamps and HEB (in its early days) had Texas Gold Stamps – that could be redeemed for all sorts of wonderful things once you had collected enough of them. It’s a shame that today’s chains don’t value customers enough to offer things like that anymore.

    • materene Says:

      I think for local store chains Lewis and Coker had more than one location, there was one across the street from Reagan High School on the corner of Copeland , at least my feeble memory thinks it was Copeland. I used the same Barber in a little shop next door to the store for decades, his name was Joe Gonzales.

  3. Ann Jones Says:

    I grew up in the Heights right across the street from Reagan High School, on 13th and Oxford. I, too, went to that Lewis and
    Coker. I believe the name of the street is Arlington. There was a Mom and Pop store, mostly Pop and the boys, across the street from us called Sanders Store.

    • materene Says:

      I lived at 1622 Oxford, the address has changed now that all those empty lots in the 50’s and 60’s were finally sold and built on. Our old house is still there and has been remodeled with an upstairs in the rear. As a kid I slept at the rear of the house in a converted back porch that had wall to wall windows, very cold in the winter let me tell you. My folks were old school and did not believe in running a heater all night, when the lights went off the heat went off. In the back yard there was a pear tree, two large fig trees and an apple tree, and a garage apartment. I remember every kid on my street, and I also remember how sad I was the last time I drove by the place knowing a lot of those people are now gone. Life is no more than a high wind and the older we get the less grip we have… Long as I have my memory I have something to hold onto.
      ;0)

      • Bill McCurdy Says:

        Materene – As a small kid, I also lived on Oxford Street during part of WWII. Don’t remember the address. We moved from Oxford Street to Pecan Park in 1945. – Billl McCurdy.

      • materene Says:

        Bill, do you remember this old family upholstery business on this corner of east 16th and Oxford, I lived down the street just about three houses going towards 18th, there were lots of empty lots between the houses then and they are all gone now, very crowded and eventually that pre WWII look of wooden homes will all be gone. The little house with the x is our old house, at the time it was sided with that tar rolled roofing, a very ugly brownish yellowish brick pattern. Not quite as bad as that house I saw in Pahrump Nevada where they were using bales of hay for insulation and inner walls ;0) I loved this neighborhood in the early 50’s, there were complete families with kids everywhere. The MayFair at Eugene Fields , the paper drives on Wednesdays. There were magnolia trees surrounding the school and with the windows open in the spring and bloom time the air was so clean and sweet, man what a good life we had.

        http://tinypic.com/r/2r4hlqx/8

        http://tinypic.com/r/2vb8rr7/8

  4. Tom Hunter Says:

    My mom used to drive from Pearland to shop at the A&P on Telephone Road just north of Long Drive. My dad worked at the Telephone Company plant office a short distance away. When I got to pick a cereal, it was either something with a prize in the box or one that you had to send off for. Great memories walking the aisles of that old store. The last time I drove by that area, the building was still there.

  5. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Materene – Regarding your questions above, I do not remember that building you included by link, but I did start the 1st grade in 1944 at All Saints after attending Christ th King the previous year, when the ouse we previously rented was nearer North Main. My dad was a Brown Shipyard welder during the war and we sometimes had air raid drills, complete with searchlights moving across the skies of Houston, just like the movies. Lucky for us, there were no “buzz bombs” in Harris County. – When my folks bought our house at 6646 Japonica in Pecan Park in 1945, I finished the first grade at Southmayd Elementery in HISD. Then I went back to Catholic school at St. Christopher’s in 1946. – As for those houses in the second picture, they are very remindful of our place. Ours had a nice sitting porch in front too. I just wish that someone was still around who may have remembered the address. – Great times and memories, anyway. – Regards, Bill

  6. Mark W. Says:

    My mother used to take me to shop in a store in San Antonio called IGA in the early 50s. (I think IGA stood for International Grocers Association, which I think was a chain at one time.) She took me along with her when she grocery shopped. Handy Andy was very big in San Antonio also, as were Piggly Wiggly and HEB. Handy Andy expanded into Houston for awhile and opened up one of the first grocery superstores in the area on Memorial and Dairy-Ashford, since taken over by Randall’s/Safeway. Maybe Handy Andy bit off more than they could chew because they declared bankruptcy in 1981. From their peak of over 60 stores in the 70s, they were down to 14 in 2005, and 6 by 2010. In 2012 their last six stores were taken over by Arlan Food Markets, Then there’s the old timey chain called Rice Food Market.

  7. Riley Napier Says:

    Don’t forget the ABC stores. My father worked in the bakery at their Heights store on 11th street in the 1930’s.

  8. CJ Says:

    I am from the Heights too and remember Lewis & Coker and the Studewood Market. I also remember the Lucky 7 market (my grandmother’s favorite store on Birdsall off of Washington Ave. Seems like was another Lucky 7 off of 20th near Shepard. I can remember the Weingarten’s at Shepard and Washington. It was an amazing store – an upper level for groceries and a lower level where you could buy almost anything. You could get towels, drapes, shoes, kitchen items and even fishing equipment. I remember that because when my brother was 4 or 5 years old, he went downstairs and filled his pockets with weights and lours and brought them home. My parents explained to him that was stealing and made him take all the stuff back to the store and apologize to the manager; I believe his name was Mr. Black. There was another newer Weingarten’s on Yale at 20th and a one level store at Northline mall. Does anybody remember Grant’s department store in the Henke & Pilot center on Shepard and 11th?

  9. Sharon Mixon Lawlis Jackson Says:

    CJ I remember Grants. Many years ago at that site was an organ grinder with a real monkey right at the opening where you could walk from Shepherd side to Durham. I am not even sure if Durham was there yet. Western Auto was there also.

  10. Jose Says:

    Value King? It was on Washington betWeen Durham and Shepard

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