One of Houston’s Keenest-Witted Local Explorers Once Rated Houston’s Top Convenience Stores. Here’s What Became of Them

1-stop-baylandThe Last American City, by Douglas Milburn

In the tragically out-of-print The Last American City: An Intrepid Walker’s Guide to Houston, magazine writer and editor and Rice German professor Douglas Milburn took a break from his bipedal tours of Montrose, the Galleria, downtown and the Med Center to share his hard-won, footsore knowledge of Houston’s finest convenience stores, circa 1979.

It was a propitious moment for the convenience store concept; gas stations had yet to erode their share of the quick and easy food and drinks market, so Milburn had plenty to choose from, not least, from among dozens of U-Tote’Ms.

Guided by Leroy Melcher, U-Tote’M was arguably Houston’s most beloved homegrown convenience store chain, albeit one bearing a name and totem pole imagery that would be considered wildly offensive by today’s standards.

A Tulsa U-Tote-M made a cameo in The Outsiders:



Milburn found that U-Tote-Ms offered the coldest drinks, while 7-11s were the cleanest. Stop-N-Gos had the best “ambience.”

And here is his best of the best, along with what stands on their sites today, 35 years later:


U-Tote-m #1, 7706 Park Place Blvd. Then: The World’s First U-Tote’M

Now: This retail landmark still stands, unsung by the bards of convenience, but beloved of southeast Houston tipplers, as it’s now a bar that nods to its noble C-store past with its name: the Stop N Stay Club.

The World’s Second U-Tote’M, at 3501 S. Shepherd, and in 1979 the “only store in town where the help sometimes plays classical music,” is now a Title Max.

7-11, 303 Bayland Ave. Then: Milburn believed that this 7-11 managed to transcend “the awful burden of lookalike franchisedom” to become a “genuine neighborhood institution” and earn the title of Houston’s best all-around convenience store.

Now: It’s no longer part of a large conglomerate, but as the 1 Stop Food Store (pictured at the top of this story), it’s hanging in there.

U-Tote-M #191, 2101 Dunlavy St. Then: Deemed “worth a visit, because it is located in what is probably the best small shopping center in town (Little Palm Washateria; Little Palm Beauty Shop; and Mrs. Me’s Cafe.)” (For many Houstonians, Mrs. Me’s was their first exposure to Vietnamese food.)

Now: The Little Palm Washateria survives in the tiny center best known today as the home of La Guadalupana bakery and restaurant. The former U-Tote-M is now known as Time Food Mart.

Stop-N-Go #261, 503 Westheimer Rd. Then: “(A)dds new dimensions to the term ‘hard core’.”

Now: Address is now the site of The Bar Method dance studio.

U-Tote-M #3, 1126 W. Alabama St. Then: Another early U-Tote’M, one that “radiates a kind of intense sexual bohemianism, what with the Max Hutchinson Gallery on one side and the Studz Newsstand on the other.

Now: Demolished and plowed under; part of Annunciation Orthodox School’s athletic complex.

Former Tejas Custom Boots, 208 Westheimer Ave., Montrose, Houston

Baby Giant #2, 202 Westheimer Rd. Then: Milburn viewed this Baby Giant much as Ignatius Reilly viewed Baton Rouge, as a sort of vortex of despair that “cannot be equaled for its consistent level of dementia praecox and paranoid tendencies.”

Now: Baby Giant #2 eventually evolved into Hollywood Food & Cigars #3, which shared a mini-strip with Tejas Boots and was closed by April of last year. Milburn avowed that Baby Giants were “in a class by themselves;” much the same could be said for Hollywoods.

U-Tote-M #199, 18603 W. Montgomery Rd. Then: Said to enjoyed an unrivaled amount of piney woods flavor of far suburbia.

Now: There’s a taco truck standing adjacent to a covered picnic area, both fronting a tiny beige building where W. Montgomery empties on to the now-busy Tomball Pkwy. Looks like the U-Tote-M structure is gone, as is much of the “piney woods flavor.”

Stop-N-Go #243, 3258 Westheimer Rd. Then:“Half a block from River Oaks Blvd, John Connally, Frank Sharp, et al., contains a live butcher shop, which probably says as much about the metaphysics of the rich as it does about their diet.”

Now: Homes occupy this site, just east of Lamar-River Oaks shopping center and across the street from Lamar HS.

Photos: Allex D., Yelp (1-Stop); Zoetrope/Francis Ford Coppola (U-Tote’M); (Stop N Stay); Swamplot inbox (book and Hollywood Food and Cigars)

Wallowing In Nostalgia

14 Comment

  • where are they now

    7-Eleven – Southland Corporation acquired by Ito-Yoakdo (Seven Eleven Japan), all Southland assets now 7-Eleven USA (currently no stores in H-town since 1988 but have made a comeback with 3 locations (Willowbrook, Sugar Land, Alvin) with the TETCO brand acquired by 7-11 in late 2012)

    U-tote-M – acquired by Circle K in 1984, now part of Canadian c store chain ACT (Alimentation Couche Tard)

    Stop-n-Go – National Convenience Stores acquired by Diamond Shamrock in 1995, all stores now part of Valero Energy Corporation (current successor CST Brands owns the NCS portfolio)

    the default U-tote-M successor in H-town – Timewise (Landmark Industries)

  • Just proves how much down time these professors have. I swear when I was at UT, my professors put in 3 hour days, 4 days a week. It was ridiculous. Id go to the requisite office hours and find a TA–maybe. Most didn’t even have to work over the summers, you see they were doing “research” for some colossally boring textbook, you would have to shell out a car payment for. My god if they had tenure they were bullet proof, you’d be lucky if they showed up to your class on time or at all. It’s shocking how much they get paid for doing so little, it’s one of the biggest rackets in education. I have all the respect for the public school high school teacher with 400 kids to teach and no help, with after school work and actual lesson plans. The professors don’t submit lesson plans, they don’t have to take one class on actual teaching, they can cancel a class at any time and really answer to no one (The Deans are a joke). This sort of absurd dilettante ridiculousness brings back bad memories of lazy, arrogant academia.

  • How about one of the 1st convenience stores in Houston which opened soon after the Gulf Freeway was finished. “”Handi – Pak” on the Gulf Freeway feeder between Niles & Ogden Sts. I spent many an hour hanging out there in the 1950’s. One of the 1st places I ever worked – sorting soda bottles that had been returned for $’s.

  • Yikes. ABEbooks has one copy and it’s going for $150.

  • The little Palm center was also affectionately refrred to as the “Hairy Palm” center.

  • John Lomax- Don’t forget the ever reliable Tenneco station at the corner of Shepherd @ Bissonnet was always welcoming of underage neighborhood kids looking to buy beer.

  • “Just proves how much down time these professors have.” The same could be said apparently for many Swamplot commenters.

  • I think the UtoteM successor was at least initially Circle K, but from my local area, Circle K dumped the older locations (maybe going down from well over a dozen to around 3 or 4) almost immediately before selling out around 1998.

  • Hard to feel too attached to convenience stores.

  • Wasn’t Stop-N-Go #243 actually located in the Lamar-River Oaks center?

  • with pay at the pump, i almost never go into convenience store anymore (long ago decided on “stop-n-gouge”). sometimes when i’m at the pump, though, i look across the lot and through the window and wonder if those dogs and sausages are still cooking.

  • I thought Circle K was dead in Houston, but yesterday I drove past a “coming soon” sign with an unmistakable Circle K logo, on the southeast corner of Franz Road and Katy-Fort Bend County Road in Katy.

  • Mr. Melcher was one of the good guys… He and Lucile did a lot for this city…

  • I have this book, bought it when it first came out. I spent many hours wandering Houston’s streets with it as a guide. I learned so much about my home town! OMG – $150 on ABE??? We need to get this book in print again. One thing that has changed is – people are actually WALKING in Houston now. It was quite odd in the 80’s to walk in some of those neighborhoods.

    @Shannon, I think Milburn’s students would not sympathize with your comments. Rice does not (or did not) use TA’s in the classrooms. Perhaps you would have benefited from attending Rice instead of UT. Have you had your vitriol levels checked lately?