SPROUTS FAR OUT The Sprouts Farmers Market grocery chain’s long-awaited Houston-area landing will begin with 3 outside the Beltway locations next year. Sprouts scout Ed Page of UCR MoodyRambin Page says leases have already been signed for a 25,300-sq.-ft. spot at the southwest corner of Cinco Ranch Blvd. and Peek Rd.; for a 29,000-sq.-ft. store at FM 529 and Hwy. 6 in the Copperfield Village Shopping Center; and for a 28,000-sq.-ft. location off the Tomball Pkwy. at Spring Cypress Rd. in the Spring Cypress Village shopping center. Page tells reporter Shaina Zucker leases are being negotiated for several other sites. The southwest organic-friendly chain swallowed up competitor Sunflower Farmers Markets earlier this year. [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Colorado store: Sprouts
GAMESTOP’S APPLE-POLISHING STRATEGY Strip-center mainstay GameStop has a new strategy to keep itself from going the way of video-game cartridges: changing its business in the direction of another strip-center mainstay: the mobile phone store. The company began a program of buying used iPhones last fall; it’s now ready to remake itself as a leading reseller of used Apple gadgets. Company employees are working on coming up to speed on repairing Android devices as well. Seventy-one of the Texas chain’s 6,600 locations are in the greater Houston area. Sixty stores around the country have already begun selling prepaid wireless plans; an analyst suggests selling phone plans to go with used phones could become a big new business for the chain. [SF Chronicle] Photo of GameStop Outlet at Westheimer and Hwy. 6: Dr. Mario Kart
WHERE THE ALDIS ARE GOING, SO FAR Only about a month after announcing plans to pepper the Houston market with 30 Aldi discount supermarkets over the next 3 years — with a third of them up and running by next spring, the Trader Joe’s cousin has already bought 2 properties to go with the already announced location just outside Oak Park Trails in Katy: 2.8 acres at Fairmont Parkway and Watters Road in Pasadena, and 2.5 acres at Hwy. 6 and West Bellfort in Sugar Land. [Real Estate Bisnow; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Aldi in Ohio: Deerfield Construction
CAMERA STORES CRYING WOLF Didn’t the country’s biggest retail camera chain already declare bankruptcy and close a bunch of its Wolf Camera and Ritz Camera stores in Houston? Yeah, but that was back in 2009; now the successor company is going down that path again, a couple years after bouncing out of bankruptcy protection. In a news release, the company’s restructuring officer makes it all sound like part of a pretty picture: “To achieve our strategic vision of a super-store chain offering unique value-added services . . . it became necessary to implement this vision through a Chapter 11 filing.” Ritz Camera & Image, which has its headquarters in Maryland, is “evaluating which of its 265 stores to close, including at least three stores in the Houston area.” [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot]] Photo of Rice Village store: Wolf Camera
TRADER JOE’S LESS-LOVED COUSIN MOVING INTO HOUSTON IN A BIG WAY Aldi isn’t exactly Trader Joe’s without the hype, but the 2 grocery chains are owned by sister companies from Germany. (Aldi Nord operates 1,200 stores in the U.S., mostly in the eastern half; Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi Süd) Both of them specialize in private-label products. And they’ll be traveling in some of the same circles too: While Trader Joe’s is opening a measly 3 stores in the Houston area this year, its bigger and cheaper cousin has just announced a much grander Houston-opening gambit (after plans for a store outside Katy’s Oak Park Trails subdivision were met by protests from some neighbors earlier this year). The company now says it plans to invest $100 million to open 30 new Aldi stores in the Houston area over the next 3 years. And at least 10 of them should be open by next spring. There are already 37 Aldis in Texas, mostly near Dallas and Fort Worth. [Instant News Katy; PR Newswire] Photo: Garth Schweizer
BLAST BEGINS TOTAL HOUSTON TAKEOVER OF BALLY TOTAL FITNESS Today’s the day all 18 remaining Texas locations of Bally Total Fitness — including 9 in Houston — are scheduled to switch over to control by their new owner, Blast! Fitness. Before it bought 39 clubs in 9 states from the struggling chain in a deal announced earlier this month, Blast was an operator of only 15 gyms in 4 northern states. Last year, Bally sold 171 clubs nationwide to LA Fitness, but held onto all of its Houston locations. Blast says it’ll honor all Bally memberships; transferred Bally members will also still be able to work out in the 60 remaining Bally clubs in other states. [Club Industry] Photo of Bally Total Fitness at 9801 Katy Fwy.: MetroNational
A PEEK INSIDE HOUSTON’S NEW J. CREW NO. 2 That topless mannequin will likely have a coverup before tomorrow’s grand opening of the J. Crew inside CityCentre. A Swamplot reader snapped this peekaboo photo of the store’s innards yesterday, through a gap in the window paper. The only other J. Crew store in Houston is in the Galleria (there’s also one in the Katy Mills Mall). Photo: Swamplot inbox
FUDDRUCKERS GROWING INSIDE LUBY’S Seven months after converting a Luby’s takeout room on the I-10 East Fwy. into a Fuddruckers Express drive-thru (shown in the photo at left), the company behind the 2 chains is building its first-ever combo restaurant from scratch, Catie Brubaker reports. Construction will begin next month on a new 12,000-sq.-ft. Luby’s-and-Fuddruckers hybrid on a 2-acre site at 11023 Shadowcreek Pkwy., at the northern end of Shadow Creek Ranch in Pearland. This time the Fuddruckers will be a bit bigger, though, taking up a full 2,500 sq. ft. of the building, plus an additional 1,000 sq. ft. of shared kitchen-and-storage space. Expected opening: August. [Real Estate Bisnow; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Luby’s
BORDERS SHOWDOWN Only one bid came in for bankrupt bookseller Borders Group by Sunday’s deadline — and it’s from a liquidator. An auction of the company’s assets is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon; going-out-of-business sales could begin as early as Friday. Back in February, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said his company might be interested in taking over a few of the remaining 400 Borders locations. Six of them are in Houston. [Publisher's Weekly; Lynch statement; previously on Swamplot]
HOUSTON’S BORDERS WILL REMAIN OPEN As expected, the Borders Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today and announced the closing of 200 of its 644 bookstores nationwide. Nine of the announced store closings are in Texas, but Houston survived this round of cuts. All 7 Houston-area stores — on Kirby at West Alabama, in the Galleria, Meyerland Plaza, the Baybrook Mall, at IAH, in Stafford, and the Woodlands — will remain open. [Wall Street Journal; list of store closings; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NOMINATED FOR THE WALMART PEACE PRIZE “. . . If everyone arguing against the West End Walmart would stand up and say, ‘I don’t personally like Walmart but I certainly don’t think less of you for thinking they are not so bad’ then we would probably all get along much better.” [Jimbo, commenting on Surprise! Walmart Buying Land Next to Idylwood for Houston’s First Inner-Loop SuperCenter]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOU COULD’VE HAD A CHAIN STORE! “this was a terrible gym location, and parking was going to be a battle from day one. hate to be johnny-come-suburb, but it was a better call to work a deal to redevelop the site with CVS and give them their free-standing deal with drive thru. Soma would be down the street somewhere, hopefully with easier access/parking, crew would not be under, and this property would be better served than the future it has. now the owner spent time/effort with this problem, has a built-out gym that is not usable for another gym (nightclub, here we come…for 9 months), has 3500 sf that doesn’t lease (my guess is from lack of parking/ability to pay the rent) and has a basement (???) that will never lease. all of this, and he could be on a beach right now, getting his checks in the mail from year 4 of 20 with CVS as the return addressee.” [jg, commenting on Fitness-Club Scavengers at the Washington Ave Crew] Photo of West End Shopping Center, Washington Ave at Shepherd: Aaron Carpenter
Strictly speaking, Starbucks number 3 at the corner of West Gray and Shepherd is the new “Barnes and Noble Cafe” inside the just-opened bookstore. But we all know who calls the shots there.
And now we know: The universe is without end.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: DRUG STORE LOCATOR “The Young & Restless children’s consignment shop moved from the red wooden house to the blue metal warehouse, a year or two ago. A CVS won’t go in there because there is no Walgreen’s across the street. Must have a Walgreen’s in place in order to plant a CVS.” [Miz Brooke Smith, commenting on Daily Demolition Report: Larsten Space]