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548610

Friday, 15 June, 2007

This year I learned this neighborhood is much older than I
realized.

The recently-renovated-to-1990’s-style shopping center next door was
actually built in 1938. The Office Depot across the street
opened
sometime after 1995, but before that it was a Safeway
which closed in
the Grocery Store Purge of 1993. The Safeway was built some time
between 1968 and 1973, and I don’t have any information on what was on
the site before then. However, as late as 1975 this was considered the
extreme southern edge of town. The landmark Broken
Spoke
diner and
nightclub was considered a destination outside of Austin. I
pass it
whenever I drive to the store.

The coin laundry next door was built
as a Dixie Home, which was a
combination five-and-ten and grocery who merged
with Winn-Lovett in 1955, becoming the South’s largest retail
chain of any
kind, Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie closed its
last stores in Austin proper in
the 1980s, but they were running television ads in the market as late
as 1998. I don’t know where the Winn-Dixie stores were
regionally at that time.
The only one I visited in Texas, was in Waco ca. 1999. It was a
miserable place. That property was vacant as late as 2004.

Kroger
was the biggest victim of the ca.
1993
purge “closing” eight stores in Austin and ten more in the region on
the same day, possibly in May 1993. Six stores in Austin and “a
few” regionally were converted to H-E-B
without closing for even a
single day. The staff and most management were retained, and for a few
weeks H-E-B sold the inventory of Cost Cutter and Big K branded
merchandise. Kroger closed
so many stores at that time, H-E-B developed a specific plan to adapt
former Kroger locations. Oddly, this was in the midst of Kroger’s
aggressive acquisition period in which regional powers such as King
Soopers, Fred Meyer, Fry’s and Ralphs were acquired by the company.
Kroger’s 1998 acquisition of Fry’s Food and Drug provided the heirs to
Fry’s Food capital to expand their seperate, but widely presumed
connected company Fry’s Electronics.

Of the former-Kroger H-E-B stores in Austin,
only one is no longer operating. This was moved to a larger store of
new construction in 2000. That is where I do most of my shopping. The
original location was razed in 2001, with Albertson’s rebuilding on
the same footprint a remarkably similar
store which opened that same
year. This is the Albertson’s to which I would occasionally go and find
a grand total of zero cashier stations open. This store was
compellingly devoid of food. It closed
in 2006, along with every
Albertson’s in the city proper, inluding a newly constructed store
which was built in 2004. This newest Albertson’s in town has very
recently re-opened as a Fiesta.
It is Fiesta’s fourth attempt to open a
store in Austin. Only the first, largest Delwood
Center
store has
proved successful. The other Fiesta locations in Austin are now an
H-E-B, and the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater.
When I moved into this place I was thrilled to have a grocery to which
I could walk. Now I have a movie house to which I can walk, and I
almost never go.

A grocery called Handy Andy [no web site], based in San Antonio, opened
their first store in Austin with the opening of Delwood Center in 1957.
When U.S. 81 was expanded into IH-35 around 1965, the original Delwood
Center was demolished. The owners of the property had expanded the
center in the ensueing years, and the extentions survive
today. Handy Andy was not in a position to both compete with
the nouveaux H-E-B
across the highway and build another store. During the height of
constructing of the express lanes of IH-35 ca. 1975 Safeway
moved into the now humble Delwood Center building a brand new store.
During this time Hancock Center was demolished leaving only the anchors
Sears and H-E-B creating more parking along the way. This H-E-B was the
only “Futurestore” built when the company was attempting to redifine
the grocery segment through the 1970s. Hancock Center was rebuilt in
1997 with an all-new H-E-B built in the long vacant field much closer
to the Sears. In September, 1997 the Futurestore closed 6 PM Friday,
with the grand opening of the larger, modern store at 6 AM Saturday.
The new store no longer had the Chinese deli, who had the greasiest
lomein in town. I miss that lomein, and $4 dinner.

Safeway moved out of Austin in 1993, after paring away stores since the
1980s. Of their five remaining stores, two were sold outright to Fiesta
inlcuding the landmark Delwood Plaza location. The
other Fiesta was at the corner of
William Cannon Dr. and S. First
which was sold to H-E-B in 1995. In the midst of Safeway’s local
liquidation, the company was aggressively acquiring small groceries
around the country.  Among these was the Tom
Thumb
chain in north Texas. After the deal was signed the
folks from Safeway discovered Tom Thumb owned and operated the
Randall’s chain in and near Houston, including Austin, where the name
Tom Thumb was locally registered by a short-lived conveinience-store
chain. (Randall’s, est. 1970, was named after the given name for the
son of the owner of Tom Thumb stores who currently acts as regional
director for Safeway.) The year after Safeway divested itself of its
remaining presence in Austin, it acquired sixteen stores in the city
which most of which still operate as Randall’s, but feature Safeway
signage and products inside the store.

All this to say the Piggly Wiggly in my old neighborhood opened in
1912, in one of two buildings (now remodeled beyond all regognition)
regarded as the first shopping center. In the 1930s Kroger bought out
all of Piggly Wiggly’s stores in the area. It closed in the 1970s, and
very quickly re-opened as Markwell’s a tiny local chain. Markwell’s
remained until the company collapased in 1998. They were open every
day. From 1889 to 1998 you could go to the corner of Baxter and Highland
Avenues and find a grocery.

I need stability.

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