HOW AMAZON AND WHOLE FOODS MARKET COULD CREATE THE NEW BUILDING BLOCKS OF URBAN COMMERCE, AND WHAT SOME OF THEM MIGHT LOOK LIKE Will Amazon transform Whole Foods Market into a grocery services building block for farmers, restaurants, and specialty grocers — on the model of the way Amazon Web Services now serves software developers? Joshua Rothman provides a brief overview of current thinking about Amazon’s possible plans for the grocery chain — and how the result might transform the landscapes of cities: “It’s increasingly easy to imagine,” he writes, “that a few decades from now, we’ll tell our kids about how we used to ‘go to the store’; they’ll look at us and say, ‘What?’ Earlier this month, Amazon filed a patent application describing large, multi-story drone towers in urban centers. Probably, in the future, such buildings will seem unremarkable. The hive-like towers will have loading docks and warehouses on the lower floors and bays for drones higher up; the drones may be repaired and supplied by robots. ‘There is a growing need and desire to locate fulfillment centers within cities, such as in downtown districts,‘ the patent application says.” [The New Yorker] Image from Amazon’s patent application for drone-delivery warehouse tower: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, via SiliconBeat
SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST HOUSTON SEARS STORES GOING SOUTH Included in the latest round of Sears store closings: the mall-anchor locations at the Baybrook Mall (off the Gulf Fwy. at Bay Area Blvd.) and the Westwood Mall (off the Southwest Fwy. at Bissonnet). Liquidation sales are scheduled to begin by the end of this month; the stores will shut down completely by the middle of September. This will bring the the number of Sears Holdings stores scheduled to close this year to 265. [USA Today; Business Insider] Aerial view of Sears at the Baybrook Mall: CBRE
It may not look like a hole lot is going on in there in this photo taken a few months ago, but the 2,492-sq.-ft. 1940-vintage retail building at the southeast corner of White Oak Dr. and Oxford St. in the Heights — a crooked saunter across the street from Onion Creek Coffee House and a lot and a street down from the Heights hike-and-bike trail (and this) — will be filled with bagels this summer, promises its new proprietor. Behind its plywood poker face, the property at 3119 White Oak Dr. has been stuffed with a bagel oven, tile-front counters, and a walk-in refrigerator, according to the social media accounts of the establishment, known as Golden Bagels and Coffee. Soon to be on the menu, in addition to the comestibles promised in the shop’s name: local cured and smoked fish.
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Bagels for the Heights
A flyer from NewQuest Properties is now hawking an imagined retail-or-restaurant building at 3215 White Oak Dr., across the street from the parking lot for Juiceland and Black Swan Yoga. The lot, which spans from the corner of Columbia St. to the western edge of the Heights hike-and-bike trail that slices diagonally across White Oak, is currently home to an Aqua Hand Car Wash (seen from Columbia St. above), as well as a few rented-out residences behind it and next to the trail.
The included renderings show the building fronting the sidewalk on White Oak, with a patio in front:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: STILL MISSING THE GOOD OL’ DAYS “I was born in ’91, so I never got to experience the little mom and pop stores (hardware store or otherwise). I wish I could have seen what it was like back then. :(” [WebsterResident, commenting on Amazon Will Swallow Whole Foods Whole] Photo of Martini Hardware, 7145 Lawndale St.: Andrea Rodriguez
If you’re just coming up to speed on the whole food hall thing, remember this: It’s not a food court, it’s a food hall. And in the case of Bravery Chef Hall, planned for a 9,000-sq.-ft. space in the ground floor of the Aris Market Square tower Hines is completing at the corner of Preston and Travis Downtown, it’s not just a food hall but “the world’s first chef hall.” Or, as the founders explain, “a curated food hall where all vendors are operated and owned by chefs, employing only cooks, and where a large percentage of the seats are chef counter seating.” So maybe think of it as a huddle of 5 independently operated chef’s tables, each surrounding an open kitchen, in one streetfront retail space. (Plus additional adjacent seating — and outside, a patio garden and sidewalk café dining space totaling 3,000 sq. ft.)
How real is this thing? Well, it’s coming from the team behind the Conservatory, Downtown’s only other currently operating food hall (as well as Prohibition Supperclub and its accompanying Oyster Bar) — and yesterday the Downtown Management District approved a $140,000 “catalytic retail grant” towards the estimated $1.8 million buildout.
Here’s a peek at the construction currently going on in the space:
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Bravery Chef Hall
AMAZON WILL SWALLOW WHOLE FOODS WHOLE For those who expected Whole Foods Market to shop itself to a fellow grocery store chain and not a powerful company experimenting with drone delivery, some surprising news this morning: Amazon plans to acquire the Austin-based company for $13.7 billion. “Whole Foods Market will continue to operate stores under the Whole Foods Market brand and source from trusted vendors and partners around the world,” the company reports. [Whole Foods; background from Texas Monthly] Photo of Whole Foods Market at West Alabama and Kirby: ilovebutter [license]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THERE’S MORE MONEY IN HISTORY “First of all, this really doesn’t make much difference, as the original art moderne lines of this center were destroyed several years ago with the addition of gun turrets on the corners of the buildings.
What I do find interesting is that Weingarten talks about the alterations as being financially responsible decisions to their shareholders. Yet this is the 3rd oldest intact shopping center in the US, and the only two that predate it, AFAIK, are Highland Park Village in Dallas and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Both of those have owners that have restored them to essentially their original designs and have enjoyed much increased property values. In the case of Highland Park Village, Henry S Miller (a Dallas developer) bought HP Village in the later ’70’s as it was very run down and dumpy, and had the foresight to restore its original Spanish Colonial design and garner a better tenant mix. Though his company no longer owns it, HP Village commands far higher square foot rents than River Oaks Shopping Center. All this is to say that if Weingarten had invested money in restoring their property 10-15 years ago, they probably would have a more valuable asset today.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on The Other River Oaks Shopping Center Knockdown Hearing Scheduled for This Week] Rendering of proposed alterations to River Oaks Shopping Center, 1997 West Gray St.: Aria Group Architects for Weingarten Realty Investors
Back in March, excavators were cleared from the site at the northeast corner of Yale St. and the 610 North feeder road after heavy-equipment rental facility Neff Rental shut down. But at least one of them is back again today, reports a Swamplot reader who passed by the site. It’s shown in the left side of the photo above, performing what appears to be some site prep work for the future home of Houston’s first-ever 365 by Whole Foods market. Also on site, in the foreground of the photo taken from Yale St.: a new construction trailer.
Opening date for the mini-Whole Foods Market at 3004 N. Yale St. at the southern border of Independence Heights — originally scheduled for 2017 —has been pushed back to next year, according to the Houston Business Journal.
Photo: Swamplot inbox
Groceries for Garden Oaks
These portraits of the Valero station at Westheimer and Crescent Park Dr., now largely bereft of its branding signage and its gas pumps, come from a reader on the scene this morning who speculates that the changes “must have happened very suddenly” on or before Saturday. The fencing has ensnared the Royal Oaks Cleaners’ retail spot as well, though that business’s allegiances and pricing are still proclaimed on nearby signage:
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Gas Station Regime Change
A segment of the Heights Waterworks properties at 20th and Nicholson St. should be making its way into the hands of Braun Enterprises later this year, Katherine Feser reports this morning in the Chronicle. Building on Houston’s budding tradition of high profile redevelopment of decommissioned water storage tanks, the company will be turning the handful of pump station and reservoir structures on the block southeast of 20th and Nicholson into a handful of restaurants and bars, catty-corner from Alliance’s planned apartments.
One of the features called out in the city’s 2015 declaration of the property as a protected landmark was the “unusual grass roof” atop the reservoir itself; Tipps Architecture’s design for the structure’s redevelopment shows some grass in place on a rooftop patio, as well as a 3-story glassy extension protruding from the east face of the 2-story building. Other views of the complex show a lawn in between the building labeled Heights Tap & Bar above and the pumphouse to the south:
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Turning the Waterworks Back On
PEARLAND, CITY OF 3 WALMARTS Ahead of this weekend’s local runoff election, the Christian Science Monitor delves into the rapid growth and demographic shifts in the “dumbbell-shaped suburb” of Pearland — and how a few candidates for municipal office are approaching it: “Its diversification is largely a result of [Houston’s] inexorable sprawl . . . where residents keep moving farther out in search of lower-density living.” Pearland now ranks as the nation’s eighth-fastest-growing city, but Houston’s only second-most-diverse suburb, where, writes Simon Montlake, as many as 75 languages are spoken in local schools, but residents refer to the eastern-most Walmart in town as the “white Wal-mart” — “because of who shops there – and who doesn’t.” At a forum held in the Bella Vita Club at the center of the age-restricted Bellavita at Green Tee community off Scarsdale Blvd. just east of the Golfcrest Country Club, a middle-aged woman wants to know how candidates plan to draw together what she sees as the “two cities” of Pearland. “Pearland is solidly middle-class,” Montlake notes. “A starter house costs $140,000, and median household income is $97,000, much higher than in Houston. But newcomers rushing to downtown jobs barely brush shoulders with the mostly white retirees who tee off on the golf course weekday mornings or the older families that work and play near home.” [Christian Science Monitor] Photo of Bella Vita Club: 55places.com
It’s been the better part of a year since Pepino’s on Richmond Ave. started showing signs of closure (namely, since its name signage came down, signaling the end of the joint’s nearly decade-and-a-half run in Castle Court). A nearby reader spotted what looks to be some work to prep the stripmall spot for its next occupant, which was issued a few permits last week under the name Miss Saigon. (That name shows up in Braun’s leasing flier for its newly acquired property, too, though it’s not clear yet whether the name is connected to one of the other Houston Miss Saigon-inspired Vietnamese restaurants, or is merely another independent nod to the musical.)
Speaking of musicals, part of the former Pepino’s space looks to have been absorbed by nextdoor piano cabaret Michael’s Outpost, whose red door is visible above and in a few of the leasing shots of the remodeled center (below):
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Braun Goes Gray
THE UNDERAPPRECIATED RICHES OF HOUSTON’S ANTIQUE SET “Someday,” antique dealer and appraiser David Lackey muses to intrepid radio reporter Allison Lee, “the Millennials . . . may be horrified when their children want mahogany furniture and doilies and figurines.” But for now, Lackey seems resigned to the great generational decline — and accompanying price drops — in the market for antique furniture: “There are half as many antique shows in Houston as there were 20 or 30 years ago,” he tells Lee. “Traditional English and American furniture, overall, has fallen maybe 50 to 75 percent.” Lackey operates his business out of the Antiques of River Oaks antiques megashop (pictured above) in the home-furnishings-themed shopping center at 3461 W. Alabama north of Greenway Plaza, but he’s also out and about, soaking up the zeitgeist: “I go into more estates — or I’m working with older people and they’re selling a lot of their stuff because they say their kids and grandkids do not want it. They’ve made it very clear. The younger generation, for the most part, is not very interested in formal candlelight suppers. They don’t want silver, china, crystal, because they don’t intend to entertain that way.” [Houston Public Media] Photo: David Lackey Antiques & Art
HOUSTON BASEMENT NOW OFFERING IMMERSIVE VHS RENTAL STORE EXPERIENCE TO A FEW TAPEHEADS IN THE KNOW “It’s like the 80s threw up everywhere,”” eponymous Champion Video Rental founder Jason Champion tells LunchmeatVHS of his on-the-down-low basement video rental store, tucked away somewhere off Mills Rd. outside the Beltway. As of last month, Champion says the store is only open to friends and acquaintances for now, though he hopes to change that eventually; decor includes the full gamut of 80s video store memorabilia, like “a display case with candy, trading cards, VCRs, blank tapes, tape rewinders, and popcorn,” a free-play horror arcade machine, and various and sundry movie posters and movie-store accoutrements. Should the spot, which Champion describes on Facebook as a “VHS rental store, time machine, and video rental store museum,” go more public at some point, it might pick up the title of the only VHS-dedicated rental space left in town in the post-Blockbuster era. Last month’s opening of the literally and figuratively underground shop follows in the wake of Heights’ Weirdo Video’s brief run, the closure of Audio/Video Plus on Waugh Dr., and the move of Cactus Music (which didn’t bring its VHS collection with it to the current spot on Portsmouth St.). [Lunchmeat VHS via Dangerous Minds; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Champion Video Rental