Monday, April 11, 2011

K-Mart Lufkin April 2011

On this most recent trip; I had more opportunities to take photos as the store was nearly empty. The store has been cleaned up greatly since Sears and K-Mart merged.

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Take a good look at the photos in the electronics section; advertisements for cassette players and the 1990's computer in another photo. I think it may be time to update this store.


123 comments:

  1. Wow, that Kmart looks pretty nice!

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  2. I was searching for some information about the Kuykendahl Randall's for the post I was making about Fiesta Marts in Houston and I came across this video discussing the features of the former Lufkin Randall's on retrochad's YouTube channel. I thought that it was so strange to see this video there as I regularly watch retrochad's channel for vintage electronics videos and I don't know why he'd have a video about a Lufkin store when he lives in Midland. Anyway, that must have been the Randall's that was in the Kmart shopping center. I thought that you might like that video.

    The Walkman woman may seem like the most outdated thing on that electronics department wall, but portable cassette players are still made and sold by some retailers. I can't really say if Kmart is one of those retailers, but it would not surprise me if they still have some new old stock Walkmans (Walkmen?) from the early 2000s. What probably is really outdated is the White-Westinghouse brand sign. I believe that Kmart was using the White-Westinghouse name as a private label in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, but I think Kmart stopped using that name long ago. Maybe not, but I think that is correct. Of course, the Walkman may seem more outdated to customers than an electronics brand name that few people knew about even when Kmart was still selling White-Westinghouse branded products.

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    1. Well you can still find cassettes for sale at half price books as well at Laserdiscs, lol. Thanks for sending that video over.

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    2. Heck, you can find 8-track cartridges at Goodwills every now and then! You would be surprised at how much cassette stuff Wal-Mart still sells. I spent some time at a Wal-Mart electronics department around January this year and noticed that they had a brand new "Onn" brand cassette shoebox recorder for sale. That unit just came out in December and I guess replaces the RCA branded shoebox recorders they had in the past. They also had two cassette recoder/CD boomboxes (RCA and Sony) and one RCA bookshelf stereo with a cassette player. They also had Sony HF 90 minute blank cassettes. Those had a 2012 copyright date on the wrapper so they weren't new old stock tapes either. I guess there are some people who still use audio cassette recorders and players even in 2013.

      I do enjoy playing with my cassette decks as you can really make some excellent sounding recordings using cassettes if you have the skill, right equipment, and tapes, but I do that mainly to play with the equipment as a hobby and not to make tapes to use on a regular basis. Obviously digital recordings are a lot easier to use on a day-to-day basis so I use those, but a MP3 player or CD player even will never be as fun to play around with as a nice complex cassette deck with bias adjustment, VU meters going all over the place, and all that fun stuff! Well, IMO at least. Besides, you'll never know what you'll unearth on VCR and audio cassette recordings that were made 30 years ago. You can find some really interesting commercials and news announcements on those.

      Speaking of which, it is a bit off-topic, but I found an old Houston Garden Ridge commercial on Dailymotion that the uploader claims to be from 1984. I'm guessing it is from Christmas time judging by what was being advertised. The commercial mentions the locations on Airtex and Fry Rd. I'm not quite sure if the 1984 date is accurate though. The commercial does not show pictures of the stores or anything like that, but perhaps you might find it helpful when you make your post about the Buyer's Market malls. It's a nice blast from the past if nothing else. That uploader has a lot of vintage Houston commercials actually like this Foley's one and this Joske's one. This Finger Furniture electronics ad is quite interesting IMO. It wasn't unusual for furniture stores to sell electronics and appliances back in the day, but I don't really remember Finger's having such a large electornics/appliance department.

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    3. I am sure cassettes will make a comeback like vinyl records have because many people like to make personalized recordings and dubstep style music can be mixed as well using old cassettes. I personally switched from cassettes around 2000 when stores stopped carrying them in stock. CD's also have the scratching problem that has not been sufficiently addressed during the lifetime of the compact disc era. With the advent of smartphones, you don't need anything but your phone now to listen to music which makes in convenient.
      Thanks for sending over the commercial, I will see if it can help me out for the articles. I just finished my last Louisiana post that I was working on, so I am back to my Texas articles. The Northgate Mall in Lafayette article is worth checking out because they still have Montgomery Ward listed on their mall directory even though the store is long gone.
      I remember Finger's having electronics at the Deerbrook store tucked away in the back of the second floor. I can't remember where they were at the Greenspoint store. Gallery has a good sized electronics section, but they carry more expensive brands than the regular electronics store.

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    4. The Finger Furniture video says that the sale was at all locations, but I can't remember there being a large electronics department at the Greenspoint Mall area Finger's. It must have been pretty big because they had TVs, VCRs, tapes, major appliances, and even car stereos in the ad. Maybe it was there and I just missed it. I suppose that is possible as they usually had a salesman walk you around the building around that time.

      Yeah, I saw the post about the Northgate Mall. Any mall that had a Montgomery Ward in it was bound to be an interesting mall, but unfortunately it seems like most malls that had a Wards were dying malls even back in the late 1990s. I guess there was a reason for that as Wards had miserly executives for pretty much the entire time after WWII and that meant that Wards was sometimes only able to get in lesser desirable mall locations and stuff like that. It's a shame really.

      I hope that cassettes do make a comeback. Although Type I Maxell UR and Sony HF tapes are pretty easy to find in stores, chrome and metal tapes are almost non-existent in stores or online these days. Teac is the only company making decent quality component cassette decks these days and they are quite expensive given their specs. It would be great if more decks were made kind of like how there are quite a few turntables being made now in various different price ranges. Cassette decks can be found in thrift stores, but a lot of these old decks need new belts, pinch rollers, and other maintenance stuff like that. I'm sure not everyone is comfortable working on their electronics so it would be nice to see more new decks. There is a bit of a lost art of cassette recording and recording isn't something that vinyl fanatics can do with their turntables.

      I was thinking about Kmart private label electronics from the late 1990s and early 2000s and it is a bit interesting that Kmart put White Westinghouse up in their Lufkin store and not Curtis Mathes. I'm sure that was a corporate thing and there may have been a slight difference in the years those names were used, but Curtis Mathes was a big name in East Texas back in the day as their manufacturing plant was in Athens, Tx. Curtis Mathes was one of the last true American consumer electronics companies, but the company went downhill quickly after Curtis Mathes, Jr. died in the Air Canada DC-9 fire in 1983. The Kmart Curtis Mathes stuff certainly wasn't made in Texas or in the US, but that name might have resonated with East Texans. Then again, they would probably be the first people to know that Kmart Curtis Mathes stuff wasn't the same quality as the older stuff so maybe it would not have made any difference. Speaking of cassettes and Kmart, I believe that Sears and Kmart sell Nakamichi branded headphones and stuff like that today. Those might be good quality headphones, but Nakamichi was the king of high-end and high dollar cassette decks so it is a bit funny and kind of sad to see that name being used for Kmart stuff!

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    5. Great comment; the Greenspoint Fingers was a large store, but I am sure it seems more open now since it is a flea market and all of the storage areas have been opened up. Montgomery Ward stores always seemed to feel older than the other department stores and lasted 10 years after they had lost most of their market share. The flea market on Spencer in Pasadena still has Wards stickers on some of the doors with www.wards.com on some doors. It looks like they started scraping off the doors but stopped on one of the entrances. That flea market has been open for years, so it is surprising that nobody finished removing the stickers. There is also a sign with a Montgomery Ward logo there that says no unpaid merchandise allowed past this point on a door.
      I noticed that Sears has 2 record players for sale in their electronics section recently. It is a matter of time until they will bring back cassettes. I remember the Maxell and Sony cassette brands, but I don't remember any of the others.

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  3. I think some Montgomery Ward stores looked more dated than others. The Willowbrook Mall and Memorial City Mall Wards in Houston were renovated quite frequently and had modern interiors by the time the stores closed. They probably looked more modern than a typical current day Sears IMO. On the other hand, I have heard that some Wards still looked like the 1970s inside when the chain went out of business. I guess it just depended on the store and perhaps the market. Wards had some stores in successful malls in Houston (Willowbrook, Baybrook, and Memorial City Malls come to mind), but that wasn't the case everywhere.

    The Greenspoint area Finger Furniture was pretty big. It had a couple of floors and I think it had a bargain area in the back. I may be confusing that with another furniture store though. I remember it having green carpeting and stuff like that. Maybe I'm off on that though. It's hard to remember stuff like that.

    Yeah, turntables have started to show up again at retailers. Some of these turntables are pretty basic and aren't of the best quality (stuff from brands like Crosley and Ion), but pretty good and quite good ones can be found at places like Fry's and online. I'm sure there are a lot of people who never expected to see records and turntables at mainstream stores in this era, but it happened. A lot of people like the the "warm" sounds of analog music.

    Cassettes are capable of producing the same warm analog sounds so hopefully people will rediscover that format as well. The "big 3" cassette brands in the US were probably Maxell, Sony, and TDK. There were other popular brands like 3M Scotch, Memorex (Tandy actually owned Memorex for a while), BASF, Fuji, and Certron. There were store brands like ToneMaster and Tozai from Walgreens, Digitech from Eckerd, and Radio Shack Supertape. All of the major brands had Type I ferric tapes, Type II chrome tapes, and Type IV metal tapes. Often there were different levels within each type like Sony's entry ferric HF and the more advanced HF-S ferric tape. There was probably a 20-30 year period where most stores, including discounters and drug stores, would sell all sorts of different tapes with wide ranging prices. Those were the days, but Maxell UR and Sony HF tapes are the only tapes that can be found easily these days. I think Target may still have TDK D-series tapes, but I think those are old stock tapes because I'm not so sure if TDK (well, Imation as they brought out TDK's consumer media division) still makes cassettes. I don't know what Target will sell after the TDKs are sold out. They may not sell anything. Who knows. Maxell UR and Sony HF are pretty good Type I tapes so it isn't like there is only garbage left on the market, but many serious tape heads would like to see Type II and Type IV tapes return to the market. I don't know if that will ever happen. Anyway, there is a website called Vintage Cassettes that has a database of photos of all types of cassettes that were for sale over the years. It's a fascinating look if you are into the cassette format or if you are nostalgic in general.

    I actually purchased a Sharp stereo shelf system with a cassette player in it from Sears last year. Granted, it also has a CD player, USB input, line-in, and an iPod port for modern digital stuff as well. I think Sears still sells this unit. Fry's and Best Buy sold it as well last year, but I don't know if they still do. The cassette player on it is quite basic. It only plays Type I tapes and it does not have any kind of noise reduction like Dolby B, but it still does a pretty decent job for what it is.

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    1. Montgomery Ward was doing department remodels towards the end and mainly focused on their clothing departments from what I can remember. The Spencer Highway store seems to have gotten the newer clothing department remodel from the looks of the store which has been only slightly modified when the flea market opened. The Greenspoint Fingers was 2 stories and probably featured the green carpet like Sharpstown, Downtown (I-45), and Deerbrook had I just don't remember too much about that store for some reason.
      I remember the Walgreens brand Tozai which seemed to last for at best two days for everything. Were their cassettes any better? It seems like most retailers have kept at least one audio cassette brand, one video cassette brand, and one mini video cassette brand in stock for people who still use these products. It is one of the reasons why ebay is a better choice for consumers looking for variety of formats and brands for cassette media. As much as I hate to say that because I prefer brick and mortar retailers, but it is the truth. Have you noticed that Fry's is not as stocked up as they used to be on the sales floor in some areas of the store? I think that they may need to downsize their stores in the future to realistically match the demand of their product lines.

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  4. Part I

    The Willowbrook Mall Montgomery Ward received a pretty extensive remodeling on the first floor a few years before the chain closed. The clothing sections were revised and, at least if I'm remembering correctly, housewares and small electrics were moved from near the shoe department to near the auto department. The housewares and small electrics section looked very modern. It had a bit of a Kohl's look to it I guess you can say. I don't think the 2nd floor was changed much. Perhaps it got the same new floor coverings that the first floor got (I seem to remember teal and brown carpet), but I don't remember for sure. Perhaps not all Wards were renovated that extensively though, but I think most in Houston got at least some renovations like you mentioned. It's hard to remember for sure.

    I can't remember if I ever used Tozai cassettes, but I used a lot of Walgreens' ToneMaster cassettes from the early and late 1980s. They were "El Cheapo" cassettes to be sure. They were better than some other cheap cassettes, but they were still pretty lousy. They still playback fine today though so I guess I'll have to give them that. I suppose they were fine for speech recordings, but they were Lo-Fi for music. I can't imagine that the Tozai cassettes were any better. You're right to say that Tozai stuff was generally low grade! That's an understatement actually! I probably have a 1980s $3 Tozai digital watch hiding in my house somewhere though!

    You're right that most stores only carry one brand of each tape. I think Maxell, Sony, Memorex, Polaroid, and maybe Fuji still make VHS tapes. Maxell may still make different lengths and grades, but otherwise standard grade is the norm now. I'm not sure if the dollar stores still have cassettes.

    A lot of hobbyists have turned to Ebay and thrift stores for tapes. This is particularly true of Type II and IV audio cassettes. Unfortunately, high end audio cassettes are priced like gold on Ebay and that will only get worse with time. The good news is that there is a company out of Springfield, MO, called National Audio Company that still manufacturers decent Type I and II cassettes, but they do have to be ordered in bulk (like 100 tapes minimum). The prices are good though so it isn't a bad alternative for someone who wants to do a lot of audio taping. Sometimes people (especially in other countries where buying from NAC isn't feasible) have to resort to buying used tapes from thrift stores and then tape over them just to get good quality cassettes!

    I too prefer to buy locally rather than online and I'd prefer to buy new than buy new old stock from thrift stores, but sometimes there isn't a choice. Fortunately, there still are a few options. It might have been nice to have a Kmart around because you always have a sense that they have an old pallet of cassettes or whatever from 1999 sitting in the backroom collecting dust!

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    1. You are right about the Montgomery Ward remodel on the first floor. I bought some housewares there when they were closing up and it was right next to the auto section. None of the Houston stores got the full remodel with the newer Wards signage or even the early 1990's Montgomery Ward signage. Every store here had the mid 1980's plain sign or earlier. My favorite was the red neon sign above the Northline store that you could always see from I-45.
      I am with you about buying local when possible. I find some good things at many of the local flea markets especially older video games. Traders Village is one of the best in Houston, but during the summer it is tough to walk around in large crowds in the heat for hours. A few of the stores there have A/C but not many. You may be able to find some new cassettes there, but it may take a while because of all the stores there.
      My favorite find from Kmart was a brand-new Nintendo game genie from about five years earlier that I found in 1999 at a Kmart. It is not too retro, but at the time it was a cool find.

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  5. The Greenspoint Mall area Finger Furniture store had green carpet too I think. I think there was an open space in the middle of the 2nd floor where you could look down to the 1st floor. At least that is how I remember the store looking. It's hard to remember some things like this! The Finger's at Cullen and I-45 was probably Finger's most famous store because it was built on top of the land that used to house Buff Stadium. It also had the Houston Sports Hall of Fame in it, but I guess that did not need a lot of room! That's a whole different story though! I do remember the Cullen store having a big bargain basement or back room though.

    Yeah, Fry's does have some bare spots these days. I guess it is because there isn't the variety in many electronics sectors like there used to be. It's like discount stores. There used to be many solid contenders, but now there are just 2-3 companies. Hard drive manufacturers are like that now for example. Fry's does sell a lot of different stuff so I guess they could keep their shelves full with something if they wanted to. Maybe they'll try the store within a store deal that Best Buy is trying (see the Fiesta post I made a few minutes ago for info on that). Who knows.

    I did flip through the latest Montgomery Ward catalog today. Oddly enough, they give a lot of space in the electronics section to a typewriter! I suppose typewriters can still be useful for filling out forms and for those who like to put a lot of thought into their writing. I'm sure that some catalog shoppers (probably older and perhaps more rural people) don't use or don't want to use computers. They also had a shelf stereo system with a turntable and a dual cassette deck with high-speed dubbing in the catalog. You really don't see stereos like that anymore. There are some stereos in stores with a turntable and one cassette deck, but dual cassette decks? That's a rare combo these days. They even had another similar stereo on their website as well. Who knows if those are decent shelf stereos or not, but I guess I'll give the new Wards credit for knowing who their customers are and perhaps offering them what they want even if the prices are a bit steep. There's no shame in that. There is room for a retailer that isn't a copycat operation and the catalog format probably works well for that type of retailer.

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    1. The Cullen Fingers is closed now (again), but the lights still come on at night. Hopefully the museum will be saved in the next development there. Montgomery Wards may have found their niche with those items you mentioned. I really wish they would reopen brick and mortar stores in some fashion in the future. I would like to see Circuit City, Service Merchandise also try a small scale relaunch of brick and mortar stores as well.
      My last dual cassette deck from Circuit City failed and began eating tapes. I am sure you had that problem on more than one occasion, but I have also had more problems with CD players failing. Cassettes hardly failed unless you really tried to break them. One drop of a CD on a floor or counter can permanently scratch the CD rendering it useless depending on the severity of the scratch. I do prefer the sound of a CD though over cassettes unless listening to music with bass.

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  6. This will be an epic three-parter. Obviously I'm way too long-winded for the Twitter generation!

    Part I:


    I think the Memorial City Mall Montgomery Ward got a new sign for the mall entrance. I seem to remember that I think. I think it was this Montgomery Ward logo, but I'm not totally sure. The logo in that picture was a bit of an oddball logo as I have not seen it used on very many things other than signage I suppose. The Willowbrook Mall Montgomery Ward opened a year before the 1982 logo was adopted, but it kept the signs it was built with through the store's life as a Wards store. The Baybrook Mall and Greenspoint Mall Montgomery Ward stores weren't much older than the Willowbrook store though especially since the Greenspoint Mall Wards did not open until a couple of years after the mall opened.

    I would not be surprised at all if Kmart had some old Nintendo games floating around for years after the Nintendo was "obsolete." I seem to remember the local Kmart selling used Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo games in blister packs in the electronics section up until the stores closed here in 2002. That was a bit odd as I don't really remember stores selling used video games back then except for specific video game stores like FuncoLand/GameStop. But, yeah, I think things sat on shelves at Kmart for years sometimes. I remember going to the automotive section back before our Kmart moved to the Venture location and seeing think layers of dust on some of the boxes of air filters and stuff. Actually, that Kmart had a little room in the back where they put TVs on display and maybe stereo stuff too. Do you remember those rooms? I've never see those rooms in pictures of Kmarts taken lately on the various Kmart blogs and photo sites even in Kmarts that have similar layouts to the Kmart I'm talking about so maybe they got rid of those rooms at some point. Anyway, I seem to remember the TVs in there having really thick layers of dust on them. It was a dark room so maybe they never bothered to clean back there. Who knows. This was back when Kmart was still the big dog on the block too.

    A modern Montgomery Ward store would be awesome, but I don't have any expectation of that ever happening. Who knows if it would be the same even if it did happen, but the Swiss Colony version of Montgomery Ward seems to be selling some things that might have fit in well in the 1993 version of a Montgomery Ward store so who knows! A catalog-only Montgomery Ward does not seem the same as when brick-and-mortar stores existed, but there are probably old timers who felt the same way when the Wards catalog gave way to mall stores way back when. That's just the way things go I guess.

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    1. It is funny you send that picture of the Greenville store, I have that store in a video I took of a trip to Greenville many years ago, but after the store was closed. The video was shot at night, but I had to get that store in my video since I knew that the signs at that store were rare. I did not go to Memorial in the final years Montgomery Ward was there that I can recall, so I must have missed the logo change.
      I have been to that store, but I don't pay attention to many of the names of the stores at Trader's Village since there are so many there.
      Kmart leaving Houston I think hurt the company more than they thought it would. Why would a company leave with the population growth that Houston, San Antonio, and Austin had and still has seems crazy to me. Oh well, hopefully we don't lose too many more retailers and all we are left with is Walmart and Target for everything.

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  7. Part II:

    Circuit City's name, along with CompUSA's name, is owned by Systemax/TigerDirect. TigerDirect did open some CompUSA retail stores including the one on I-10 that you mentioned, but it seems like TigerDirect is trying to rebrand all their stores and websites to the TigerDirect name so I don't know if a Circuit City store will happen even if the owners of that name decide to open a Circuit City type store. Who knows, something could happen with those names at some point in time.

    Yeah, Traders Village isn't far from me and it is a bit of a landmark. I know that there is a vintage audio equipment sales and repair store there called Sounds Good To Me. They have some pretty awesome vintage equipment listed on their site in case you ever get the vintage audio bug. Granted, high end vintage audio isn't cheap ($995 for a used Nakamichi Dragon tape deck!), but they have pretty good stuff at modest prices as well. I don't know if they sell blank cassettes, but they probably know where to get them if they don't.

    It's not too hard to find sealed blank audio and VHS cassettes at Goodwill and some other thrift stores in the area. You won't always find them in a given trip, but you can find them if you go to a few thrifts or if you wait long enough. Most of the audio tapes available in the thrifts are mainstream stuff (usually Maxell UR and Sony HF which can be brought new at many places), but high bias tapes aren't too unusual. Usually Maxell XLII will be what you find in thrifts, but I was just at a Goodwill last week in the area (they are almost as numerous in this part of town as Starbucks are) that had a couple XLII tapes and Sony CD-IT chrome tapes.

    Tape eating is a common problem with several different possible causes. The problem with cassette decks is that they have crucial parts made out of rubber and the rubber can cause problems over time. New belts and pinch rollers can be found easily and cheaply, but they aren't always easy to install. It depends on the deck. Anyway, often times tape eating is caused by a dirty pinch roller and/or capstan. Sometimes cleaning those will cure the problem and that is pretty easy to do with cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. Rubber cleaner is the best thing to use on the pinch roller, but most people don't have that handy. Sometimes cleaning and slightly roughing up (and then cleaning again) the pinch roller with your fingernail or an abrasive will get glazed pinch rollers going again.

    VCRs have rubber problems as well, but it tends to not be as much of a problem as VCR belts tend to be easier to replace than in audio cassette decks and most newer VCRs (early 1990s+, but it depends on the brand) use geared idlers instead of idler tires. Those idler tires were a constant source of problems, but the geared idlers are generally reliable. I brought a nice 1989 Mitsubishi VCR from a thrift lately for $3 with a belt that turned into total goo and a bad idler tire. I cleaned the idler tire and replaced the gooey belt with a rubber band and now it works just like new. A proper belt can be brought for <$10, but I'll stick with the rubber band for now. I wouldn't recommend such a "duct tape" fix with an audio tape deck though as an improper belt can cause unacceptable wow and flutter.

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  8. Part III:

    Type I cassettes, which is what most prerecorded tapes use, produce excellent bass. Chrome tapes are better with treble, but they may not sound as well with bass. This isn't always the case though. There were Type III FeCr tapes that tried to blend the best of both formats, but that had various problems and didn't take off. Metal tapes did eventually come out and really did blend the best of both worlds. Also, sometimes playing back a tape with Dolby turned off can sound better than with it on even if the tape was encoded with Dolby. Turning Dolby off can make the music sound "brighter." Sometimes I notice that Dolby can muffle the highs a bit. Sometimes decks and tapes behave differently so experimentation is required.

    CDs are more prone to being damaged by handling and heat than cassettes. CD-Rs in particular can go bad very quickly in a car. One of the selling points for CDs and DVDs were that they were more durable than tapes, but it really depends. I have audio cassettes going back to the 1970s and they all still sound as good as they did when they were recorded as far as I can tell. Heck, one of the best sounding "cheap" cassettes that I used were late 70s/very early 1980s Kmart branded tapes. Almost all of my VHS tapes from the early 1980s onward are still perfectly playable. I do have quite a few VCRs so I can play around on tapes that are tricky to track, but that is pretty rare actually.

    Perhaps digital audio and video tapes would have been a good solution, but these never really took off as consumer formats. DCC and DAT digital audio tapes came to the market at around the same time as CDs, but obviously we can tell which of those formats won out. Digital VHS (D-VHS) came out and was capable of storing 720p/1080i HD digital video on a VHS type tape. Yep, you read that correctly! There were quite a few D-VHS commercial movie releases as it predated Blu-Ray and HD-DVD by quite a few years, but D-VHS never really took off. It might have been too ahead of the time as it came out when not many people had HDTVs. Also, I think people had perceptions about VHS after DVDs came out that hurt D-VHS's chances even if the negative perceptions did not apply to D-VHS tapes. D-VHS is still one of the easiest ways to archive HDTV video without having to use a computer, but it seems like people aren't too interested in archiving these days and D-VHS blank tapes are quite hard to find these days even on the used market. Oh well, cable company DVRs and cloud-based streaming are the hot thing now which is a bit of a shame as those are sales that electronics and department stores aren't making anymore like they did in the VCR era.

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    1. You have a great amount of knowledge about those formats. I did not know the D-VHS tapes existed, I will have to check into getting some. Do they work on a regular VCR though? I wonder what the next big thing will be in music and movies after streaming and Mp4's? I may already be behind on what the latest trend is by my last sentence, lol. I like those new HD TV's that are on the market now, but I can get a reasonable car for the price of one of those TV's so I will wait for a while on that one.

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  9. It would be interesting to know which Montgomery Ward stores were updated and which ones missed an update or two along the way. I'm not sure if there are any in Houston like that, but I have read that there were some Wards stores that still had disco fever going when the chain went out of business. One store that was supposedly like that was the Carolina Circle Mall Wards in Greensboro, NC. There's a post midway down on this Groceteria message board post showing a picture of how the auto center had both the pre-1982 and 1982 logo right next to each other on opposite sides of the mall. Aside from that picture, the poster (who runs that site I suppose) commented that some departments still had lime green and orange shag carpet when the store closed! Far out! The Carolina Circle Mall blog had a picture of orange shag carpet that was taken during the destruction of the mall so I guess it was true.

    I'm not sure why Kmart left the major Texas cities, but the stores closed during Kmart's 2002 bankruptcy and the best guess I have is that Kmart wanted to use bankruptcy to get out from under any payments they had due on the ex-Venture stores that they got and perhaps the Super Kmarts that were still fairly new at the time. Perhaps those "new" stores were not doing enough business to justify the costs for those buildings. That's just a guess though. Perhaps the competition from Target and Wal-Mart was particularly tough in Texas, but Kmart did keep some stores in Texas towns that also had competition from both Wal-Mart and Target. It's hard to say why that is. I would think the logistical costs of sending trucks out to the handful of remaining stores would not make financial sense, but I guess it does. Who knows.

    You would need a D-VHS VCR to watch D-VHS tapes. These can be found on the used market, but they are going to be pretty expensive because some people still value the D-VHS format and also because most D-VHS VCRs were also S-VHS VCRs with all the fancy features like a flying erase head and a TBC. This makes them particularly useful for pros and semi-pros who edit or digitize regular VHS tapes as a business or for hobby.

    As for new formats, I don't think there is a physical format that will replace CDs anytime soon. DVD-Audio and SACD formats were tried, but they have been failures in the market. Downloadable music and cloud-based music is probably the real present and future for music. As far as that goes, the big thing these days is music saved using lossless codecs like FLAC. This allows music to be saved without using compression that can degrade music like what you can hear with MP3s. There is some debate as to whether MP3s encoded at a decent bitrate sound any worse than music saved with FLAC, but with hard drive storage being so cheap these days, I'm not sure if it really matters especially for those who playback music from their computers. Of course, this debate mostly applies to those ripping CDs and doing stuff like that. Most music on iTunes and places like that are saved in "lossy" formats.

    As for video, the next big thing is 4K/Ultra HD TVs. Ultra HD TVs have been released for sale and they have a significantly greater resolution regular HDTV, but there really isn't any content available for these TVs so it is pretty pointless to buy one right now. I'm sure some sort of physical storage format will have to be developed to provide 4K content at least as an interim approach as many people don't have enough bandwidth to stream regular HD properly as it is now. Perhaps that will be a holographic medium, but I know they are working to make 4K capable Blu-Ray discs as well. Of course, many people may just choose to watch lower quality video on newer technology TVs just as they do today with non-HD web streaming and DVDs.

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    1. Yes the sign on the left for the old Montgomery Wards on the groceteria.com board was a very familiar one here in the Houston area. I visited the former Southpark Mall in Shreveport that was mostly converted to a church and other services related to the church. The former Montgomery Ward which was closed for many years was open as a temporary thrift store. Here is the url for both visits I made to this mall with many photos from inside of the Montgomery Wards. I would really like to see an Electric Avenue department again after all these years. The Electric Avenue at Greenspoint was located in the middle of the store and you cannot see it through the glass. http://southernretail.blogspot.com/search/label/South%20Park%20Mall%20LA
      Kmart started making several mistakes in the Houston area that may have led to sales losses. The Venture store purchase as you mentioned is one. Two, they opened up the Super Kmart Centers before the Walmart Supercenters arrived in Houston. Kmart could not keep the grand opening momentum in their stores once Walmart opened across the street from the Super Kmart Centers. Three, they started closing the electronics department by blocking the department with buggies so you could not go in from 10 pm -6 am. I know that I have spent more time looking at electronics during late night hours in stores like Walmart, and the Target off of Taylor Street near the Heights which stays open until midnight.
      Closing off the electronics section at night was the reason I stayed away from Kmart in the last years they were in Houston. I worked late and preferred to shop after my shift when the crowds were smaller. Four, prices for many items were not posted on the shelves especially electronics.
      Five, the Little Caesars restaurants were always in a corner of the store when nobody went or bypassed because they had already started shopping. Putting a restaurant at the entrance of a store entices people to eat and gets them in a mood to shop or take food to go. Putting a restaurant especially one where you had to wait for a pizza to cook was not a good idea at all.
      I am going to look into the D-VHS format, it sounds like a great format to use for movies. There was a store on Richmond that sold movies from all of the old home media formats such as Betamax and Laserdisc but the store either moved or closed many years ago.

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  10. Part I:

    I'm not sure if any pictures exist of a modern day Montgomery Ward Electric Avenue. It would be great to see some as I spent a lot of time at Electric Avenue back when Wards was still in business. I still have a pretty good memory of what the Willowbrook Mall Wards Electric Avenue looked like. It took up about half of the second floor, but it also had some garden equipment in the "blacked out" electronics section. I know I still have a receipt and receipt sleeve from a freezer that was purchased there in the mid 1990s that we still have. I still remember the German Nixdorf Computer/Siemens register computer terminals that Wards used for many years.

    That's awesome that you're interested in D-VHS. Having said that, it is an expensive proposition at this point. I looked on eBay and saw someone selling a a JVC D-VHS deck with some movies for $300. Blank D-VHS cassettes are quite expensive as well. Obviously, Blu-Ray would be much cheaper if you just want to watch HD movies, but perhaps you would still be interested. If you just want to play around with regular VHS, just about every thrift store has VHS Hi-Fi VCRs for <$10 (sometimes <$5). Unfortunately, most thrift store VCRs don't come with remotes, but most basic playback functions can be done from the front panel or with a cheap universal remote. I'd recommend buying one with a factory remote if you want to set timer recordings and stuff like that though. Of course, like all thrift store electronics, you should try out the unit before you buy it. Most thrift stores (Family Thrift Centers aside) have a large collection of VHS movies ranging from 25 cents to a dollar. Half Price Books VHS movies are around a dollar as well I think. I'm sure flea markets have VHS movies and VCRs for cheap as well (perhaps even a D-VHS deck if you're lucky), but I'm not really sure about that.

    On a related note, I went to a local thrift today and found a decent and completely working cassette deck for $2.50. I really didn't need another one, but I brought it anyway since it was so cheap. I also found a coupon for $1 off 5 Maxell UR 90 minute audio cassettes (or $1 off 3 Sony T-120 VHS cassettes) on the Walgreens website. I think you can guess what I'll be doing this weekend! The Lufkin Kmart Walkman woman would be so proud! Ok, maybe not!

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    1. Wow, in comparison to a blu-ray for less than $100 that sound expensive. I would love to see the quality, but they have to come down off of that price, yikes! I took a look on Ebay and found a few sellers with D-VHS goods, but they are all priced high. Maybe I will just go with Betamax, they seem to be a successful modern movie media, lol.

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  11. We didn't have a Super Kmart on this side of town so departments closing early in a 24 hour store really wasn't a factor for me. The local Kmart closed their grill around 1990 or so (before Little Caesar's Pizza Stations existed AFAIK) and the Venture store that the local Kmart moved to never had a snack bar/Little Caesar's as a Venture or Kmart. Our pre-Venture Kmart wasn't a perfect store to say the least, but the ex-Venture Kmart seemed to be run quite a bit worse than it did before it moved. The things that were frustrating and probably ran off customers were:

    A) They generally had only one checkout open. The store generally wasn't busy, but still one checkout wasn't enough. Also, the customer service desk often was unmanned so you had to wait several minutes for someone to show up sometimes.

    B) They often ran out or never had advertised items. You could get a rain check, but point A made that frustrating.

    C) Price tags either didn't exist or were hard to find. Often, sales tags from sales long expired were still up causing confusion. Price checks were needed frequently, but that was problematic given point A and the price checks made the lines all that much longer.

    D) The Venture Kmart was built with the very drab looking Big Kmart era interior. The combination of the lack of shoppers and a very drab interior made the store a pretty depressing place to be aside from all the other factors.

    E) The ex-Venture Kmart near me did not have garden or auto service centers like the old Kmart. The garden center was usually pretty busy at the old Kmart so the lack of one at the new Kmart wasn't a smart move IMO. They did try to put some plants up at the front of the store like the picture of the Lufkin store has, but the selection wasn't the same I don't think.

    Points A-D were pretty common at Kmarts across the country starting with the Big Kmart era and perhaps even before that. I call this the malaise era for Kmart, but it seems that Kmart is still stuck in this malaise with no end in sight. As far as Super Kmarts go, I made a reply to the latest entry on the Kmart World blog. Perhaps you would be interested on my thoughts that I wrote there (you won't have a hard time figuring out which reply was mine) and see if my observations about the Moon Township, PA Super Kmart (slated to close soon) and Super Kmarts in general are similar to your observations about the Super Kmarts in Houston. I only went to Super Kmarts a few times here and I really don't remember a whole lot about them.

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    1. I sadly never went into any of the Venture stores that were converted into Kmart's that I can remember. I passed by the one on 1960 near I-45 several times but never stopped. I visited the Humble Super Kmart when I wanted to go to a Kmart because of the large store size. For some reason the 1960 retail from Kuykendahl to I-45 took a nosedive in the late 1990's and a bunch of stores left. I guess the Woodlands Mall may have been a factor, but no other nearby developments were built during this time that were the reason of the demise of this retail area. Most of the shopping centers in this area are still having a hard time recovering and most are half-empty or worse. The I-45 Spring area retail power centers started showing up after 2000, so that was not the cause. Do you have any ideas on why that happened?

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    2. The venture store on Westhimer and Voss never became a Kmart
      It became expo and then Academy. Nothing in the shopping center is originally all has been redeveloped

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    3. I noticed there is some work going on across the street with the new Pollo Tropical and a part of the shopping center behind being demolished. It seems this city is ever changing.

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  12. Part I:

    The FM 1960-Hwy. 6 corridor is one of the more interesting retail corridors in the nation. It's miles and miles of nearly continuous retail big boxes, shopping centers, and malls. As far as the part of 1960 between 249 and I-45 goes, I think there are a few factors at play. For one thing, there are a lot of older (by Houston standards at least) shopping centers on that stretch particularly east of the Willowbrook area. I think the growth of the Willowbrook area and the strength of the communities just north of the Willowbrook area on 249 has led to stores wanting to locate or relocate in that area.

    The neighborhoods on that stretch of 1960 are an interesting mix as well. There are a couple of quite wealthy neighborhoods in that stretch, Champions and Northgate Forest (I believe Hakeem Olajuwon lived in Northgate in the 1980s and Mattress Mack lives/lived there as well). On the flip side, there are a lot of apartment complexes on/near this stretch with lower income residents as well and several middle class neighborhoods. Some of these middle class neighborhoods may be suffering from "flight." To that extent, The Woodlands itself, not just the mall, can be blamed for some of these problems.

    There are quite a few retailers on this stretch of 1960 that appeal to mainly wealthy shoppers, but most of those retailers locate themselves between 249 and Steubner Airline/Veterans Memorial. There is a lot of more upscale shopping right off of Champions Forest Drive. After that stretch, a lot of what is left is more oriented to lower income or middle class shoppers.

    The part near Kuykendahl is probably the worst. There's a ton of dead retail near there. Things get better past that going east towards I-45 though. There are a lot of occupied shopping centers east of Kuykendahl, but a lot of the tenants are smaller or local retail operations. The combination of oversized shopping centers and larger chains leaving or going out of business probably means that there is a lot of cheap retail space on a major road for small retail operations. My guess is the part nearer to I-45 does better than the part directly on Kuykendahl just because it is closer to I-45. The Kuykendahl area might be suffering from being "stuck in the middle" between 249 and I-45. I know Kuykendahl and Louetta and Kuykendahl and Spring-Cypress have some dead retail problems as well, but those situations aren't quite as bad as at 1960.

    It's also possible that there is just too much traffic on 1960. It can be very difficult to make a left turn out of a shopping center that does not have access to a signal on 1960. Also, they have recently installed a median through a large part this 1960 stretch that prevents left turns onto 1960 from shopping centers anyway. Some of the underpasses on 1960 make it difficult to make left turns as well. The two mostly dead shopping centers directly on the west side of 1960 and I-45 may suffer from this. There are backroads behind some shopping centers that allow access to signals, but not everyone may know about these or want to deal with the hassle of using them.

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    1. I remember the problems that 1960 had when I-45 was under construction several years ago. Those shopping centers were dying long before the construction there though. Some of the neighborhoods around there have crime problems, so it is not surprising as to the demise of retail in some parts of 1960. I also think that the consolidation of the retail industry has left the shopping centers with less retailers or grocers to choose from. There are just too many shopping centers in that area and there is still a good amount of undeveloped residential areas mostly around the East side of I-45 off of 1960. The recent development in the Spring area has left the struggling centers off of 1960 in a tough spot. I am surprised that they reconfigured the left turn lanes on 1960, but it seems to help traffic flow like it does on Westheimer.

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  13. Part II:

    Something that I remember about Kmarts in Houston was that they used some Spanish bilingual signage and stuff like that in the last few years that they were still here. I know that Kmart has tried to market themselves to Hispanic shoppers and it seems like Sears does this to some extent as well. Do you remember the bilingual things in Houston Kmarts? Anyway, wanting to appeal to Hispanic shoppers and then mostly abandoning Texas seems like an odd move on Kmart's part. Then again, perhaps some English speakers get offended at bilingual signage so perhaps mass-market retailers have to be judicious in how they use bilingual marketing. I don't know if Lufkin has a significant Spanish speaking population, but did the Lufkin Kmart have some bilingual signage and stuff like that?

    Yeah, D-VHS is expensive. There certainly is demand for D-VHS amongst those who know about it. Like I mentioned earlier, part of that is because most D-VHS VCRs have special features that make them very desirable regular VHS/S-VHS VCRs as well.

    I see more 8-track stuff and LaserDiscs in the thrift stores than I see Betamax tapes. Perhaps people got rid of their Betamax stuff long ago. There may be some demand for Betamax VCRs though because I'd imagine that a lot of Betamax VCRs have broken down over the years so there may not be many working models left. There are probably people with Betamax tapes that want to digitize them or convert them so there may be a market for working Betamax decks. I'm not sure about that though as I have not looked at the prices for Betamax VCRs. Another long forgotten video format were the RCA Selctavision CED players from the early 1980s. Remember those? They were like LaserDiscs, but they used a grooved disc that was read with a stylus like a record. Unlike music records, I don't think CEDs will be making a comeback! It was supposed to be a lower cost alternative to LaserDisc and VCRs, but they had obvious drawbacks and RCA lost a ton of money on the project. Perhaps the CED helped seal the fate for RCA as an independent company as the consumer electronics division was sold to GE and then later on to Thomson shortly after the CED was released.

    But, yeah, it is interesting how good ole' regular VHS VCRs and tapes are still being made several years into the era of digital HDTV when it's contemporary competitors have been dead for many, many years now. I suppose the question might be if VHS will outlive Kmart! That's not an easy question to answer!

    Also, I should have put this in part I, but I think I forgot to put it in there. The West Houston Archives website has a lot of pictures and a little bit of history on FM 1960 retail in case you have not seen it.

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    1. I know that several Sears have bilingual signage, but I don't remember which Kmart's did. The Lufkin Kmart does not have any bilingual signage, but the Lufkin area does have a large Hispanic and Latino population.
      The few Betamax players on Ebay are mostly expensive, but not too bad. I did not see many CED players on sale but there were a bunch of movies for sale. I may have seen that format before, but I don't recall hearing about it. 8 tracks were decent and you could skip from song to song by pressing a button on the player. Cassettes did not have the ability to skip songs until the technology got better on more recent systems.
      I have seen the West Houston Archives website and I spent hours digging through it. They have some good information and photos from all around Houston. They are going to be busy once the Hwy 99 construction starts from Hwy 290 to I-69/ Hwy 59 this summer.

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  14. Some people criticize Houston saying that it is miles and miles of sprawl with lots of dumpy looking strip malls and stuff like that with many questionable type tenants. Well, I guess that can describe FM 1960 especially between 249 and I-45. I think that it is certainly true that there is just too many shopping centers on 1960. It would be nice if some of these were torn down and/or converted into office buildings or medical centers. There have been some medical facilities built on 1960 over the last few years so maybe there is some viability with those. I certainly think that medical offices would be an improvement over shopping centers with questionable nightclubs in them and stuff like that. There would still be enough retail storefronts available for smaller retail operations even if a few of the unproductive shopping centers were repurposed. Unfortunately, I don't know if the shopping center owners share the same vision. They may think that it is better for their business to keep the tenants they have than rebuild their centers.

    I wonder what the net business impact is on Sears and Kmart stores that have bilingual signage and stuff like that. Perhaps appealing to Hispanic and other minority shoppers (whether they be Spanish speakers or not) is a viable strategy for Sears and Kmart (or some other retail underdog) to gain market share, but it is hard to say. Perhaps grocery stores like Fiesta can take advantage of the desire for shoppers to buy foods that appeal to certain ethnic tastes, but I don't know if there is demand (or demand that could be created) by having diverse discount and mass merchandise department stores. I have heard that Macy's merchandises each store somewhat independently depending on the store demographics. That's an interesting model, but it may be difficult for more price sensitive stores like Sears and especially Kmart to adapt such a strategy as it would be harder to buy in volume and there must be some logistical hurdles with that strategy.

    It does not surprise me that there aren't many CED players for sale. There probably aren't a lot of functional players left that haven't been thrown away or something. Perhaps the most interesting thing about CED players is how discs were loaded and unloaded. In order to prevent handling damage, the discs were stored in a caddy type holder. The caddy was inserted into the player and the player would take the disc out itself and then the caddy had to be taken out. To eject the disc, the caddy had to be put in the player again and the player would put the disc in the caddy. It was pretty neat, but I guess it was a bit of a hassle especially since discs had to be flipped like LaserDiscs. This video demonstrates the process at around 4:25.

    I actually have a 1979 JC Penney MCS Series 3570 cassette deck (made by NEC for JC Penney I believe, here is an ad for the deck (the one on the right) from 1980) that has something called automatic program selector. With that, you could tell the deck to FF or Rewind past a number of songs so you could get to what you wanted to listen to. Of course, it only works on tapes that have blank sections of a certain length in between songs. Most prerecorded tapes work fine with it, but self-recorded mix tapes or radio recordings may not work if there isn't enough of a break in between songs. Some newer decks have this function too, but yeah, it did exist back in the 1970s at least. It may have been a rare feature at that time though. It's such a shame that Penney's got out of stereo sales as some (though certainly not all) of the MCS Series stuff they sold was quite good.

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  15. The medical facility idea is a good one and some parts of 1960 have benefited from this kind of redevelopment. It is hard to redevelop some of those properties because of the size of the land needed for some of the projects. Some of the shopping centers are very small with residential behind and that makes redevelopment difficult. I guess some paying customers are better than nothing, and getting a loan for redevelopment is difficult. The answer for what should happen to those properties is difficult.
    I had a chance to finish my 1st Deauville post so check it out. I will feature the rest of the Deauville Malls in future posts.
    All department stores can benefit from bilingual employees and diversified product lines in markets like Houston. Fiesta is one of the best in finding the right product mix for each store location and other grocers/ retailers can learn from what they do.
    I did not know that older decks had the ability to skip songs, the first one I bought that could do that was in 1995 at Circuit City. I also did not look at anything that was more than $200 so that may be why I missed it in the past.

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  16. Yeah, it is true that some of the shopping centers are small and there isn't really much that can be done to redevelop them. Still, some of the worst shopping centers are big ones that I think can be redeveloped if someone has the vision and means to do it. The ones that come to mind is the big shopping center that has the Tandy leather store in it, the NE and SW corners at Kuykendahl, and the eastbound centers at TC Jester. Most of these centers are large, quite dead, and house nightclubs and some other questionable tenants. The two centers on 1960 W right next to I-45 don't really house questionable tenants, but they don't have many tenants of any kind. That area is quite close to other medical developments in the area and could also be good candidates for redevelopment.

    But, yeah, it seems unlikely that anything will happen anytime soon unfortunately. Getting rid of some of those shopping centers and replacing them with medical facilities or other business centers would do a lot to change perceptions about that stretch of 1960. Heck, just tearing them down and leaving the plots empty might be an improvement. There was one small shopping center next to the Office Depot on Stuebner Airline across from North Oaks that was torn down a few years back, but there needs to be more of that.

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    1. I guess one idea is to build more apartments that are nicer and refurbish some of the older apartment complexes that are dragging the property values down. Some shopping centers could be torn down for that purpose. Retail stores could consolidate into the remaining centers and the residential options could be marketed to people working in the Woodlands. With the new office complexes going in many people are going to want to live close to their jobs. The I-45 & 1960 area would benefit but many things need to change for this to happen.

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    2. I think the FM 1960 W area apartment situation has the same oversupply problem that the shopping centers have. Perhaps there were too many apartments built and the owners had to lower their rent to fill up the apartments. The end result is that a lot of poorer people moved in. Some of those apartments, though certainly not all of them, look pretty decent on the outside. They certainly don't look like slums, but there are a lot of poorer people living in them nevertheless. I think the apartments near Greenspoint Mall are kind of the same way. The apartments don't look bad and you might not guess how much crime goes on in those complexes just by looking at them, but there is a lot of crime that goes on there anyway. Unfortunately for Greenspoint and perhaps 1960 as to a lesser extent well, a lot of the crime that more or less stays within the apartment complex areas taints the reputation for the area as a whole.

      I guess the point is that new apartments should not be built unless they are so nice that they are almost guaranteed of housing middle or upper class residents. Perhaps existing apartment owners that are neighbors with shopping centers should consider redeveloping their properties, but again, it might be a struggle to get them to evict their tenants (even if they aren't paying as much as they perhaps wanted) in order to try something new. It's a difficult thing to deal with and perhaps the owners will need tax incentives and stuff like that to get things done.

      Granted, poor people need places to live as well, but having such a high concentration of poorer people in one place is generally not a good urban planning idea. I can understand why poorer people would want to live near 1960 since it is close to public transportation (which is hard to get access to in the suburbs) and since there are a lot of employers in the area, but perhaps having them be less concentrated and more spread out throughout the area might have positive net results for everyone. It's a difficult situation to deal with I guess and there isn't a lot of central planning in this city to help build the area in the best possible ways.

      There are a lot of really nice upper and middle class homes in the 1960 W area near I-45. Hopefully the people who are considering moving to this area to work at places like the new ExxonMobil facility will consider these homes and some of the apartments because I think the recent change of reputation for the area does not fully reflect reality.

      I went to the Willowbrook Mall Sears today as well as a local Sears Hardware store and I had a few observations. One is that the Willowbrook Sears has a fully carpeted electronics department. I think that carpeting is new, but I'm not totally sure about that. The carpeting looked pretty new if nothing else. The local Sears Hardware store is in the middle of being renovated in the inside so it'll be interesting to see what it looks like when the work is done. I wonder if they will change their exterior signs since it still has the 1994 era logo. I didn't know if Sears Hardware stores still sold paint since some (or all) regular Sears stores eliminated paint departments, but this store did sell Pratt & Lambert paints. I'm not sure if they had any other brands like the old Sears Weatherbeater and Easy Living brands since I didn't look too carefully at the paint section, but Consumer Reports rated Weatherbeater paint a couple of months back so perhaps it is still sold. The most interesting thing I saw at Sears Hardware was K-Gro brand plant food or something like that. K-Gro was and I guess still is Kmart's house brand for garden products. I guess I should not be surprised to see Kmart brand stuff at a Sears Hardware store since Kmart sells some Sears brands, but it was still pretty surprising to see the Kmart red K on something here in Houston. Perhaps I'm easily amused, but I thought that Kmart blast from the past was pretty awesome.

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    3. The 1960 area planning was good in the 1980's but now needs work. I wonder if they can create some office towers on land where some of the mostly empty shopping centers sit.
      The Sears hardware stores I have recently visited have changed their logo to the lowercase sears with the thin letters. The K-Gro is a find and with the exception of second hand stores in Houston you will not find anything new with the Kmart logo on it.

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    4. I think office buildings could be built on land that currently has underperforming shopping centers, but the issue might be that there is still some undeveloped land on 1960 that developers might prefer over having to tear something down first. Still, something like the Kuykendahl intersection should be a good place to build office or medical facilities.

      It is pretty amazing how even one dead big box store can ruin the aesthetics of an area. The old Wal-Mart on 1960 near Walters Rd. really drags down the looks of that stretch of road. There is a NAM thrift store that operates out of part of that old store, but most of the store seems to be empty and is quite an eyesore. It's not like the dead store is indicative that Wal-Mart could not make it in the area as they built a new Supercenter right across the street. Still, it is an eyesore for the area and I can understand why some residents don't want big box stores or other kinds of big retail near their neighborhoods just because of what happens when those stores leave.

      I'm not sure how many K-Gro products Sears Hardware carries or if all the Sears Hardware stores carry them, but they probably do since I believe Sears Hardware store inventory is corporate owned even though the stores are independently owned. As odd as it may sound, I do find it somewhat exciting that it is still possible to buy some new stock Kmart products here in Houston. It's like a small part of Kmart lives on in Houston!

      I went to the Sears Appliance and Hardware store website and noticed that although they have the latest logo up at the top of their page, they do have a picture of a storefront in the middle right of the homepage that has the 1984 logo on it! Perhaps that is an indication that updating exterior signs isn't a really big priority, but who knows. I think the Louetta and Kuykendahl Sears Hardware store got a new roadside sign a year or two ago, but I think it has the 2004 era logo instead of the current one. That seems like an odd choice, but perhaps the hardware store division didn't adopt the new logo until later on. The sign on the store itself is still the 1994 or 1984 logo. You say that you've seen some stores with the current logo so maybe the stores in this area will get updated as well. We'll see. It's not like it really matters as the old 1984/1994/2004 logos are probably better and more recognizable, but whatever I guess. Sears and Kmart stores with current logos are almost so rare that they are kind of worthy of a blog post!

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    5. I am surprised that the Incredible Pizza store that opened in the old Walmart on 1960 did not last, I guess the competition from the old Chuck-E-Cheese down the street is too much to overcome. Medical seems to be a good fit, but most of the medical redevelopment has taken place closer to Hafer Rd. and 1960. I also don't think hotels would be a good redevelopment plan because of the traffic and distance from the airport. The Greenspoint Mall area would benefit from more hotels though.

      Kmart new logos are a rare find indeed. None of the Kmart stores I visited in Louisiana over the past few years have gotten this signage yet. I have only went to one Kmart that was updated after the Big K era in the 1990's. That store had the orange colors of the mid 2000's update in some parts of the store, but the Big K sign was still in place. Outside of that store the only major changes have been the Craftsman rollouts in the hardware departments with the new red aisle markers.

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  17. There's a big cluster of medical facilities all the way from I-45 to Nanes Rd. I would say. Not all of these are right on 1960, but they are close enough to 1960. There are some major facilities away from this cluster though. The ones that come to mind are the ones across from Northgate Forest near Kuykendahl like the fairly new Kelsey-Seybold Clinic there that is pretty big. Medical facilities that cater to small, private clincs could be a success on this stretch as there are a lot of potential patients in the area and there are wealthy neighborhoods that still have good reputations right on 1960 like Northgate Forest that doctors might be interested in living in.

    There are quite a few hotels and motels on FM 1960 W as it is. A lot of these are relatively new compared to the shopping centers at least. I know there was a real boom in hotel construction around Willowbrook Mall in the early 2000s. Maybe there is some unfilled hotel demand on 1960, but I'm not so sure if there is a ton of demand so I don't know if hotel construction should really be pushed.

    Something like a community college campus or satellite campus could make sense though. I guess that would still be Lone Star College territory. There's a lot of distance between the North Harris campus and the campuses on 249 so perhaps a campus near Kuykendahl or something like that could be justified. It would be on the bus line and it seems like most Lone Star campuses aren't served well by public transportation so that is a plus. Of course, Lone Star does not have much history of doing retail-to-college conversions like HCC does so I don't know how willing they would be to tear down an old shopping center and build over it. They might prefer to just get some vacant land. Also, Lone Star's latest bond issue failed so I think it might be difficult for them to get the funding to build a new campus especially if it is perceived that the new campus would benefit mainly poorer minority students.

    I'm not aware of any Kmarts in Texas that have signs with the current logos, but perhaps some do exist. I think most have Big Kmart era logos and I suspect that most still have Big Kmart era interiors. I have seen pictures of Kmarts elsewhere in the country where the "Big" logos have been removed and they just reuse and center the Kmart 1991ish logo instead of putting up the current logo. Granted, there are still a handful of Kmarts across the country that still have the turquoise <1991 era logos. I think the current Sears and Kmart logos (as well as the JCPenney logo) are a bit goofy with all lowercase lettering, but I guess Kmart still uses an uppercase K standing alone in some cases. I went to the Kmart website tonight and noticed that they are using a split red and turquoise color scheme to advertise their layaway program. It'll be interesting to see if Kmart starts to use turquoise more often in the future. On the one hand, it does bring back memories of when Kmart was the dominant force, but OTOH, it does kind of reinforce the "stuck in the 1980s" stereotype that many probably hold against Kmart.

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  18. Medical is probably the easiest and best suited idea for the 1960 shopping center voids. There are a few shopping center conversions that do well as medical facilities in other parts of Houston as well as a few shopping centers on 1960.
    I saw an awesome neon Kmart pre-Big Kmart signage in Baton Rouge, but the store closed many years ago. The sign was similar to this one. https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4123/4819521383_be305615cb.jpg
    I wonder if a dual Kmart/ Sears store would ever be a possibility. Sears has stronger brands, but Kmart has a pharmacy, toy section, and several other departments that could be added to a Sears store in a dual store format. The Pharmacy could be a money-maker if executed right and with a drive-thru window. Maybe they could also add the over-sized A/C vents from Kmart stores as well, to really immerse the shoppers in an old-school Kmart store. With the large sizes of many Sears stores, they could easily move out some product lines that don't sell and move in a few Kmart departments. The Sears in Deerbrook added a golf section with mini courses to try out the clubs. The department took over a sizable portion of the store near the second floor entrance. I think that experiment only lasted a little more than a year, because that department is gone now.

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  19. Part I

    I suppose you could say that Sears Grand and perhaps Sears Essentials stores even more so were combo Sears/Kmart stores. Those concepts don't seem to be working too well for Sears given that many of these stores have closed or have been converted back into Kmarts. There have been some cases of Sears Auto Centers, Sears Outlets (here's another one), and Sears Hometown stores sharing a building or shopping center with Kmarts though. Sears Outlet and Hometown stores are have been spun-off more or less, but I think most of those stores where there is some sort of shared facility opened when they were part of Sears Holdings itself. Granted, the Hometown stores and things like that are independently operated, but maybe Sears gives them good deals on leases. It's hard to say.

    Combining Sears and Kmarts may have the undesired effect of giving people the idea that the store is selling Kmart quality products at Sears prices. That would not be a good thing. I guess it could have the effect of making people think that they can get Sears quality products at Kmart prices, but I'm not sure if people really perceive Sears and Kmart that way at this point. I think combining Sears Outlet and Kmarts may be a good idea though (at least in the same buildings) as that gives bargain-minded Kmart shoppers access to Sears quality goods at prices that are possibly better than what Wal-Mart and Target charge for lesser quality goods. Granted, that could cannibalize some of Kmart's sales. It's a hard balance. I know Kmart is trying to ad dollar stores (K-Dollar with a red and turquoise logo!) to some of their stores and that might be a good idea. People may not want to put up with Kmart's generally unkempt stores compared to the discount store competition, but perhaps even disco-era Kmarts are still nicer/equal to/in the ballpark with most dollar store competitors.

    As far as the golf thing goes, are you talking about the Edwin Watts golf shops that were within Sears for a year or so? I think that was a store within a store concept and those departments were run and staffed by Edwin Watts. I remember reading a user comment when those departments closed saying that the Edwin Watts employees were golf experts and all they were doing was answering questions about where the restrooms were! I guess it was a good idea on paper since Sears is a major force in exercise equipment sales and they used to sell a wide variety of sporting goods, but perhaps the modern day Sears shopper isn't so interested in higher end golf gear.

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    1. Yes it must have been the Edwin Watts golf shop that was there. They have removed all evidence of the department from the store. When I saw it I initially thought it would not work. It was not advertised well and Sears is not a place most people go to for golf equipment.

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  20. Part II:

    I think a purposely retro styled store would be awesome, but it isn't something we see very often. I guess stores want consistency and they might be afraid that someone might confuse a retro store for being an old and outdated store. Still, many of the big airlines in the US and abroad use retro liveries and I would think there is more risk for an airline going retro than a retail store as someone who does not know much about planes (which is probably most people) might think that a retro livery plane is really an ancient plane from the 1950s or something. I think Kmart in particular has a "stuck in the 1980s" (or 1970s!) reputation that they might actually deserve. People like us think that is somewhat awesome, but I don't think the average shopper thinks that way. The jumbo A/C vents are certainly a Kmart trademark from their glory years (though some other stores from that era have larger vents as well), but they might scare the children. Plus, I don't know about your Kmarts, but the ones around here with those jumbo vents always had a lot of black dust or mold hanging from the vents. It wasn't exactly a pretty sight!

    I think there is a Kmart in Albuquerque that has a roadside sign like the one you posted (day, night). Heck, that sign you posted might be the Albuquerque one. It's certainly a nice sign and they don't make signs like that anymore. It must cost a lot to maintain and operate.

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    1. Retro seems to work in sports but you are right about retail and airlines. Many shoppers want the newest and latest styles in stores to keep their interest. Few retail concepts do well without constant change and store remodels.

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  21. Part III:

    One thing that I never quite understood was why Kmart used their original logo on the racing cars they sponsored for many years after they changed their logo in the 1990s. Kmart and Target had a very fierce rivalry on the Indycar circuit in the 1990s. I used to love watching racing, but racing today is a total joke and I reuse to even watch it. The TV ratings seem to indicate that I'm not the only one who feels this way, but that's a story for another blog! Target and Kmart combined to win 6 season championships in the 1990s. Kmart won 2 and Target won 4, but Kmart may have had the upper edge as they had more popular drivers, Paul Newman was a co-owner of the team, better consistency throughout the decade, and Kmart's best years were before the 1996 split when a rival Indycar series was formed and caused many fans to stop watching whereas all of Target's championships were after the split.

    Anyway, Indycar racing was still a huge deal in the 1990s so I don't know why Kmart would continue to use their old logo for years. I know they used it through 1998 and maybe even after that some even though the new logo came out in 1990-91. My only guess is that the old logo looked better on a horizontal space like where the most visible logos go on an Indycar. They did use the newer logo in smaller, less visible areas of the car and they did switch to the newer logo at the end of the decade when the Big Kmart logos were in use. If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, watch this clip from the 1998 Houston Grand Prix race that was run on the downtown Houston streets. You can clearly see Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi's cars with the original Kmart logos on them. This was in 1998! Unfortunately, the Kmart team had a horrible race that day as Andretti's car was done at the start due to mechanical problems and Fittipaldi got off to a good start (got ahead of the two Target cars), but a car spun in front of him and crashed into him on the 3rd or 4th lap and knocked him out of the race (I was at this race and the crash was right in front of my seats). Typical Kmart luck I guess! But, yeah, you can see Michael's car at around 3:09 in the video and Fittipaldi's car at around 4:58. Kmart was involved in the promotion of the race and you can see Super Kmart ads (then current logo) very briefly on the barriers at around 2:18.

    The funny thing about Kmart and Indycar racing was that one of Kmart's big on-track rivals aside from the Target team was Roger Penske's team. Ironically, Penske took over the Kmart auto centers and at least one Kmart ad advertising the Big Kmart concept used Penske's race car in the commercial instead of their own car. There were also a couple of somewhat popular 1990s racing video games that predominantly featured the Kmart cars carrying the old logo even when the new logo was out for years. The more famous of the two was Indycar Racing from Papyrus for the PC. The other was Newman-Haas Racing for PC and PSX. I remember that Kmart stores sold the PSX version of the latter game in a special box with the then current logo in the corner of the box. I brought and still have that version, but I don't know if I kept the special box or not. The Target cars were predominantly featured in the absolutely horrible Burt Reynolds and Stallone movie called Driven. The Kmart cars had some shots in that movie with the Big Kmart era logos, but seriously, that movie makes The Chase look like an all-time cinema classic!

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  22. Wow I don't think I will ever see Driven if I can help it. I am not too familiar with racing but it sounds like Kmart was really involved in the sport at one point. I remember when Kmart used to sell Kmart brand sports cards when they were really popular in the 1980's-1990's. I think I may have a set or two lying around but I am not sure.

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  23. I don't have any Kmart sports cards (though I do have some card packs from Kmart with the Kmart price stickers still on them), but I think I have seen some Kmart edition cards. I believe the ones I saw were Topps baseball cards with a special Kmart 20th anniversary logo at the top of each card. I guess those must have been from 1982.

    One piece of Kmart sports memorabilia that would be pretty cool to have is this die-cast race car model celebrating Kmart's sponsorship of the 1998 Texaco Grand Prix of Houston race (the same race that I discussed above). I don't know if those were sold nationally or just locally, but I'm guessing nationally since they apparently made 10,000 of those. Here's a picture of the front and back of the collectible car package.

    Kmart was quite involved in racing back in the day. They had a Nascar team as well that was co-owned by the same guy, Carl Haas, who co-owned their Indycar team. The actor (and part-time racer) Paul Newman was the other co-owner of the Indycar team. I believe the Nascar program also had the outdated Kmart logo on the back of the car for at least a season or two. The Nascar cars were co-sponsored by Little Caesar's (which makes sense I guess) and later on RC Cola. I don't think the Kmart Nascar team ever won a race, but I don't think the Target Nascar team has had a ton of success either. Target (who is still involved in Indycar racing) and Kmart were certainly a major force in Indycar racing though.

    Kmart used an interesting system with their racing team. Instead of spending a lot of their own money to sponsor their team, they made agreements with their suppliers so that the suppliers would spend money to get the suppliers logos (smaller logos) on the race car along with the Kmart logos. In exchange, Kmart would give the suppliers extra space in weekly ads and give then better shelf spaces and stuff like that. Ultimately, Kmart could raise enough money to keep their race cars at the front of the field without having to spend much of their own money. Target ended up using this system as well, but I think Kmart invented the idea unless someone else used that system before Kmart. I don't think so though. But, yeah, that's probably one of the big reasons why Kmart and Target were so good on the Indycar tracks back in the 1990s. There were some years where "Team Kmart" had suppliers like Maxell and Kodak Film sponsor their cars and "Team Target" had TDK and Fujifilm sponsor their car. It was certainly a rivalry and the rivalry was more than just the two stores.

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    1. The system Kmart used was indeed a cost saver and innovative. The races helped with brand recognition in person and on television. I am sure Kmart had to spend a good amount of money on liability costs, so the cost savings was a good plan to have.
      I was expecting to see an old Kmart price sticker on the car and I was surprised by a modern Kmart sticker on the bottom of the package. I wonder how many Kmart stores with the pre-Big K logo are still out there. I know there are/were stores in Canada with the old logo, but are there any in the US? I also like the lime-green stores that there are only a handful of like this one http://www.flickr.com/photos/mpd2l17/3023734425/
      Here is another cool Kmart design but I am not sure of the prototype.
      http://www.lunarwolf.net/series2kmart.jpg

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  24. Here is another item I saw on ebay you might be interested in. Wynn's was also here in the Houston area but they have been gone for so long. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lake-Speed-autographed-1987-KMART-WYNNS-83-OLDS-photo-/360335923116?pt=US_Autographs&hash=item53e5b1d7ac

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  25. Part I:

    Wow, I totally forgot about the Wynn's/Kmart cars from the 1980s. Lake Speed won a Nascar Winston Cup race with them sponsoring his car back in 1987 or 1988. So, yeah, Kmart did win in Nascar as well. I don't think they won in Nascar when they came back in the 1990s and early 2000s though.

    I don't know if you're familiar with the former F1 racer Ayrton Senna. He won several championships and died in a famous crash in 1994. He was very popular worldwide and there was a movie made about him a few years back. Anyway, Michael Andretti became his teammate with the McLaren F1 team in 1993. Michael and his father Mario had driven the Kmart Indycars for a few years together before 1993 with lots of success. Kmart decided to sponsor the McLaren team that season. Andretti was a total bust in F1 and ended up getting fired before the season was over, but Senna did win a several races that season. Those 1993 wins ended up being his last wins as he died early in 1994. I guess Kmart is one of the few companies (especially a non-automotive related company) to have sponsored winners in Nascar, Indycar, and F1.

    Oddly enough, the Kmart Indycar team hired Nigel Mansell to replace Michael Andretti for the 1993 season. Mansell was the reigning F1 champion and I'm sure the Kmart team paid him a ton to come race Indycars because he supposedly left F1 because of a contract dispute. Mansell was a big star and ended up winning the 1993 Indycar championship. Michael Andretti came back to Indycars in 1994 since he was fired from his F1 ride, but the Kmart team already had their team set with Mansell and Mario Andretti. Michael ended up taking a ride with the Target team that year and won Target's first ever race in Michael's first race with the team. Mario retired after 1994 and Mansell went back to Europe so Michael was able to return to the Kmart team in 1995. It was really odd how Michael drove for Target for a year and put them on the map given all the years he raced with Kmart before and after that year.

    Yeah, I noticed that the price tag on that collectible model was a bit unusual for a Kmart price tag. Perhaps that was printed by the supplier? I don't know. I do have a few racing models in their original box that I brought when my local Kmart was closing in 1997 before they moved to the ex-Venture store by Willowbrook Mall and I think they have the expected Kmart price tags on them from that era. I'm not sure if those are Racing Champions models or something else though. Unfortunately, I don't think I brought any models of cars that Kmart sponsored.

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  26. Part II:

    I've seen pictures of those lime green concept Kmart stores, but it is hard for me to accept lime green and gray as Kmart colors. It just seems like an odd match. The concept you linked on the lunarwolf website seems to be some sort of user generated design because it looks to be pretty heavily Photoshopped. It looks ok I guess.

    I would say that most Kmart stores today have either the 1990-91 era Kmart logo or a Big Kmart logo that is based on the 1990-91 era logo. The Big Kmart signage is probably the most popular logo, but as I mentioned earlier, some stores have removed the "Big" or "Super Center" part from those logos and just left the 1990-91 era logo. Some stores have current era logos. There seems to be a couple of different variations of the current logo signage. One looks like this and the other is more horizontal and looks like this. I think I prefer the horizontal looking one of the boxy looking one, but that might be because it reminds me of the original logo.

    There still are a few Kmarts with the original era logo. One is in Burlington, VT, and another is in Watertown, CT. Both of these stores were built for someone else though. The Burlington one opened as a Grant's and the Watertown one might have been a Grant's as well, but I'm not sure about that. I'm sure there are other stores with the original logo though. There was a beautiful mall Kmart in Colorado that closed very recently that had the original logo both on the outside signage and in the mall entrance. I'm not sure if there are any built-as-Kmart Kmarts with original era signage remaining. Of course, there are stores like the Albuquerque one with original era street signage.

    There was a variant of the 1990-91 logo called "Today's Kmart" that was used in newspaper ads and stuff like that, but I don't think that it was used on store signage. Of course, the 1990s "Today's Kmarts" looked like they were stuck in the 1970s or 1980s so Kmart's renovations have not always been very convincing!

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    1. Thanks for the retro Kmart store pics. The most recent Kmart logo is very similar in font and design to the recent Sears logo. The Kmart in Colorado looks to have the orange colors on the inside from the recent remodel and signage to match. I remember the older Kmarts also had darker colors which was cool. Here is a Kmart "the savings place" store with the Turquoise and red logo that opened in 1990 according to the photo. http://www.flickr.com/photos/44351031@N03/6785219829/in/faves-scraparcs/

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  27. Part III:

    As far as Canadian Kmarts go, I don't think those have existed for several years now. I believe Kmart sold their Canadian stores to Hudson's Bay Company and their Zellers discount chain. Zellers recently closed and many of their stores were taken over by Target as Target is expanding to Canada. I guess there may be some former Kmarts that are now Targets in Canada. It's a shame that Canada is losing some of their own discount stores in favor of Wal-Mart and Targets, but oh well I guess. At least Canada still has some quirky stores like the Canadian Tire chain that is a lot like the Western Auto stores from 40+ years ago in that they sell general merchandise like a Sears type store and not just auto parts.

    Kmart Australia still uses a logo that is based on the original US Kmart logo. It's just a little bit different. You can see how that logo looks on one of their stores. Clearly this is not a US Kmart based on all the cars in the parking lot! Here is a Kmart Australia store with a mall entrance. The Australian stores are independently owned and operated by the Wesfarmers company (oddly enough, they also own Target Australia).

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  28. Yeah, it looks like the Colorado Kmart had the newer orange interior even with the original exterior. Of course, Kmarts had orange striping around the perimeter of the interior of their stores back in the day. I doubt there are any currently operating Kmarts with the old school orange striping though.

    One of the interesting things that I like to look at with original-built Kmarts are their facades and general architectural style. There were different styles that Kmart used during different time periods. I would say that the late 1980s/very early 1990s style like the one you linked above was probably the least attractive IMO. There are still some Kmarts with relatively untouched original era facades. Older Kmarts with facades like this aren't too uncommon either. The Kmart near me used a facade like this that looked like a slice of a McDonald's mansard roof. Some Kmarts still use this facade, but some of them have been slightly modified over the years. I believe the Kmart in Killeen uses a modified mansard slice style facade.

    Another interesting piece of vintage Kmart signage are the old In and Out signs they used in their parking lots. Do you remember those? I know the Kmart shopping center near me at Jones Rd. and FM 1960 had those, but I don't think they are still there. They were looking pretty ratty the last time that I remember seeing them. I wonder if any of these signs are still in use in the Houston area. It seems like a lot of older Kmart parking lots had lights that were styled something like this as well with either 3 or 4 lights. I guess those are all aspects of the vintage Kmart experience like the giant HVAC vents.

    There is some similarity between the current Kmart and Sears logos. Perhaps the same people designed them, but Sears Canada used a logo very similar to the current Sears logo in a commercial in 1987! Who knows, that may just be a coincidence. I guess the Kmart logo looks ok, but it is a bit plain. The Sears logo is ok too, but I don't like it compared to the previous logos. It seems a little too soft for a store like Sears if that makes any sense, but perhaps they are wanting to promote the "softer side of Sears" in a less obvious way.

    I did some searching and came across an NHRA drag race in Baton Rouge that Kmart sponsored at least in 1988 called the Kmart Cajun Nationals. I don't really remember this race, but there is a video of the 1988 race on YouTube and there is a collectible patch for the 1988 race on sale at eBay. Do you remember anything about this event? I don't think Louisiana has much of a pro racing history even compared to Texas, but I do remember an IMSA GTP sports car race that was held on the streets of New Orleans in 1991 at the very least. I know I have that race on tape. There was an IMSA GTP race on the streets of San Antonio around the same time period. I went to the San Antonio race in either 1988 or 1989. Of course, there are still NHRA pro drag races in Baytown.

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    1. The Kmarts in Louisiana have mostly the same facades as they did when they opened or were taken over. The 7000 Veterans Kmart is a converted Woolco and has a different facade than any of the above photos. If I remember correctly the store has varying ceiling heights and dim lighting in many parts of the store from this design. The last two Westbank Kmarts both just off Lapalco Blvd. had the mansard roof design. I have one of those stores on a brief post at http://southernretail.blogspot.com/2012/01/former-k-mart-marrero-la.html
      I remember the distinct parking lot lights but I can't remember the in and out signs.
      The 1987 Sears logo is the exact same as the newest logo except for the color, great find on that one.
      I lived in the New Orleans area for a long time but professional racing was not a major interest in the city. Drag racing on city streets in several spots in the city was popular and I think still is. I don't think professional racing was popular in Louisiana until the modern NASCAR era of racing. There was a proposal in the early 2000's to build a racetrack in Eastern New Orleans that did not gain support and the proposal has become another lost idea for Eastern New Orleans.
      Eastern New Orleans is an area of New Orleans that lost many retail stores and a Six Flags theme park from the 1980's to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. I have several articles on my blog from this area to check out if you are interested. Kmart had a store in Gentilly (closed in 2003) across the Industrial Canal from New Orleans East but I don't think Kmart had a store in New Orleans East.

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  29. I did a search and came up with a list of 11 currently operating Kmarts in Louisiana. I'm not sure if that is accurate or not. Texas has more Kmarts than that, but Texas is a much larger state so perhaps Louisiana is doing better proportionally. Plus, there are Kmarts like the Longview store that isn't all that far from the Louisiana border. But, yeah, Kmart does not have a very strong presence in this region.

    I don't know much about the Louisiana retail scene aside from what I read here. The last time I was in Louisiana was around 1999 when I was in New Orleans for a few days. I don't remember what part of town we were staying in, but it might have been around Metairie or Kenner. I'm sure there were grocery and discount stores around our hotel, but we had a hard time finding one. The only one we found was a grocery store whose aisles were almost completely bare of products even though it was open for business. It may have been a Schwegmann's, but I don't know for sure. We had to buy sandwiches from the deli because they didn't have anything else really. So, yeah, my very small sample size of New Orleans retail wasn't particularly good, but maybe I was just looking for retail in the wrong places. I don't know if things are any better or worse after Katrina. As far as losing a Six Flags theme park goes, well, Houston knows all about that!

    It's interesting how much interest there is about Kmart in the various retail blogs and photo sites. I guess people are drawn to the time capsule aspect of vintage Kmarts and the memories of them being the big dogs in the 1960s-1980s. I bet that you could attract a lot of visitors by posting new stories about Kmarts in the area! Of course, the story of Kmart in Houston is an interesting one even though we have not had Kmarts for the last 10 years. We had some of the very first Kmart stores in the nation, there were the ex-Venture stores that were interesting, we had Super Kmarts and other newer build Kmarts, and the HPD raid on the Westheimer Super Kmart in 2002 where hundreds of teens were arrested was big news locally and across the nation.

    On a completely different topic, I was on the Walgreen's website today looking to see if they have new coupons for blank audio cassettes for July (and it looks like they do, wahoo!), and I noticed that Walgreen's is using their Studio 35 store brand on cosmetics products. That's really odd because Studio 35 used to be Walgreen's brand for their camera film and stuff like that. In fact, Walgreen's still sells disposable 35mm cameras, but they are sold under the W Photo brand. Anyway, I thought that it was very strange for Walgreen's to use an old film name for cosmetics and beauty aids, but I guess there is a bit of a connection between photography and beauty. I wonder if young people will ever notice the connection! I wonder what is next for Walgreen's brand name recycling. ToneMaster brand suppositories? Tozai brand condoms? Let's hope that Walgreen's is a bit more careful on their quality control if that ever happens!

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    1. Kmart is in every major city in Louisiana or in the metro area except Monroe. 5 of those are in the New Orleans area. 2 in Metairie, 1 in Gretna, 1 in Harahan (next to Metairie), and 1 in Mandeville. There are two more within an hour drive of New Orleans near Houma and Baton Rouge. I try to get Kmarts when I can, but only 3 are within a 3 hour ride of Houston. I plan on getting a few from the New Orleans area on the blog soon.
      Tozai condoms wow, I almost fell over laughing on that one. I guess they are using certain brands as their house brand to add variety. K & B drugs from Louisiana was one of the best chains to market their house brands. They had a house brand for tons of items when companies like Walgreens and Eckerds just had a small amount of house brands.

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  30. I think that Eckerd did a pretty good job marketing their house brand. I remember quite a few commercials, like this one, promoting the Eckerd brand as being a quality alternative to store brands. The problem is that Eckerd didn't sell everything under the Eckerd brand, like the DigiTech name for electronic stuff, and those brands weren't very well known. They were probably even less known than Walgreens house brands. I think Eckerd brand stuff was mainly related to medicines and personal care stuff. Here's an article from 2003 discussing some Eckerd brand stuff. I remember reading something a long time ago saying that Eckerd Award brand colas were considered to be very good by store brand cola standards. Perhaps that isn't saying much, but I think Eckerd did put more effort in their store brands than some other companies.

    CVS sells a lot of stuff under the CVS brand. I guess that is a good thing to use just one name instead of several like Walgreens, but I don't know if CVS has been very successful in marketing their house brand as being a quality alternative like Eckerd did. I'm not even sure if their house brand stuff would be considered to be high quality.

    Walgreens seems to use different names in each department. I looked up cotton swabs today (for cleaning cassette decks of course!) and noticed that they had regular Walgreens brand stuff as the cheapest option and the Studio 35 brand as a more upscale option that is probably similar to the Q-Tip swabs. That in itself kind of degrades the Walgreens brand as a whole as being the value option and not a quality competitive option like the Eckerd brand was. But, yeah, Walgreen's recycling of a brand name is very strange to me. It might have been one thing if the Studio 35 photo name was discontinued a long time ago and then brought back, but they used Studio 35 for film not all that long ago.

    I did see the post you made about your K&B collection of goods. I don't know much about K&B, but it seems like you held them in high regard. Probably the closest thing I have to a conscious collection of store brand goods are my two Montgomery Ward brand VCRs that I found in thrift stores. One is a 1992 Signature 2000 branded VCR that also has the 1982 era Montgomery Ward logos on it and the fonts on the front panel buttons are the 1982 Montgomery Ward logo fonts. This model was featured in this totally awesome Montgomery Ward in-store LaserDisc clip at around 0:38 and again at 0:47 showing the Signature 2000 and Montgomery Ward logos on the unit. The other is a 1995-6ish Admiral Hi-Fi VCR with an authentic faded Montgomery Ward price tag on it. Both of those VCRs are made by Sharp and they both work quite well. I have other store brand stuff, but I wouldn't call those a conscious collection.

    I looks like Kmart does have Louisiana covered much better than they have Texas covered even though they have less stores in Louisiana. Of course, that isn't a big surprise given the size differences of the states. I've only been to two Kmarts since Kmart left Houston and neither of those are anywhere near Texas or Louisiana, but I really don't think Kmart has changed all that much since their last few years in Houston.

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    1. I remember Eckerd and the rest of the stores really making a push in the 90's with store brands in comparison to brand names. I think Eckerd is gone for good now, with the rest of the chain acquired by Rite-Aid. It is bad how Eckerd fell behind in the 90's and lost their dominance in the retail/ drugstore market. It also seemed that Eckerds was a step behind on the standalone store growth wave that Walgreens and even K & B/ Rite-Aid were ahead on in the 1990's. Eckerds seemed state-of-the-art in the 1980's but their stores were not updated unless they moved to a stand alone store. I thought it was cool, but with new stores from competitors opening up and service that was not much different from their competition things did not work out for the company. CVS has eliminated most of the older Eckerd locations that were in shopping centers and I don't think many of the stand alone stores were converted to CVS. When K & B was taken over by Rite-Aid, the stores were going to be renovated completely to the Rite-Aid style in a few years. In the years right after the acquisition most of the K & B stores were not renovated and remain that way still. A few stores were converted to stand alone stores with the Rite-Aid design, and a few K & B's were renovated. If you check out my K & B posts you can see some stores that I captured with the old K & B purple, flooring, fixtures, and even display signage that is the same. They just slapped a few Rite-Aid signs, price tags, and changed the registers and called it a day in those stores.
      I have been on the lookout for Montgomery Ward items for a few years now, but I have not been successful in finding one for thrift/ discounted prices. I found two atari games in original packages in near mint condition with the old Kmart price stickers for $1.99 each which was a good day for me. I recently found an old Sears metal delivery truck from the 1970's or 1980's for over $120 though.
      The only changes Kmart has really made since they left Houston is adding Craftsman tools, Whirlpool Appliances, Thom McAn shoe departments, closed the cafe's, and some signage changes on the tool aisles. There may have been some other small changes but those are the major changes.

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  31. I think Kmart had Thom McAn shoes when they were in Houston. In fact, I remember seeing them at the old Jones Rd. and Fm 1960 Kmart that moved in 1997 so they must have had them for quite some time. Kmart K-cafes and Little Caesar's Pizza Stations still exist, but many (if not most) locations don't have them anymore. Here's a picture taken a couple of years ago of the K-Cafe at the first ever Kmart in Garden City, MI. I don't think most Kmarts have their cafes in near the registers like that one though.

    I remember Kmart was using the American Fare name for most of their house brand products back in their last years in Houston. I don't think they still use that name, but I could be wrong about that. Of course, American Fare is a bit of a name recycle as that was one of Kmart's attempts at creating a hypermarket before there were Super Kmarts. As with most things Kmart, you can pretty much guess how that attempt worked out!

    I'm not sure if Kmart still uses electronics house brand names like they did before. Sears uses the Alphaline name on some stuff and Kmart may use it too, but the name isn't used on much stuff AFAIK. Obviously there is still K-Gro. I don't know about other current Kmart house brands, but I would be interested in knowing about them.

    I actually watched a Kmart Focal VHS tape from 1993ish today. I also have some Focal brand AA batteries from 1998 that I brought from the former Kmart that was at W. Parmer and MoPac in Austin. I think it was like a 48 pack and I never used all the batteries, but they have not leaked yet so that is pretty impressive. Maybe the batteries still have some life, but I don't know. Focal was primarily Kmart's film brand though.

    I saw a Montgomery Ward Admiral VCR at the NAM thrift store near 1960 and Walters Rd. (the old Wal-Mart) this past Monday. It was like $10, but I don't remember the price for sure. It was the exact same model as the Admiral VCR that I have, JSJ 20434. I wasn't that interested in buying another VCR that I already have especially since I already have a Sharp VCR that is very, very similar to the Sharp-made Admiral that I have and it didn't have a Wards price tag on it like mine. I didn't try it to see if it works, but that store has lots of VHS movies that you can try on it to test it if they still have it and you're interested in it. It also does not have a remote, but you can still watch tapes on it using the buttons on the front panel if nothing else. Unfortunately, the manufacturer plate on these Admiral VCRs does not say Montgomery Ward on it like my Signature 2000 VCR and some other Admiral-Wards stuff that I have seen. It just lists the manufacturer's address as some shell company in Chicago that Wards probably owned (JRI Distributing or something like that). Thus, it might not be the "ultimate" Wards collectible item, but it did come from Wards. Admiral was only a Wards house brand in the 1990s I believe so anything newer or older would not be a necessarily be a Wards product.

    I do see Wards CRT TVs at thrifts relatively often, but I'm not interested in collecting old analog CRT TVs. I did see a 1970s Montgomery Ward sewing machine at the Value Village thrift on Gessner across from the Alco, but that was a couple months back and I'm sure it is gone by now.

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  32. I did not notice Thom McAn shoes while Kmart was still in Houston. I just noticed it in the past few years at Kmart mostly because of the huge displays in the shoe department. I guess most of my recent knowledge about Kmart has been formed from the stores in Louisiana that I frequent. Every store that I visited has lost their cafe or Little Caesars except one that still has a Little Caesars.
    American Fare still exists at Kmart on flavored drinks and water. I actually bought a case of American Fare water from the Greenspoint Sears store closing a few years ago which I thought was strange because I remembered the brand from Kmart. I guess they had a stockpile somewhere they needed to get rid of. The display was located by the rugs that they always bring in to sell during going out of business sales. There must be a nationwide glut of rugs because for some reason every going out of business sale in department stores has a rug section brought in for the sale. Sears Greenspoint, Sears Woodlands, Macy's Mall of the Mainland, and Macy's Downtown, all had large rug sections even though they did not sell rugs normally.
    I am going to have to make a trip to some thrift stores one of these days. I finally made the trip to the Pasadena Alco and visited the antique store next door. I did not find much in the way of electronics or retail memorabilia there. The Alco in Pasadena by the way has a full inventory and was a good place to shop. I don't know what they are doing to the Gessner store, but Pasadena is a normal store.
    I also recently finished gathering photos and information on the other 3 Deauville Malls that I have not covered here yet. The Stafford Deauville is mostly surrounded by a fence now so there is not much available space to take pictures. The bay area Deauville is a shopping center now, but the design of the exterior walls is still left from the Deauville era. The Kingwood Deauville is open as a medical center and still very much looks like a mall. The interior of the Spring Deauville and the interior of the Kingwood Deauville look very much alike.

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    1. they did the same thing with a rug sale at Macy's at sage when it closed. I wonder why they never has a rug section at that store

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    2. I guess the companies that take over the closing sales have stockpiles of rugs that they bring in to get rid of.

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    3. I don't think its the companies that take over the closing sales because the rug I bought was at other Macy's stores that have rugs.

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  33. Part I:

    It is good to hear that the Pasadena Alco is still operating as a normal store. What did you think of the store as compared to recent trips to Kmart, Target, and Walmart? Obviously it is smaller, but aside from that, what did you think? I don't know what is going on with the Gessner store, but hopefully it will return as a normal store like it was last year.

    I hear very good things about the Alamo Thrift Store across Spencer Hwy. from the old Montgomery Ward (BTW, there are pictures of inside the flea market in that Wards here). I've never been to an Alamo Thrift so I can't comment on it personally and I don't know if they have a lot of vintage electronics. Some thrift stores are much more expensive for electronics than others, but sometimes the pricing can be inconsistent. I remember seeing one thrift store that had a very, very basic Sanyo cassette deck for $30 and a Technics dbx cassette deck next to it for like $18. I'd say both were priced a bit high, but the dbx deck should have been much more expensive than the basic deck!

    Of course, as always, I recommend that you try out anything that you buy as much as possible at a thrift store before buying it. I saw a White-Westinghouse Hi-Fi VCR at another thrift store I went to on Monday that almost certainly was from a Kmart. I plugged it in and it turned on ok, but it seemed to have a bit of a tape eating problem when I inserted a tape. I was able to get the tape out without doing any damage to the tape though fortunately. My initial guess was that it is a belt related problem, but I decided not to buy that VCR even though it was only $4 something. A pretty basic VCR like that isn't really worth the hassle of trying to repair even if it would have been a bit neat to have a Kmart VCR (though I never viewed Kmart as being a go-to place for VCRs like I considered Wards to be).

    Yeah, I think Kmart has had Thom McAn for a while. I found an online copy of the 1998 Kmart annual report and they have a thing about Thom McAn on the Kmart brands section of the report. I'm not really sure why some Kmarts have K-Cafes/Little Caesar's and why many others don't. Perhaps they look at the sales of food at each store and then decide. I don't know. Anyway, here's a vintage K-Grill photo and here is another (actually, you can see a lot of vintage 1970 photos of that San Jose Kmart store here).

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    1. I liked Alco; the store has the feel of an older discount store even though the signage in the store is new. The size of the store limits what they can display, but they have a good selection for the store size. The interesting thing about the store is that there are giant A/C vents like at Kmart stores in the Alco and the Antique store next door. I am not sure if this location was ever a Kmart, but it may have been.
      I visited the Alamo Thrift store and the other thrift stores down Spencer when I used to live in Pasadena. The Alamo had some electronics and used arcade games for sale, but I don't remember a large selection of electronics. I have some photos of the flea market across the street. The market still looks like a Montgomery Ward in some parts and Montgomery Ward stickers are still on some doors with the store hours sign and www.wards.com
      I could use another VCR for my house, so I may be checking out some thrift stores.
      Thanks for the information and photos of the Kmart.

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  34. Part II:

    I'm surprised that Sears would sell bottled water. Maybe those were from the employees' lounge? Strange. It's interesting that you mention the Greenspoint Sears and rugs because we have some area rugs from the Greenspoint Sears that were purchased around 2000. They are Sears brand and made in Belgium of all places. I didn't remember Sears selling rugs at that point. I remember them having some back in the 1980s, but the only ones I had seen around 2000 were at the Sears Homelife furniture stores. That was a bit odd, but maybe Greenspoint Mall was one of Sears' rug showrooms or something. I don't know. We have some Kmart brand runners that were purchased around 1993-4 (from the Kuykendahl and 1960 Kmart I think) and some others from around 2000. They have held up very well for being as cheap as they were. I think modern Kmarts still sell those type rugs because I think I have seen them in various Kmart photos.

    I do miss Eckerd. I think they were better than Walgreens and CVS especially. There are a few freestanding Eckerds that were converted into CVS stores, but not all of them were. You're right that Eckerd was not as aggressive as Walgreens about building freestanding stores, but they did build some in the mid-1990s and then again right before CVS brought out their locations. Other Eckerds in other regions were sold at the same time by JCPenney to Jean Coutu and they converted their stores to the Eckerd name, but I believe those stores were brought out by Rite Aid later on.

    I didn't really care if drug stores were freestanding or not, but maybe other people did care especially if they wanted drive-thru pharmacies and stuff like that. Perhaps Eckerd was stuck in leases with shopping centers so they could not move as easily as Walgreens, but I don't know about that. There were some shopping centers Eckerd was in where the anchors were closed or struggling and that probably hurt some of the shopping center stores, but not all were like that. I think that you're right in saying that Eckerd was seen as being more innovative in the 1980s and the 1990s. It's a same that JCPenney didn't invest more in Eckerd when they owned them because I think Eckerd was a good store and I know a lot of people liked them. I guess drug stores are a bit like convenience stores, especially for the high mark-up general merchandise stuff, so perhaps Eckerd not having the prime locations like Walgreens and CVS hurt them.

    I look forward to your continuing series on the Deauville Fashion Malls. There should be some good posts coming. Hopefully you aren't still planning on retiring from posting new stuff after 2013 like you said that you would, but we should see a lot of good stuff before then even if you do stop posting new stuff.

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    1. Eckerd's probably was stuck in many of their leases at shopping centers to keep them from moving. I knew of a few dying shopping centers in both Texas and Louisiana where Eckerd was the last major tenant left.
      I am still considering retiring on posting new articles but I will at least slow down significantly on posting much like I have this year. I am aiming for bigger and more informative posts while gathering as much factual information as possible for the site. I am going to start updating all posts later this year with some posts consolidated into others.

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  35. Wow, that Alco is indeed a former Kmart #4398. It looks like it might have been from 1970 as well. Of course, there was another Kmart in Pasadena on Spencer Hwy. really close to the Montgomery Ward. That was Kmart #4024, a very early Kmart, and is an Extra Space self-storage facility now. That one still looks like a Kmart on the outside.

    That's pretty awesome that there is another discount store operating out of an old Kmart here in the Houston area. Perhaps this is a blog post worthy topic? Most people probably don't know about Alco so it could be an informative discussion.

    It does seem like there are a lot of thrift stores in the Pasadena area. I'd like to visit some of these stores and the Pasadena Alco store, but it is a pretty long trip from where I am. There were a few years where I spent a lot of time in the SE part of town, but that has been a while now. Of course, there are a lot of thrifts in the NW/N part of town. It seems like Goodwill stores are about as numerous around here as Starbucks. It seems like there aren't very many thrifts in the NE part of town for some reason, but maybe I'm unaware of some.

    I was able to do some research on the 18 remaining Texas Kmarts on Google Street View today. It looks like the only store with current signage is the McAllen store. That one, which is an older store with a trapezoid looking facade, has new signs on the front of the store, on the side of the store, and on the street sign. The Lubbock store, which is a converted ex-Super Kmart, has the new logo on the street sign, but has the older logo on the front of the store. Several Texas Kmarts seemingly have had the "Big" sign removed with the 1990-1 era logo remaining by itself. The Corpus Christi/Portland store is the most obvious case where this happened as there is major labelscar remaining.

    Two of the busiest looking parking lots that I saw, the McAllen store and Montana Ave. store in El Paso, also had Big Lots next to the Kmarts. Perhaps that is helping drive traffic to these stores? I believe that Eddie Lampert has or had a pretty big share of Big Lots stock, but I don't believe there is any relation between the two companies otherwise. The former local Kmart to me, the Jones Rd. and FM 1960 Kmart, was next to a MacFrugal's. Perhaps Kmart never should have closed that store, but this thing with Big Lots helping drive traffic to Kmart is just an observation based on two stores. It may be a pure coincidence. Also, quite a few of the remaining TX Kmarts, including the Lufkin one, are very close to malls with Sears in them. A lot of these malls are extremely busy, but a lot of these are next to the Mexican border so there are probably a lot of international shoppers. Finally, there are a couple of stores that have K-Cafe/Little Caesar's signs on them. The Abilene (K-Cafe) and Sweetwater (Little Caesar's) stores that are somewhat close to another are examples of this. These Google images may be outdated so perhaps there are other Kmarts with updated signage and stuff like that, but I'm guessing probably not.

    Hopefully you'll be able to find a nice VCR on sale if you're looking for one. You'll have no trouble finding VCRs in thrift stores, that's for sure, but finding one that works, has a remote, has nice features like Hi-Fi, and is priced reasonably can take a little patience. Every so often you'll find a thrift store that sells loose remotes, but that is pretty rare and the stores that do that don't always have those loose remotes for sale. I was able to find a Sharp remote that way for 99 cents at a Goodwill that works perfectly with my 3 Sharp built VCRs (1 regular Sharp, 1 Montgomery Ward Signature 2000, 1 Montgomery Ward Admiral).

    It is good to hear that you may still continue to post new blog posts after 2013.

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  36. I am on it; I got some photos of the Alco store that I will organize for a future article. I was looking for some clue of a former Kmart in the antique store because the inside of that store is plain and has been mostly gutted with the stockrooms open for merchandise displays.
    I almost made it to the Corpus/ Portland Kmart but I ran out of time when I made the visit there to document the Sunrise Mall. I wonder what kind of shape that store is in and I wonder why that one and Lufkin survived when so many others in major cities were closed. I can see the stores surviving in the Valley because of the high sales in the retail areas there. I need to go and check out some of these images of these stores and malls that I have not been to in a long time.
    Thrift stores are few and far between in NE Houston. For some reason only Humble and Atascocita have seen good retail development in NE Houston. There are some Goodwill stores and some small thrift stores in Humble. On my next off day, we will probably make it out to check out some thrift stores it has been a while since we went.
    Unrelated to retail though, I follow skyscraper development and Houston has a ton of new projects under construction or proposed for the next three years. It is a good time to be in Houston, I just hope the traffic doesn't continue to get worse. I like the skyscraper page forum over HAIF because more people post comments directly related to development in the city as a whole.

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  37. Part I:

    I'm glad to hear that you are doing a post about the Pasadena Alco/former Kmart. That should be a good article. There probably aren't very many 40+ year old ex-Kmarts that get repurposed for another discount store even nationally so this should be a good story. Sometimes you see Big Lots go into these old stores nationally, but not "regular" discounters like an Alco. Of course, an Alco in a big metro area is a pretty interesting story itself. Here is a brochure about that shopping center that may help you with your post. It seems like many ex-Kmarts were subdivided and converted into Hobby Lobby stores like this one. The local Jones Rd. and FM 1960 Kmart was converted into a Hobby Lobby, but the auto/garden and probably hardware sections were torn down to make room for a freestanding Walgreens. Both the Hobby Lobby and Walgreens moved from the shopping center across Jones Rd. to that old Kmart. The old Hobby Lobby was in an old Best store actually. I believe that Best is now a Fallas.

    The Corpus/Portland Kmart looks similar to the Killeen Kmart in that it has a modified mansard slice type facade. It's probably a very late 1970s/early 1980s store. The labelscar from the "Big Kmart" sign removal looks very tacky. It looks like they didn't even paint the old facade and it also looks like there are holes in the facade from where the sign used to be. It's ridiculous actually, but maybe they've fixed the sign since then since the Google Street View of that store is from 2011. I wouldn't be surprised if it is the same though. Street View actually has a very close in look of the store from the front entrance.

    I'm not sure why Kmart left those stores open. The heavily Hispanic serving border stores are one thing, but the East/Central Texas stores are another thing. I would think the logistics of stocking those stores would be very expensive, but perhaps those stores are cheap to operate otherwise. It's not like Kmart has monopolies on the discount store market in those towns either. I don't know. Maybe they just keep a few stores in this region so they can say that there are stores in this area. Who knows.

    You might not think of the Valley and El Paso as being thriving retail areas, but it looks like they are based on Google Maps aerial images of the parking lots. I think the international visitors from Mexico probably boosts those stores and malls though. It would be an interesting thing to look at especially with all the Kmarts around the border. There is a great amount of variety in Kmart architecture around Texas. It seems like just about every significant Kmart architectural design is represented amongst the operating Texas Kmarts.

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    1. Thanks for sending over the brochure about the shopping center. I will let you know when I plan on putting up that article. I still have a lot to do with all of the information I have from the Deauville and Buyer's Market Malls to get those posts up. My next one will be the Buyer's Market Mall Airtex and the post should be up in a few days. I am also putting together a major article on the Mall of the Mainland in Texas City. I have been compiling information and photos for this article for a while. This is probably the most endangered mall in the Houston area and their recent move to close over half the mall off to the public did not help to make this mall better.
      Yes, El Paso and the Valley do have some very busy retail districts. I worked for some restaurant companies in the past that opened locations in those areas.

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  38. Part II:

    I heard about the new Chevron tower in downtown. Spring/The Woodlands is seeing new towers going up with the Exxon campus and another tower being built by Anadarko (I think). More traffic is almost assured. This is Houston after all! I think those of you in the NE side probably have the least room to complain about it though as the Eastex and the new part of Hwy. 90 are amongst the most barren freeways in the metro area! I guess that's the trade-off for not having as many residents and retail. I live right near 290 so I certainly know about traffic! Fortunately, I don't have to use 290 as part of my commute, but I have in the past and it is a pain. I doubt the new construction will offer much long-term improvement. A wider freeway will just encourage more people to move out to far NW Houston. For example, I-10 near Katy is still a mess at times.

    Hopefully you'll have a good time thrifting. Aside from N/NW Houston (FM 1960 and Louetta in particular) and Pasadena, there are some good thrifts in the stretch between West Oaks, Memorial City Mall, and Spring Branch. You might want to check those out as well. Hopefully you'll be able to relay any information about which thrifts have good electronics sections once you go shopping. I have a pretty good feel for the N, NW, and some W Houston thrifts, but I don't know a lot about ones East of I-45. I had a good day thrifting after work today. I found a couple of blank VHS and audio cassettes in one Goodwill (no biggie really), but I found a pretty awesome pair of Infinity Sterling bookshelf speakers for <$8 for the pair. I think that's a really good deal. Thrift stores around here are notoriously bad about overpricing speakers, especially relatively junky shelf stereo and home theater in a box speakers, but these were very reasonably priced and they are in very good condition. I did some quick research and found that these speakers were probably exclusive to Circuit City in the early-to-mid 1990s. Thus, I hooked up a receiver to my computer with these speakers and cranked up this commercial that I'm sure that you remember from Circuit City's early days in this area.

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    1. I live close to 59 and yes we are fortunate that traffic is not too bad most of the time. I have tried driving 290 a few times going Northwest around rush hour and I had to get off the freeway and take side streets. I guess we can let the Woodlands have the development and we can keep the Eastex Freeway as it is. In just downtown Houston alone there are over 20 significant projects under construction or planned to break ground in the next two years. The Woodlands has the Andarko 2 Tower at 30 stories topped out which is the new tallest building for the Woodlands area (only by a few feet). There is a 20 story tower planned there also and rumors of a 40 story tower in early planning stages. I am sure there are many more projects that I have not heard about yet in that area. The I-10 Katy Freeway area is booming with office development. If you take the Beltway South and exit at I-10 going West you will see construction crane after construction crane on both sides of the freeway for about three miles. There are 6 buildings that you can see the cranes for from that exit ramp. There are several more towers beginning construction or about to break ground for construction. It is crazy the amount of development coming to Houston right now, it is much more than we had just before the recession of 2008.
      That Circuit City jingle gets stuck in your head, it is rare these days to see a commercial like this one where people remember the jingle. Commercials are more focused on using lame jokes and trying to be funny than using memorable jingles. It was a long time ago that the employees had to wear suits to work. I am sure at that time Circuit City paid their employees very well with commission. I think their demise was sealed when they decided to fire all the highly paid employees and offer them (or replacements) their jobs back at a lower rate.

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  39. Yes, it seems like commercials from back in the 1980s and maybe early 1990s were generally better, or at least more interesting, with their upbeat jingles and stuff like that than they are now. Of course, we'll see what people think about today's commercials 20-30 years from now. Who knows if the concept of TV commercials will even exist then. I think Circuit City's ad helped establish themselves as a professional store and not some sort of gimmicky operation with used car salesmen type customer service that was common with 1980s era electronics stores that tried to run low budget humorous commercials like Federated.

    The funny thing about that 1990 Circuit City commercial was that Sony Walkman Sports were featured several times. Maybe the Lufkin Kmart is on to something with featuring Walkman Sport equipment. Granted, Circuit City ran those ads in the early 1990s and Kmart is seemingly still using the Walkman artwork. Of course, Kmart is still in business and Circuit City isn't. Maybe Kmart is on to something! Ok, probably not, but I wonder if the Kmart Walkman Sport woman knows the dancing Circuit City Walkman Sport guys.

    Yeah, it wasn't all that long ago that salesmen at Circuit City, Montgomery Ward, Sears, and places like that wore suits and jackets. That is long gone at most places. I think Circuit City had a reputation for being more expensive than Best Buy and perhaps some people preferred the more self-service oriented and open style Best Buy stores. Circuit City tried to become more like Best Buy in their latter years, but I guess it never really worked out.

    The employee situation at Circuit City was a black eye for the company, but I think they knew shoppers wanted lower prices over better service so maybe it was the right move. It's hard to say. I think a stupid decision on Circuit City's part was to close their major appliance departments. They were the 2nd largest appliance retailer in the US at the time they did that and we see stores like Best Buy focusing more on appliances these days. I think appliances are key for electronics stores now because customers are more likely to buy that stuff locally rather than online. It seems like electronics retailers are more impacted by online sales than many other sectors. Also, many people are using their phones to do things that they would have done with discrete devices before. That's eating into electronics sales especially since the carriers are more than capable of providing phones to customers without electronics stores. Perhaps Circuit City thought that Lowe's and Home Depot would eat too much of their appliance market share, but I think there would have been room for them if they stuck it out.

    I'd probably take wide open roads instead of development if I had the choice unless I was working at one of those developments. I'm sure a lot of people who live in Katy work in the I-10 "energy corridor," but judging by all the traffic on I-10, it certainly seems that not everyone who lives there works there as well.

    NE Houston may not have the development of other parts of town, but at least it is a relatively easy ride into downtown and places like that. Perhaps that is a good compromise. As for 290, well, it is one long parking lot! Traffic, whether it be 290 or many other main roads, is probably the worst aspect of this part of town. I really don't know why so many commuters choose to live in this part of town given the traffic. Even 249 has become pretty bad at rush time.

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    1. I remember the late night commercials that were several decibels higher than the show you were watching. It went from watching a good show and being half-asleep to nearly jumping out of bed because of a loud furniture commercial. Here is one of those commercials that comes to mind from the New Orleans area that is loud but funny. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI7jC57GuZM
      Yes the appliance decision was one that took a huge profit making department away from their stores. The seemed to lose direction after that point in time. They were slow to evolve their stores and many were still the 1980's plug entrance stores that were still going until the end. The revamped appliance department at Best Buy has a bunch of high end stuff that seems overpriced. There is very little in a decent price range at least in the stores I visited. Sears still has them beat in the appliance department.
      I am surprised at what has happened to the Katy Freeway since the expansion just a few years ago. It went from being a traffic nightmare to being an even larger traffic nightmare. What is next a freeway on top of the current freeway to help traffic. I guess in hindsight, maybe a freeway should have been built between I-10 and 290 going Northwest but in the middle of both freeways. The rail system in the city is way behind on solving the traffic problems and the public has made it difficult to build rail with protests in some areas. 249 still has room for improvement if they reconfigure some of the exits and expand the freeway to I-45 and add more lanes to the north. The crazy part is that there is still a ton of land between 249 and 290 that can be developed. Another issue that hurts traffic is the retail centers on the service roads of the freeways. I know that retail centers especially malls rely on the traffic patterns of the freeways to be seen by customers. I guess the best option is to develop land smartly and leave enough green space to prevent over development of areas. I know that development is coming to Northeast Houston with the Beltway finally finished. Little by little the Northeast Beltway is gaining new developments like Fall Creek and Summerwood which bring thousands of new residents and retail centers to shop at which will increase traffic and the pattern continues at each exit on the freeway.

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  40. Part I:

    It seems like Best Buy is trying to go after some of the customers that Sears used to go after with The Great Indoors. Best Buy seems to be swinging for the fences by going after higher dollar customers with their Pacific Kitchen appliance collection and the Magnolia home theater departments. Perhaps it is worth a try, but I don't know how well it will work out. Best Buy isn't particularly renown for their customer service or the knowledge of their salesmen and that might turn off high dollar spenders.

    I know a lot of the small A/V boutique stores are struggling to survive because people come in to these stores to sample the latest and greatest in receivers, speakers, and stuff like that, but when they find ones they like in the high end stores, they turn around and buy the product online from a low-overhead e-tailer. Most of these A/V boutiques are surviving not on product sales themselves but on professional home theater installations. I've even heard suggestions from audiophiles that they should set up pay-to-sample clubs/stores where people can try out equipment before buying online without having to upset the few remaining boutique stores. I don't know if Magnolia competes on home theater installations, but they could suffer from the same problem on the product sales front with people sampling products in their store and then buying them online.

    Speaking of home theater installations and New Orleans, did you know that it has been said that the first ever home theater setup was designed and built by the Kirshman's Furniture store in Metairie in 1974. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that store and their role in electronic history.

    Wow, that Frankie and Johnny's Furniture commercial is so bad that it is good. Mattress Mack and the Hilton Furniture guy don't have anything on those characters. Magnavox used to sell TVs with a feature called Smart Sound that would limit the sound of commercials that played louder than everything else. I think they had the Smothers Brothers do a commercial for this feature back in the day, but I could only find this commercial promoting the feature. Of course, the loud commercial thing theoretically should not be a problem anymore since there is now a law banning them.

    Circuit City did have a mix of stores towards the end including the smaller format "The City" stores. Maybe those would have been more successful if they had more time, but who knows. I think it is very difficult for marginal electronics stores to survive in the current environment. They need to have at least one major feature where they are ahead of the competition. Fry's and MicroCenter both have a lot of choice and online store type pricing. They also seem to be very selective about expansion. RadioShack, who isn't totally healthy, at least has the convenience factor on their side which helps justify their high prices. As an aside, if you go to RadioShack's website, it looks like they have a slightly revised new logo. I wonder if there will be a push for their stores to get new signage. It's hard to say what Best Buy has in their favor, but I guess they have a lot of prime locations. I'm not really sure what Circuit City had that was superior to anyone else in their last few years.

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    1. I am not sure if high end electronics and appliances will help Best Buy. I think downsizing the stores and focusing on electronics at low prices will be the answer for Best Buy.
      I am very familiar with the Kirshman's stores in the New Orleans area but I did not know they were the first to demonstrate a home theater setup. Kirshman's has been gone for several years now, but there is still a sign in Houma across from the mall there. You can see it in my Southland Mall article.
      I went to the Circuit City store at Deerbrook Mall a few times before the company folded and the concept was much nicer than the older store it replaced. The store had a showroom type of feel with high ceilings. The video game sections had consoles to try out with chairs. The video games for the consoles surrounded the department in a circle. If they would have come out with that store design ten years before they did and kept appliances things would probably have worked out differently. Radio Shack has good specials and carries many electronic items that are hard to find from other stores besides Fry's and Micro Center. Radio Shack also used to have or still have catalogs in their stores to buy items that were from their warehouse. They had Atari 2600 games for sale in that catalog many years after the console was out of of print.

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  41. Part II:

    It would have been nice if 249 was a freeway all the way to I-45, but I don't think that is going to happen anytime soon. I think 249's biggest problem north of Willowbrook Mall is that the freeway ends just after Spring-Cypress and becomes a regular surface road before the freeway starts up again a few miles up the road. I don't know if there is a right-of-way land dispute or what that prevented the freeway from going straight through, but that causes a major bottleneck if you're going up to/from Tomball.

    One nice thing that I can say about traffic in this area is that the 249 freeway construction and FM 1960 underpass at 249 has really helped the traffic situation around Willowbrook Mall. It used to be terrible in the 1980s and 1990s, but it is better now. Of course, it is still pretty congested, but at least traffic moves at a reasonable pace most of the time. There are other areas in this part of town, like Hwy. 6 and FM 529, that are really, really bad. Some areas like 290 and Spring-Cypress have gone from having no traffic at all in around 2002-4 to being total gridlock from around 2006 onward. I try to avoid the Cypress area as much as possible because of the traffic and because a lot of the retail in that part of town is physically unattractive IMO.

    I'm wary of 290's expansion because of what happened to I-10. I think they'll add more lanes, people will think that the traffic problems are solved and will move out this way even more than they are now, and then things will be just as bad as they were again. It's frustrating especially for those of us who remember this area even before 290 and 149/249 were freeways. It might have been better if people considered the East side over where you live so the city would be more balanced out, but oh well I guess.

    I'm not sure if commuter rail will ever get much support out here. Even if it was successful, I think it will just encourage more sprawl. I don't know if autonomous cars will take off en masse, but if it does, I think it could radically change the ways metro areas are developed just like how cars created the suburbs back in the day. I think autonomous cars will lead to more sprawl and lower population density. It could change the retail scene dramatically as there might be less desire for people to live close to things like malls and grocery stores. Perhaps it will encourage major flight from current tract home communities with retail development surrounding them into more country living for the upper middle class. We'll see about that though. There are a lot of "what ifs" involved.

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  42. The Grand Parkway expansion will increase sprawl and traffic issues if more freeways connecting the Beltway to the Grand Parkway are not built. The freeways are spaced farther apart as you drive away from the center of the city.
    I had not driven past the Spring Cypress exit on 249 in years and I am surprised that the freeway ends and then starts again. It just does not make sense especially with development going Northwest.
    I remember when 1960 used to take forever to drive across. The I-45, Kuykendahl, and 249 intersection re-configurations helped to move traffic but there are still a few areas like at Veterans Memorial that need work. It all goes down to smart planning. If they had planned 1960 differently the traffic may not be as bad.

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  43. Part I:

    I think you are right about Best Buy and how they should focus on lowering their prices to online levels if possible. It may not be possible with Best Buy's costly real estate. People would probably buy their stuff directly from Best Buy instead of showrooming at Best Buy and then buying online if Best Buy's prices were competitive with online prices. I know Target and perhaps others like Best Buy will match Amazon prices (at least during the Christmas season, but some do it even otherwise), but that does not always work well as sometimes Amazon has 3rd party vendors that are cheaper than they are even and I'm not sure if those prices are matched. Plus, there are other online vendors aside from Amazon that I'm not sure if B&M stores will match without a fight. Besides, some people may not want to go through the hassle of getting something price matched.

    Best Buy seems to be going toward a "store within a store" concept. Some of those stores within a store are in-house things like Pacific Kitchen and Magnolia, but others are 3rd party like the Microsoft thing that they recently announced. I don't know about that. I guess it is one way to use up floorspace, but I don't know how well it will work. Something like the Microsoft store deal might work if Microsoft provides skilled employees to answer pre-sales questions and stuff like that and then Best Buy can sell the customer something at a competitive price. I'm not sure if things will work out that way though. Microsoft probably wants an Apple Store type deal (of course, Microsoft Store does have some mall storefronts as well) where they can sell products at high markups. That only works for Apple because there is high demand for their products and because Apple has strict control over the prices that other retailers sell Apple goods at. Microsoft probably does not have that kind of demand to make things work well. I'm not even sure if it is sustainable for Apple because it seems like the demand for Apple is perhaps diminishing a bit as some Android products seem to be making headway towards becoming "trendy."

    A lot of the things that Best Buy sells are becoming tough to make money on. Cell phones are eroding the demand for things like car stereos, portable music players, portable gaming systems, camcorders, and P&S digital cameras. Home hi-fi is a diminished market for sure. The market for VCRs, DVD, and Blu-Ray players is probably diminishing with the rise of online streaming. Movie and music sales are being eaten by online streaming and downloads. PC software just doesn't seem to be as popular as it was and gaming console makers seem to be pushing more and more for downloadable games instead of disc-based games that are brought in stores (though fortunately IMO there is some level of consumer resistance toward this trend). People are keeping their computers longer it seems and computer repair services probably aren't as popular as they used to be with new computer prices being as low as they are. Most people have home wireless networking now so that isn't so profitable anymore.

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    1. It seems that Best Buy will have to downsize their operations in the long run which is unfortunate because of the many people employed by the company. It seems they are being attacked in almost every department by other competitors. There are many chains that are doing things better than they are. Gamestop, Radio Shack, Fry's, Sears, and Apple are direct competition to most of their departments. Redbox is hurting them in the DVD and Bluray sales departments also. They are going to have to add more departments and decrease the product selection in many other departments that are being hit by showrooming. A similar concept to Service Merchandise without the jewelry would be a start for Best Buy. Home and Garden departments would give Best Buy more of a one-stop shop advantage and are more likely to be an impulse buy than a television.

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  44. Part II:

    Electronics stores received a major boost with digital HDTVs. There were a combination of factors that made them very popular. First, people wanted HD quality. That alone might not have sold a lot of TVs, but the fact that flat panel TVs are much smaller (even with bigger screens) allowed them to have a much higher WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). Not to be stereotypical, but the guys wanted HDTVs for the quality and screen size, women wanted them because they were smaller and fit in better with home decor. That's what you call sales! Plus, the switchover to digital TV caused confusion and probably helped create some new sales. Well, HDTV mania has subsided a bit. People that wanted them probably have them by now. Prices are falling (perhaps because of falling demand) and so electronics stores are hurting even more now. They're hoping that "smart TVs," 3D, and 4K Ultra HD will create a new surge of TV buying, but I don't see that really happening. People aren't really interested in stuff 3D as it currently exists. Some may want Ultra HD in a few years, but it won't have the WAF that current HDTVs had/have since both will be similar flat panels. People may buy TVs when their old TVs break, but the electronics stores probably aren't happy about that.

    Yeah, RadioShack has sold some out of date stuff over the years. I think they were still selling reel-to-reel audio tape until sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s. They still sell a shoebox cassette recorder. Granted, so does Walmart, but Walmart's is a DC bias machine and the RadioShack one is AC bias. In other words, the RadioShack one creates much better recordings. Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the compact cassette by Philips (same company who came out with the compact disc). I believe it was invented in 1962 (the year of the discount store), but I believe it wasn't publicly announced until 1963. Regardless, it is impressive that a pretty similar shoebox recorder is still being made/sold 50 years later.

    I know RadioShack has said that they want to reengage the electronic enthusiast crowd and I hope they do and are successful doing so. I think that there is only so much that RadioShack can do with cell phones given all the competition in that realm and stores like Walmart sell most of the batteries and cables that RadioShack sells for a fraction of the cost. I know RadioShack tries to sell GPSes, cameras, and stuff like that, but I don't know how much of a market there will be for those in the future. If nothing else, there are a lot of competitors selling that stuff.

    I think it makes sense for RadioShack to sell electronic enthusiast stuff as most places don't have competitors selling that stuff (we do in Houston with Fry's to some extent), and while they may have to compete with online retailers in that sector, I think there is room for a B&M retailer. Someone who is repairing something and needs a capacitor to finish the job or some solder may want to buy the stuff at a B&M store ASAP instead of waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

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    1. The factor of getting the product now is what will keep Radio Shack relevant but it will be difficult for the concept to keep the amount of stores open that they currently have. Walmart does sell items cheaper but how much of a hassle is it to go there? I know that getting a video game or anything out of a locked case can take a very long time and you have to pay at the video counter. You also have to walk through the store and usually a long way in the parking lot just to get one thing. Radio Shacks in shopping centers are easy to get in and out of, but mall locations can be a hassle also. Radio Shack also could join forces with another retailer such as Bed Bath and Beyond to increase sales while adding another department to another retailer.

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  45. Part III:

    249 is a strange situation with the way the non-freeway segment between Tomball and Willowbrook Mall. It's a real bottleneck as you can imagine and it probably does hurt growth somewhat. Of course, that is an area that has boomed in the last 20-30 years, but perhaps it could have grown more.

    You can't mention 249 without mentioning the impact that Compaq had on this side of town. Compaq was normally seen as being a boring company, but John Cleese did a series of commercials for Compaq UK back in the day that were quite hilarious. I can't link them all here as there were many, but you can find them by searching for John Cleese and Compaq on YouTube. Here's one that is very funny (I guess you would have to know what a 386 is and what a 32-bit bus is to get it) and here's a funny one that goes after Apple buyers.

    FM 1960 traffic flow has improved over the years. You're right about Veterans Memorial being one of the few intersections on 1960 that is still pretty bad. Perhaps they will build an underpass there as well, but that might hurt some of the retail in that area like North Oaks while construction is underway. Either way, it's still quite a bit better than Hwy. 6 in areas like the FM 529 intersection during peak hours. That intersection is a total disaster, but the retail in that area seems be doing very well. Anyway, that is why I prefer to shop on the 1960/Willowbrook side of the area. Traffic is better that way.

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    1. Compaq definitely had an impact on the 249 area, but their computers were terrible. The commercials are funny and Cleese is a great comedian. The few times I have traveled on Hwy 6 near the evening rush hour have taken a long time and many of the stoplights hold traffic back. Some of the stoplights only let traffic by for a few cars at a time and they are not synchronized which also backs traffic up.

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  46. My sincerest apologizes for my long-windedness! Here's Part IV:

    I don't know if you've heard about this or not, but it seems that the 3 Houston area Sears Outlet stores are the first Sears Outlet stores to become franchised. In fact, it sounds like they'll be having a special event at the stores on July 12-13 at the 3 stores to celebrate. Sears Outlet is part of a spun-off company from Sears Holdings, but Sears is still a major part of that company.

    We know that Sears/Kmart has been closing stores across the country in order to make money from their real estate holdings. I wonder if there is any possibility that Sears may try some sort of franchising type deal with Sears mainline or Kmart stores in order to expand the chain. They could do something like what they do with the Sears Hometown stores where Sears would own the inventory and stuff like that, but a private business owner could pay for the lease and stuff like that. Perhaps Sears/Kmart could gain a lot of stores back without having to spend a lot of money if they did something like that.

    A franchised or semi-franchised large store like Kmart or Sears would be quite odd, but it could give someone like Kmart an edge against the competition. A lot of people aren't happy that mega corporations like Wal-Mart and Target have such a large chunk of the retail sector, but perhaps Kmart locations could market themselves as the "local" alternative with a local type owner. Perhaps customer service could improve as well if franchise owners emphasized that, but I guess it could go in the other direction as well.

    I know it is a crazy idea, but perhaps it is something that would help stop/slow down the decrease in Kmart and Sears stores across the nation. It could allow Sears itself to continue to sell off real estate assets while perhaps still keeping stores in particular markets. Perhaps the local owners might be more willing to invest in keeping their store buildings current. Having more stores makes sense as it would increase the power of marketing. I occasionally see/hear Kmart TV, radio, and Internet ads, but we don't even have Kmarts here. They are wasting their money advertising here, but I guess they have to do that when they have national advertising campaigns. Anyway, call me crazy, but I thought that I would throw that idea out there.

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    1. I read that Sears was looking into franchising for some of their stores, but that was around 2011. Many restaurant companies use franchisees to expand their brand or unload stores that the company does not want to spend resources on to fix up. The franchisees would have to have the same buying power that Sears would have in purchasing inventory or it would not work. A locally franchised store would have the insight on what their customers want that a corporate store may not have. A franchisee would be able to modify their stores to a certain extent on the agreement where corporate would not allow any deviation to store standards except under certain circumstances. I think this is a great idea and will hopefully benefit these entrepreneurs and Sears. This is a good way to bring back small businesses to a retail scene that has been dominated by major retailers for many years.
      I would like to see a competitor here in the Houston market such as Alco that will make a large push into the area to compete with Walmart and Target. Alco's two stores is a start but they need several more to be competitive here. Maybe a retailer such as Meijer will make a large push in the Houston market in the future. I would like to see Kmart come back, but it would take several Kmarts opening here at the same time for Kmart to survive here again. Who knows though, Walmart seems to be losing market share and pissing people off constantly so their reign at the top may be coming to an end. I used to frequent Walmart stores several times a month, but I maybe go once every three months now. I prefer Target and I know that I will find items for a good price with a fast checkout. You never get a consistent experience there with inventory constantly changing and discontinuing products. The checkouts there are sometimes fast, sometimes several people deep with a long wait. You just never know what you will get when you go to a super center. Here is an article about one of the problems facing Walmart recently http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-24/wal-mart-plasters-stores-with-green-dots-to-stay-stocked.html

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  47. I agree that Best Buy needs to do something. Going even more no-frills and perhaps leaving some of more expensive leases may be one solution. Perhaps copying the Conn's model by selling furniture and outdoor power equipment is another solution. That would put them in solid competition with Sears, Lowe's, and Home Depot though and I'm not sure if Best Buy can compete well with those. It seems like Conn's makes their money on financing, but I'm not so sure if Best Buy can compete as well in that regard. Perhaps selling affordable "hip" furniture may be a solution. Ikea is so popular, but they aren't really imitated that much as far as I can tell. There was STØR, which we had in Houston before Ikea, but that was so much of an Ikea knock off that Ikea sued them. Apparently that STØR, as well as the Ikea that replaced it, were/are franchised. According to Wikipedia, the Houston Ikea was/is one of the few franchised Ikeas in the world.

    I've heard of at least one RadioShack store within a store thing. Apparently there is a Kroger in North Carolina that has a RadioShack in it. Odd, but maybe they're on to something.

    Walmart can be a pain to navigate. Target too, but perhaps to a lesser extent. Still, sometimes the price difference between RadioShack and others is so much that it is worth the pain. It's not like RadioShack's checkout process is renown for being quick. I don't think they still ask for your phone number and stuff like that, but still, it can take a little while. RadioShack isn't always super expensive on everything though, but there are things that I would avoid buying there unless they have a sale. Batteries and popular cables are amongst the products that can be insanely highly priced at RadioShack.

    Walmart has had some new challenges the last few years, but I don't think the wheels are falling off like they did for Kmart in the 1990s. We'll see, but it seems like the popular trend now is for downsized stores. I know Walmart has some downsized concepts, but I don't know if we'll see those here aside from the Neighborhood Markets that we've had for quite some time now. Smaller stores like Dollar General seem to be gaining ground especially since a lot of those stores focus on convenience. To that extent, Alco might have a chance, but I think it might be difficult for Alco to compete against the established competition since Alco is used to competing in small markets where there may be little to no competition. Alco has to be sure to keep their prices competitive if they want to have a chance. I'm hoping that they are able to make it because it would be nice to have a discount store that sticks to the basics and does it well.

    I think the franchise (or quasi-franchise like the Sears Hometown stores) idea could be a good idea for Sears and Kmart. Stores are closing left and right for various reasons so they need to do something or they won't have much left. Of course, as soon as I posted what I wrote earlier about Sears franchises, I read about this lawsuit that Canadian Sears Hometown store owners are lodging against Sears. Perhaps that is just a Canadian thing though because it seems that at least some Sears franchisees here in the US, like the guys in Houston, are quite happy.

    As for Compaq, their consumer level computers were quite trashy. Of course, most of their competitors who were selling PCs at places like Best Buy were offering trashy consumer PCs as well. They were highly proprietary so I hated working on them. Their business Deskpro PCs were quite a bit better though even though they were proprietary as well. HP still calls some of their business desktops HP Compaqs.

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    1. Yes Radio Shack stopped asking for the personal information at the checkout, but I was hassled many times in the past when I did not want to be held up at the checkout line.
      I just don't shop at the Family Dollar and Dollar General stores. They get you by having brand name items for a solid $1 price but the size of the products will leave you paying more per ounce than at competitors.
      Conn's has the feel of an older style electronics store and does well with their financing options which sets them apart from other electronics stores. Conn's knows how to cater to their local customers and treats them well. Best Buy which is much larger than Conn's has to cater to their local markets and not use a one-size fits all approach to their stores. I just don't see Best Buy doing that, they seem to be caught up in adding more bells and whistles to their stores such as the Microsoft department. Their name does not even fit what they do which should be where they need to start. They need to offer true Best Buys for their products and then localize their stores.

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  48. I came across a couple of interesting RadioShack articles from the past week or two since I made my last post. Here is one article discussing new RadioShack pilot stores. Here is another article discussing RadioShack expanding their selection of audio products. The first article discusses how RadioShack is moving away from their wireless sales focus to a more well-rounded consumer electronics sales focus. It looks like RadioShack is also planning on training their employees more about electronics in general rather than just wireless.

    I think this is a step in the right direction. Neither article really talks about things that hardcore electronics buffs care about like electronic parts and toys (though the audio article does mention RadioShack's receiver options), but hopefully that is not indicative of those product lines being deemphasized anymore than they already are. I guess we can't expect RadioShack to go hardcore on stuff like Hi-Fi like in the 1970s and 1980s when the consumers are wanting more basic "Lo-Fi/Mid-Fi" things like Bluetooth speakers. It's not like RadioShack hasn't jumped on trendy bandwagons before like CB Radios and cell phones obviously. I don't have a problem with trendy products as long as they are also competitive in other areas as well. I think they were too focused on phones for quite some time.

    Either way, I'm a bit optimistic that RadioShack is moving toward the right direction again. Hopefully their prices will be more competitive, but I think their prices on the consumer electronics devices they sell now are ok. At least they are in the ballpark. Their "accessory" prices on stuff like popular cables are another story, but maybe there will be some improvement there too.

    I agree with you about Best Buy and Conn's. Best Buy is stuck with having uncompetitive pricing (so much for their name) and not so great customer service. That's not a good mix. Their model might have been fine when Circuit City was their biggest competitor, but the landscape has changed a lot since then. It's hard to say if RadioShack's changes will lead to positive business results, but at least they are trying things that seem like good ideas. It's time for Best Buy to do the same. Oddly enough, I remember some rumors a year or two ago of Best Buy buying RadioShack, but I think those discussions have gone quiet.

    I also agree that the "dollar stores" that often aren't are more expensive than the competition on some things. It's been a long time since I've been to either of those stores, but I do look at their prices in the weekly ads and I'm rarely all that impressed. Nevertheless, they do have small format stores close to neighborhoods so they do have that convenience store atmosphere going for those who like that kind of thing. Perhaps the prices aren't so special compared to Target, but they are probably better than other "convenience" stores like CVS and Walgreens. Perhaps that is why they have been successful.

    There was a very, very interesting six page article about Sears/Kmart and Eddie Lampert on the Bloomberg Businessweek website today. There's a lot of interesting stuff in it and I'd say that it is a must read for anyone interested in Sears/Kmart. One of the things that made me laugh was the chart on page 3. Capital expenditure per sq. ft, 2012: Target $10.12, Walmart $9.36, Sears $1.51, Kmart $1.04. I guess it should be obvious why Targets seem a lot nicer than Kmarts! The article is a fascinating read.

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    1. I am sure Radio Shack is going after the high end headphone market which can probably lead to large profits if they can compete against the many chains that have already established a good headphone section. Radio Shack has to be a customer oriented business because they don't have much floor space in their stores to carry a large selection of products. The same point I made with Best Buy localizing their stores is what Radio Shack also needs to do. Especially since the stores are much smaller than most of their competition. I like the way Fry's attacked Best Buy when they came to Houston and put up a banner saying your Best Buys are always at Frys.
      The dollar stores are much better than going to a gas station and buying items, but they are not much better than Walgreens or CVS on pricing. At the national drugstores you can find several buys in their weekly ad, but it takes time if you want to save money. You also have to know what the regular price is on an item because companies will slap an item into a sales ad, but they don't discount the price and use wording such as "featured item".
      I am not surprised at the major difference in expenditures for the stores. Mostly the only remodeling that Sears and Kmart has done is mostly changing plastic aisle markers and new paint here and there.

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  49. Part I:

    I think RadioShack is a fairly significant player in the headphone market. Headphones are a pretty big business right now. A lot of people have become interested in vintage and vintage styled headphones. It seems that the Beats headphones have become a trendy fashion accessory, but I've heard that their actual audio performance is quite lousy especially for their price range. I guess I should not be surprised by that given that trendiness and performance have not always been strongly correlated. See Bose as an example of that!

    Although RadioShack may not focus so much on phones, I'm sure that they will stay focused on phone and tablet accessories. I suppose headphones and Bluetooth speakers are examples of audio accessories for those devices. Tablets and phone/tablet accessories have probably been the few bright spots for electronics retailers in the last few years so it makes sense for retailers to stay focused on those areas. Of course, a lot of different kinds of retailers are jumping in the phone/tablet accessories game. I saw a lot of "designer" tablet cases and stuff at Macy's and I just saw a Bed, Bath, & Beyond ad that had an iHome iPod dock or something on the cover and similar type accessories presented several times in the ad itself. iHome is an interesting brand as the company behind them is the same company that made the el cheapo Soundesign stereo stuff back in the 1980s and 1990s. You might remember them.

    I came across another recent article discussing how RadioShack is hoping to emphasize their DIY products. That is a good thing. Hopefully that works out. It seems that their new CEO came from Walgreens where it seems that he was involved with some of their house brands. Perhaps we can blame him for the odd Studio 35 rebranding that we mentioned earlier! Either way, I wonder what he is going to do with RadioShack's house brands. There was a time not so long ago where almost everything RadioShack sold was a house brand. Of course, RadioShack in the past was even more guilty of house brand swaps than Walgreens is now. The article even alluded to that. Some of their major electronics went from being called Realistic to Optimus, then to Memorex, then back to Optimus, and then eventually they were able to use the RCA name. All of that in about a 10 year span! They sell more name brand stuff now, but they still use the Auvio brand for a few of the store brand audio stuff they sell. They still have a few other house brands like Gigaware and Enercell batteries. It'll be interesting to see if they expand the selection of house brands again.

    It seems that you are into video games. Do you remember Radio Shack/Tandy's attempt at a video game console, the Memorex VIS? The VIS was about as successful as other CD/optical disc consoles of a similar vintage including the Commodore CDTV, the Philips CD-i, the 3DO, Pioneer LaserActive, Atari Jaguar CD, Sega CD, and the laughably bad Apple Pippin that came out a couple years later. I actually have a Panasonic FZ-1 3DO console, but I'd say the 3DO was probably more popular than the VIS. That's not saying much though.

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    1. No I don't remember that system surprisingly. The 3DO was a little more well known in the same category as the Jaguar and Sega CD. There are still many collectors that make homebrew games for these systems. There were so many fly by night systems in the 1980's and 1990's it is hard to keep track of them. Radio Shack hopefully will find their niche and remain an option for electronics.

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    2. I also forgot to mention, speaking of Atari they were going to move their corporate offices at one point in the late 1980's to the Deauville Mall in Kingwood that never opened. The deal fell through shortly after it was announced.

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  50. Part II:

    Best Buy has been trying some very small format Best Buy Mobile stores. There's one at Willowbrook Mall. I don't know how well those stores are working, but it seems that Best Buy's stock has been doing pretty well this calendar year. This article discusses some of the reasons why that might be the case including increased online sales, but they seem pretty pessimistic that Best Buy is only making a case for survival and not for growth.

    Walgreens and CVS do have a lot of advertised sales. I know Walgreens also has monthly savings book coupons and stuff like that in addition to the weekly coupons and sales. I suppose you can find good deals using those, but they may not be so convenient to the convenience minded shopper. I don't know if a Family Dollar or Walgreens would be cheaper for a list of 10 products that may or may not be on sale, but I'd probably be more surprised if Walgreens was cheaper especially on regular price items. Granted, drug store promotions can sometimes be very good. For example, I've probably brought more audio cassettes from Eckerd and Walgreens than anywhere else over the years because they've almost always had promotions on one brand or another. It seems that Walgreens still has coupons for Maxell UR 90 cassettes quite frequently.

    Real dollar stores, like the 99 Cents Only stores, can have some pretty good deals especially for generic brand products. Sometimes the quality of those products can be dubious, but sometimes they work well enough or they have national brand stuff. Of course, even real dollar stores can be more expensive on some things and I'm not sure if I would trust dollar store products where there could be safety question marks like medicine or electrical products.

    I've heard that Sears is considering putting electronic signage inside some of their stores, but I don't know if that is going to be any sort of magic bullet. Sears stores generally looked better than Kmart stores before the Eddie Lampert takeovers so Sears stores generally aren't looking as desperate for makeovers as Kmarts. Still, both stores could use more than just a coat of paint and new department sign boards. That BusinessWeek article I linked earlier on Eddie Lampert really sheds some light on the malaise Sears and Kmart stores in particular are suffering right now.

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  51. The Best Buy results turnaround has probably been helped by the renovations to many of their stores. The price war seems to be helping also. I wonder how easy it is to get an item in the store for the price of an online competitor?
    I wonder what kind of electronic signage they are talking about? Televisions like at Walmart or electronic price signs like at Kohl's? Maybe they can go back to red neon like in the 1960's. I really don't know what that would help unless they are rolling out blue light specials where they are going to put the electronic signs. I wonder if Kmart even does those anymore, I have not seen one in a store in the last several years visiting Kmart's outside of our area. I am sure it is difficult to merchandise the right items for a blue light special that will generate interest from shoppers though. During the holiday season Sears has an interactive demonstration of some as seen on TV items similar to a blue light special in a way. I am sure they are losing money on those demonstrations as well because everyone takes off once the free stuff is given out to the crowd.

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  52. Part I:

    I am not quite sure what Sears is intending to do with digital signage. If you watch the video on this recent news article (dated with tomorrow's date), it shows a picture of a department sign when they mention the transition to digital signage. I'm not so sure if that is accurate though. I suspect that they may be thinking about moving away from paper shelf price tags to digital ones. Sears has so many sales that it is probably hard for them to keep their shelf price tags accurate. Digital price tags may help there. I'm not sure though. Maybe they really do mean digital department signs.

    I'm not sure how Kmart still uses the blue light specials. My understanding is that stores still have Blue Light Special carts and they sometimes put specially priced merchandise on those carts and leave them in the store somewhere, but I don't think they do the PA announcements and product demonstrations like they used to. I could be way off on that though, but that is my understanding. I believe Kmart still uses the blue light bulb guy as their mascot though. They also call their daily special on the Kmart website the Bluelight Deal of the Day.

    Kmart was emphasizing the return of the Blue Light Specials back in their last few years here in Houston. In fact, they even sold a line of computers that were called Blue Light PCs or something like that and they also had a free Internet ISP service called Blue Light. I used to use that back in the dial-up days occasionally and I may still have the CD-ROM for it here somewhere. I'm sure that service ended long ago.

    I read an article about Best Buy a week or two ago saying that Best Buy has been working on lowering prices and closing poor performing stores. While that has helped the situation somewhat, some investors still feel that Best Buy is stuck because although they have lowered prices, their prices are still too high. I can't find the link to that article now though and I don't even remember what site it was on. But, yeah, further lowered prices might be what investors want to see. The link I posted in the earlier article is interesting because they seem to be thinking that Best Buy might be making a case that they can survive, but it is still unclear if they can be a growing company again. The Best Buy Mobile stores and online growth are one thing, but the problems with the large format stores are another thing and the gains in one area are only covering up the problems in other areas. It's interesting, but I'm not sure how things will turn out.

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    1. Best Buy built their business on being a destination store. They expanded and put stores all over the place and now they will have to unfortunately shrink their large store base. Some stores will be better off going from 50,000 square feet to 10,000 or less to keep the stores open. I think Fry's had the right idea by how they expanded here in Houston. One store in the North, one store in the Southeast, and one store in the Southwest parts of town. Best Buy has over 25 stores in the Houston area which may or may not be too many.

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  53. Part II:

    Sometimes stores like Fry's and Micro Center are cheaper than the established mega online stores like NewEgg and Amazon. I was looking at speakers last year and Fry's was way similar to or cheaper than Amazon on most of the speakers I looked at. We're talking like over $150 cheaper on some popular speakers. There are other e-tailers that might be cheaper, but sometimes people don't trust e-tailers they don't know. I know some people prefer to buy hard drives from places like Micro Center because the prices are competitive and because NewEgg has a reputation for not packing hard drives well for the abuse they usually get by UPS and FedEx. As far as the ease of getting an online price matched at places like Best Buy and Target, I'm not sure. I've never tried it. I do wonder how easy it is and if there are any hidden limitations.

    Some early CD-ROM consoles like the Memorex VIS, Philips CD-i, Commodore CDTV, and Apple Pippin were intended to be living room easy-to-use computers instead of just video game consoles. I guess they tried to be more modern day home computers like the Commodore 64. Some of those consoles, like the VIS, were made up of outdated PC hardware with modified PC operating systems. Obviously, consumers weren't interested in such things. Those who wanted PCs brought real PCs and seemingly those who just wanted video games brought consoles that were heavily marketed for their video game capabilities and had more reasonable prices. A lot of the failed consoles had really lousy no-name games, but not all of them. The 3DO had some big name games, but it still flopped probably because of the prices.

    I did not know about Atari being interested in the Kingwood Deauville Mall. That would have been interesting, but I'm not sure if it would have made much of a difference as Atari was putting out one sales dud after another for many years.

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    1. I have not bought any major items from an online site, I just don't trust the return process if something is not right. For major purchases such as a TV or computer I always open up my package and look at it before I leave the store. I am sure this drives the employees crazy, but I don't want to take my chances leaving with a broken item and not being able to return it. I prefer making purchases with Comp USA because they have great sales and the service is better than at most places. I think their staff makes commission which motivates them to get out and help customers instead of hiding or stocking shelves and having the customer having to go look for help.
      I am sure Atari would have modified the building greatly and we would not be able to walk around a mostly unchanged structure like the hospital has kept it. The hospital just keeps growing, but the main mall building still looks like the Spring Deauville Mall. I also wonder what would have happened with the hospital deal if Atari would have located to the mall building.

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  54. Part I:

    I believe the Greenspoint area Fry's opened a year or two before the other two Houston Fry's. I'm not sure about that though. I think the cautious growth of Micro Center and Fry's is a good thing. Of course, I believe those two companies are both private so they don't have the pressure from Wall Street to expand, expand, and expand even if there isn't a clearly defined business model. They can focus on operating stores in areas where they know they will do well. Of course, both Micro Center and Fry's are a bit of a drive from me so I generally only make occasional visits to those stores if I really need something or if I'm in the area for another reason. I have taken ads from those stores to more local stores in my area to have prices matched a couple of times when I didn't feel like making the drive. Of course, some stores like Sears will take 10% off the difference in price when you get something matched. That makes it even more advantageous to get the price matched especially if there is a big difference in price.

    I know that Best Buy has rebuilt/relocated a lot of their stores over the years. The Willowbrook area store was rebuilt some years ago. They built a new store behind the old one while the old one was still open (I think they may have torn down a little bit of the old store to make room) and then tore down the old building and turned it into more parking. They did need more parking at that location (at least back in the day), but perhaps Best Buy is wishing now that they had the old store instead of the new one in terms of floorspace. Interestingly, there was an 84 Lumber on that land before Best Buy originally opened there. Anyway, I think Best Buy does have too many stores in too many expensive areas. It would make sense for them to close underperforming stores, but I think they are doing that. Perhaps they should be even more aggressive in doing that. Perhaps a company like Best Buy is feeling the downside of being a publicly traded company as they may have been forced to overexpand during their heyday in order to provide more return to their shareholders instead of expanding in a calculated and methodical manner.

    My online shopping experiences have been mostly positive, but I don't do nearly as much online shopping as I have in the past. I think B&M prices have fallen in recent years while online prices have increased. That's not even including some of the sales tax loopholes that have been closing. There was a time where things online were almost always cheaper by a pretty fair amount, but that isn't always the case these days. Online shopping can be troublesome with regard to returns/exchanges, shipping damage, and theft of delivered goods on the doorstep. Ship-to-store options from B&M stores help solve a lot of those issues, but that does not really work with online only e-tailers. There are some instances where you have to buy online to get what you want or where online is still significantly cheaper. I also do think that online user reviews and the ability to check the inventory of items at B&M stores online has changed the way I shop though.

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    1. Yes you are correct Fry's opened at Greenspoint in 2000 or 2001. The Clear Lake store opened in 2004 and the Stafford store came in 2006 or 2007 I believe. Best Buy in the early to middle 2000's moved or expanded many locations into larger stores. Some of their store expansions in this area are puzzling though such as their store in Atascocita. There is a store on 59 less than 10 minutes away.

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  55. Part II:

    It is probably a good idea to check your items before you leave the store. Some stores can charge restocking fees (especially for electronics) so it is a good idea to make sure you're buying the thing you want. I don't know if this is still a problem, but I've heard of cases in the past of people buying a hard drive or video card or something like that and then coming home to find nothing but rocks in the box or an old hard drive that someone must have put in the box and returned to the store with the store just putting the product back on the shelf without checking. Perhaps those were cases of employee theft. I know of a lot of people who had problems with Best Buy in particular with this stuff happening. It's worth checking your stuff before you leave because stores may not believe you when stuff like this happens.

    I always advocate trying out thrift store electronics before buying them since you generally can't return electronics at thrifts, but even that isn't foolproof. I got caught out with that this weekend in fact. I found a Digital Stream DTV converter box (a RadioShack exclusive model I do believe) at a Family Thrift Center for ~$6 last Friday. I couldn't fully try it out in the store, but I did plug it in and it turned on and off ok. I figured I'd chance it for $6. Well, that was a major swing and a miss on my part. I brought it home and the power button would not work (it only stayed on on) and it wasn't displaying anything. I knew that these DTV converters, especially the RadioShack ones, were prone to having bad capacitors so I decided to open the case to take a look. Well, the thing had like 6 or 7 completely blown capacitors on the power supply board. The caps weren't just bulging, they were completely blown and leaky. The only other pieces of electronics that I've seen with so many blown caps at once was some early 2000s Dell motherboards. I'm surprised it even turned on and off in the store, but maybe power cycling it in the store was the final blow for this thing. I'm sure it would have been flaky if I was able to fully test it in the store though with all those blown caps. Well, that's $6 down the drain, but that's the way the thrift store luck wheel goes sometimes. I probably could fix the thing by replacing the blown caps, but it might be better to just recycle this one and wait to find a more reliable model. I did get a working Magnavox/Funai DTV converter box from the same thrift a couple months back and those have a better reliability reputation. Sometimes you just have to buy whatever you can find for cheap because those DTV converters don't show up at thrifts very often and the couple of that I've seen at Goodwills cost like $20-30 even without the remotes. They still go for $50-60 new (at B&M stores at least) unfortunately.

    Speaking of electronics recycling, one nice thing that Best Buy does is that they recycle most types of consumer electronics for free. I've never tried using their recycling program so I don't know if it is as simple as leaving your stuff with the guy at the door or if you have to fill anything out, but it would be nice if more places offered free electronics recycling for stuff like CRT TVs and stuff like that. It's illegal to throw away electronics in some areas since the stuff in e-waste can cause a lot of environmental damage, but there really aren't a lot of places to take your stuff for free. Obviously you can donate working stuff to thrifts, but it's hard to do things with broken stuff. You would hope that people wouldn't donate broken things because they often aren't tested before they go on sale, but I know that people do that anyway. Hopefully other electronics stores will get recycling programs going as well.

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    1. Wow Circuit City had customers that reported similar product complaints. I am sure theft is to blame on some of those cases. I guess buying second hand items comes with a risk, but you probably win more than you lose. The thrift stores we used to go to in Pasadena had great clothes and we always walked out with several items. I don't remember the electronics sections having too many items though. I have been to some of the larger thrift stores though and they had a good electronics section.
      Most furniture stores take away your used furniture when you buy new furniture, so Best Buy is taking that service to their stores which is a great move. It may even make people want to upgrade their electronics more frequently because of the hassle of getting rid of an old TV.

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  56. Part I:

    I actually read a Google review of the Portland/Corpus Christi Kmart and someone stated that they had an Xbox 360 shipped to the store. When they got it, it was clearly opened, had grass in the box (didn't say what kind of grass!), and it didn't work. I suppose something like that must have been employee theft if it was shipped to the store that way, but maybe they just pulled an Xbox 360 off the store shelf that had been returned that way. Who knows, but stores should be more careful inspecting returns and checking serial numbers and stuff like that.

    Yeah, Best Buy does have some locations in interesting places. Circuit City also did the replacement store thing at some of their locations. The Willowbrook area store comes to mind as it went from the original location next to the mall to being in the old Service Merchandise across 249 from the mall. The Almeda Mall area Circuit City and Best Buy (and the Target next to them) both relocated as well, but that didn't happen until after 2005 at the very least. I remember shopping at those three stores quite a bit around 2005. The Circuit City and Best Buy stores there were smaller than the original Willowbrook area Circuit City and Best Buy if I'm remembering correctly. I believe Colonel Audio and Video had a store running out of the old famous Indeterminate Facade ex-Best Products store in the early 1990s. I guess that was quite an electronics row across from Almeda Mall for a while at least.

    Of course, Best Buy has a mobile store in Willowbrook Mall and a regular store almost right across FM 1960 from the mall. Granted, perhaps the stores target different types of customers and it can be difficult making a left turn into the full Best Buy store there. The oddest situation may be the Willowbrook area EyeMasters/VisionWorks stores. For many years now there has been an EyeMasters/VisionWorks in the mall and one directly across the street in The Commons. The mall store relocated some time back from the main concourse to a location right near a mall entrance on the north side of the mall. The Commons store is actually very close to that part of the mall. It's very strange that they would keep those two locations after all these years, but perhaps there is a reason for having two stores so close together. Maybe they are operated independently with different optometrists or whatever, but I'm not quite sure how those stores work. I can't remember for sure now, but I think there was a time where Willowbrook Mall had two different Sam Goody stores in it. Maybe not, this would have been quite some time ago if it did happen so maybe I'm remembering something incorrectly.

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  57. Part II:

    Clothes are probably the most popular items at thrift stores. Housewares are quite popular too. Used furniture seems to be quite popular as well, but not all thrift stores carry a lot of furniture. Electronics/small appliances don't seem to be as popular as other departments for the most part, but the Family Thrift Center near Willowbrook in the old original Circuit City usually has a couple people in the electrical aisle. Some thrifts, like Goodwill stores, still sell old analog CRT TVs. I rarely, rarely see anyone looking to buy those, but I guess people must be interested or else they would not dedicate so much shelf space to those. I know most Goodwills charge way too much for old TVs bigger than the 13" ones or so. I'm thinking that they should be lucky if anyone wants to give more than $5 for any CRT TV other than HDTV CRTs perhaps, but I guess they think otherwise. That isn't a knock against the performance of CRT TVs. A lot of them have very nice pictures and better sound than today's flat panel TVs, but most of those have analog tuners and they are HEAVY. I know of a few people that don't know what to do with their old TVs. Old console TVs and anything bigger than a 27" seems to require a moving crew to handle. Even a 27" can be a hassle. I remember trying to move my old 27" Mitsubishi CRT when I gave it to someone. But, yeah, those old CRTs do work well with old standard definition video game consoles.

    Another thing that makes me scratch my head at thrifts are the prices of used DVD players. Thrifts are full of those and they usually want $20 or more for them. Most of them don't even have remotes. You can get a new DVD player for not much more (if not the same price) so perhaps thrifts should reconsider their prices on those things. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them didn't even work. The only $20 thrift DVD player I saw that might have been worth the price was a Denon Faroudja HDMI player. I did see a Pioneer HDD DVD recorder for $25 a week or two ago. $25 would be a steal for that if it works, but something like that would require a lot of checking to see if it works including plugging it in to a TV and I didn't have the time to do that. I'm not even sure if it would be possible to check everything without the remote and a blank DVD. Oh well.

    There was one time that I brought something, a mid-level JVC S-VHS ET VCR, that checked out okay in the store, but was DOA when I brought it home. I was able to fix that one (a cable came loose inside the unit), but it developed unrelated tape transport issues soon after. JVC makes some nice VCRs, but a lot of their VCRs from the mid 1990s until the time that they rebranded other VCRs had garbage build quality. I ended up just scrapping that one for parts because I knew that VCR would be one headache after another based on the experience I had with a JVC VCR of a similar vintage that I brought new from the Colonel Audio and Video on I-45 near FM 1960 back in the day. I may buy another thrift store JVC VCR if it is a very high end S-VHS or D-VHS VCR with a TBC and stuff like that, but otherwise I try my best of avoid them no matter how tempting they may be.

    Oddly enough, that JVC S-VHS ET VCR from the thrift store that I ended up scrapping came with a tape with a home recording from the Playboy Channel on it from the thrift store. I guess someone donated that VCR with that tape in it. I actually suspected that the tape in that VCR had something like that on it even before I knew what was on it. Stuff like that isn't surprising when you're used to dealing with used electronics I guess. It's probably a good thing that I didn't try that VCR out on one of the thrift store TVs with that particular tape in it! That VCR may have been a waste of money, but at least I got a good laugh from it.

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    1. I got a used dvd player once and found a copy of Super Troopers inside. I know there has to be a glut of non-flatscreen televisions and nobody wants them anymore for the most part. Video games can work well with newer televisions but it takes the right connections. I found some cables that really improve the quality of the pixelated graphics that older systems have. I really need to check out some thrift stores one of these days when I am off.

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  58. It certainly helps to use S-Video, component, VGA, or whatever else kind of connections your vintage video game consoles (or any kind of standard definition device) has support for instead of the regular composite or RF connections. I know of some people who prefer CRTs for standard definition video gaming over flat panels for a few reasons. Some (if not all) of these factors aren't applicable to high quality flat panel TVs though. For one thing, flat panel displays have to upscale standard definition video since they can't natively display that resolution. Some flat panel TVs have low grade scalers that can make images look very bad. Some TVs are much better in this regard though. Also, some people like to stretch 4:3 video (which most vintage games have) to fit the whole screen instead of displaying the video in 4:3 with black bars at the side. Some TVs stretch video better than others so it does not look as distorted.

    Composite video can suffer from what is called dot crawl. You may recognize this as a bit of a checkerboard type of distortion in the image. You can see this on CRTs as well, but flat panel TVs (especially really big ones) can magnify the effect in my experience. TVs with good comb filters can help reduce this, but it isn't perfect. Using S-Video or component cables if possible helps eliminate this.

    Some video games with static image elements can cause screen burn-in. This can happen with all kinds of displays, but some types like earlier plasma displays are quite susceptible to it.

    I've heard some people complain that there is a bit of a delay/lag in gaming with flat panel TVs. This is probably more of a problem with lower grade TVs though. But, yeah, having a better TV can make these factors a non-issue. The good thing about HDTVs, at least for a while, is that they came with all kinds of inputs. My LCD from 2008 has 4 HDMI ports, 2 component inputs, S-Video, VGA, and composite. I noticed that a lot of TVs now have maybe 1 component input and often that is shared with the composite input. I don't know how common S-Video and VGA inputs are these days, but it would not surprise me if many TVs don't have inputs for those (especially S-Video). It would not shock me if component and perhaps even composite inputs are eliminated sometime soon. Maybe that is already happening, but I'm not sure. Composite/S-Video to HDMI converters can be purchased, but they are probably around $50 or so.

    I probably should have mentioned this in the other post that I made today, but it is relevant here as well so I guess I'll mention it here. I saw the Babbage's in that old 1991 San Jacinto Mall video and that brought up old memories of the Babbage's and Software Etc. at Willowbrook Mall. I believe Greenspoint Mall had an Electronics Boutique over near the Oshman's. It's interesting how all those names, including FuncoLand who had a location in The Commons across from Willowbrook Mall, ended up becoming GameStop. It seems that at least a couple GameStops (one, two) live on with the Babbage's name though. There was a very interesting lengthy article published earlier this year about someone's memories of working at the Baybrook Mall area Babbage's for a few years in the 1990s. I think it is the Baybrook Mall Babbage's at least. That location may have been in a shopping center and not in the mall itself. Well, it's a location in Houston for sure. It seems that you're into vintage video gaming and obviously retail so maybe you'll like that article.

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  59. Yes Greenspoint did have an Electronics Boutique near Oshman's, there was also a Babbage's near the food court going towards Mervyn's. The Babbage's there still has not been modified and has the old TV's in the storefront still. The Lakeside Mall in Metairie store still had the Babbage's name also until recently. Gamestop seems to be in trouble these days with the loss of interest in home gaming consoles for PC and smartphone games. The crazy thing about many of the popular smartphone and facebook games is that they are similar to many 1980 and 1990 console games.

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  60. I think I remember the Greenspoint Mall Babbage's, but I have more memories of the Electronics Boutique there since we did not have one of those in this area for quite some time. I know the Willowbrook Mall Babbage's was split in half with console stuff on one side of the store and computer stuff on the other side of the store. It seems that a few Software Etc. and Electronics Boutique storefronts still exist or have existed until recently.

    Do you remember The Floppy Wizard computer store in Memorial City Mall? I figured that they went out of business years ago, but I did a search about them and found out that they still exist under the TFW Computers name with their store being on Gessner not too far from the Alco and the mall itself obviously. It's a shame that they changed their name and left the mall, but I suppose it would be difficult for a small PC integrator to afford rent at a busy mall these days. Small mom-n-pop computer stores that assembled their own computers were pretty common back in the day, but I don't remember a lot of them being in malls. Anyway, the interesting thing is that they have old pictures of their Memorial City Mall storefronts on their website. Those pictures definitely brought back flashbacks of the store and the mall before it was renovated. It's also a bit interesting that the owner of that store used to work for Montgomery Ward and HJ Wilson.

    Perhaps the impending releases of the new Xbox and PS4 consoles will help boost sales at GameStop. There were rumors that these consoles would not allow used game sales in the traditional sense, but it seems that those ideas where shelved after customers voiced their displeasure. I know Microsoft suffered some major backlash when they first detailed the new Xbox and they had to make changes. We'll see though as I know the game companies want to eliminate used game sales at some point and they may be able to do that in a more non-direct way such as offering downloadable games instead of physical media games. Thus, I think GameStop's business model is still seriously under threat, but perhaps they can still survive through the upcoming console generation. Another problem that GameStop has is that they probably have too many stores. For example, they have/had two stores on FM 529 near Hwy. 6 that were literally a few yards apart from each other. They may need to eliminate some of their redundant stores.

    Basic phone/tablet games are becoming more prominent. There are a lot of people who will pay <$5 for games, but not the $50+ that console games sometimes sell for. Plus, simple games can be a lot more fun for some people than complex games with fancy graphics and all that. I know of people who prefer playing 8/16-bit generation games on emulators like side scrollers than modern games. Certainly there is a retro factor involved too, but many of those games are fun to play and don't require a lot of skill or time.

    There was/is a store at Almeda Mall (3-D Games?) that had/has an old big screen TV in the front of their store. It certainly added to the retroness of Almeda Mall.

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  61. I don't remember the Floppy Wizard store at Memorial, but that last location was right in front of Montgomery Wards. I think Gamestop needs to add more retro games to their stores and not focus as much on the new stuff if this is how companies are going to market their new game systems.
    Yes 3-D games is still in Almeda and there is one at Deerbrook as well. They carry many varieties of retro games. There are also stores in West Oaks and Greenspoint with retro games and systems, but I can't remember the names of those two stores. All of these stores have the same amount of space as Gamestop and carry new and old systems, so I don't see why Gamestop can't bring back retro systems to their stores. Gamestop has saturated many parts of the US with tons of stores, so I am sure their sales per store can't be strong.

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  62. Yes, I do believe that The Floppy Wizard at Memorial City Mall was near the Montgomery Ward. Well, it was near one of the anchors if nothing else, but I do think it was the Montgomery Ward.

    Funcoland used to sell older gaming systems and games. I remember they were selling Genesis/Super Nintendo stuff in 1997-8 when I went there. Granted, I suppose the Genesis and Super Nintendo weren't too old during that time, but they were selling 16-bit stuff at dirt cheap prices at that time. I think they sold NES stuff as well, but I don't think they had Sega Master System stuff at that time.

    As for GameStop selling more retro games, perhaps they should. One problem they may have is getting a consistent amount of working games/consoles at each store. I think GameStop works on the consistency model and that might be difficult with vintage stuff. Closing some stores may help with the consistency, but perhaps opening a few vintage game substores at successful locations may be an option.

    Some GameStops have tried new concepts like MovieStop. I don't know if that is a concept with much of a future though. The world is moving toward digital downloadable and streaming video and not physical media movies. Plus, some people who might have purchased new/used videos in the past are now using physical media mail rental services/RedBox instead. We'll see, maybe there will be renewed interest in movie collecting and used video trading, but I don't see that as being a surefire moneymaker at the moment.

    GameStop does not have a really positive reputation for customer service. Perhaps they should try to improve that. I know I brought a used game from a GameStop last December and had some problems with it. First, they put the wrong disc in the box. I caught that before I drove off so fortunately I got that corrected. When I got it home and tried it, the disc was scratched to the point that it would not read. I was able to fix that disc using the toothpaste method, but still, they should try out their discs before they sell them. It's one thing for thrift stores to sell damaged goods, but most people have higher expectations at places like GameStop.

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  63. The Moviestop is a strange idea for Gamestop because they stopped selling used DVD's in their stores a few years ago. Service is hit or miss in Gamestop, some locations have that like to talk about games like the guy from the article you sent over. Some locations they will talk behind the counter and give you a look when you bring them something to buy. I have also been to stores that will ignore my children when they are trying to ask a question about games which is a deal breaker for me. Granted my experiences there are 50% good & 50% bad or so-so. They have a good return policy as long as you keep the receipt but there are some stores that I would not trust buying a used game at. Another problem is that frequently we have taken a used game case up to purchase and they don't have the game in stock which is disappointing. I don't think a Moviestop is going to be a solution for their company, but selling used mp3's and tablets which they are now doing is a good idea.

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  64. Yeah, you're probably right about the customer service being a 50/50 proposition at GameStop. I'm not a very avid gamer (even less so these days) and I generally prefer PC gaming anyway so I've probably been to GameStop about 5 times total in my life (not counting pre-GameStop era stuff like Babbage's). Some experiences have been good, but that last one I had in December wasn't so good. I've heard other people complain about GameStop though. You're right about the return policy, but I brought the game from a GameStop near Greenspoint Mall and I wasn't sure if I could exchange the game at a closer location so I just fixed the disc myself. But, yeah, they should try those discs before they sell them. It's not like scratched discs are a new phenomena.

    All complaints aside, I do hope that console makers continue to allow used games. The prices of some games are so much that I only consider buying used for some titles. Plus, the vintage collectors will have a lot of trouble in the future if consoles don't allow used games. I'm not a vintage game collector, but I do collect other vintage electronics so it is a cause that I support.

    Electronics and game stores do seem to have trouble finding passionate employees these days it seems. Perhaps this is because they have expanded to the point that they can't be too selective, but I don't know. The low salaries can't help, but as that article I linked earlier mentioned, it's not like stores like Babbage's paid a lot back in the day either. Of course, it is a stereotype, but some die-hard computer people/gamers aren't exactly "Mr./Mrs. Personality" so they may act miserable in a retail setting. Bookstores seem to do a better job at getting more enthused employees, but maybe that is just because there aren't so many of them.

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  65. I am sure Gamestop employees have many issues that keep them from being friendly sometimes. Organizing games constantly, fixing displays, and a high volume of business can wear on people. At bookstores the environment is more relaxed including the music. Another thing at Gamestop is that I have not seen employees playing games at stores for several years now. At the independent stores I see employees playing games most of my visits there. I am sure that in itself is a great motivator for people to try out a game and then let customers know about the game.

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  66. I came across a few interesting images that I thought that you might enjoy seeing. We've obviously discussed Kmart and Montgomery Ward several times in the discussion on this post. Have you ever wondered what a Montgomery Ward to Kmart conversion would look like? Well, here's one in St. Clairsville, OH. It looks like this one has a Little Caesar's Pizza Station and a garden center as well. Oddly enough, there also exists a Montgomery Ward to Sears conversion using a similarly styled Montgomery Ward building in Sandusky, OH. There are some Sears Essentials/Sears Grand stores that look like Kmarts, but it's still a bit odd to see a Sears and a Kmart with a similar architectural design! I do wonder if any part of the Montgomery Ward interiors live on in these stores, but I kind of doubt it.

    I think that you mentioned earlier that you wanted some Montgomery Ward memorabilia. I did find a Montgomery Ward Signature 2000 VCR (with the remote!) at the NAM thrift store in the old Wal-Mart at FM 1960 near Walters Rd. This is the same model VCR that I have, a JSJ 20100 made for Wards by Sharp. This is the model of VCR that was shown in this Electric Ave. in-store video at around 0:36 & 0:46. Obviously, as the video shows, the VCR does have both the Montgomery Ward and Signature 2000 logos on it. I don't know if the VCR worked or not because I didn't try it and who knows if they still have it, but perhaps that might be something you would be interested in. It was like $10 and in great exterior shape. I would be sure to test it if you're interested in it though as although Sharp VCRs from that era are very well built (one of the last "heavy" VCRs with linear power supplies and stuff), they do tend to have mode switch problems that will cause it to reject a tape when you try to insert it and sometimes cause erratic behavior when you try to play/Rew/FF a tape if the mode switch is dirty or bad. It also isn't a Hi-Fi VCR which could be a deal breaker for you. This is the same thrift store that had a Wards/Admiral JSJ 20434 Hi-Fi VCR a few weeks back, but they must have sold it as they didn't have that one anymore. I also have that model in my collection as well.

    I was a bit shocked to see TDK A90 and A60 audio cassettes at a 99 Cents Only store this week as well (I think they have a new store opening soon in the Burlington Coat Factory shopping center near Greenspoint Mall). I've never used TDK A cassettes before and I really don't know much about them other than that these are theoretically supposed to be below the D series. Still, I've read a couple of good reviews for these online so I'm looking forward to trying them. It's nice to see a tape that I've never used before showing up at a regular store, but I suspect that these might be new old stock because I don't think that Imation is still making TDK audio cassettes. Who knows though.

    Perhaps the oddest sight at the 99 Cents Only store was that they had a pretty big poster of Andres Gursky's photograph of the inside of a 99 Cents Only store. I don't know if you know about that photo or not, but the original photo was once the most expensive photo ever sold at $3.34 million. 2nd and 3rd copies also sold for over $2 million each. Don't ask me why that photo is so valuable, but could you imagine if you could sell one of your retail photos for that kind of money?

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    1. Those photos were awesome, I would really like to see the inside of these stores. I would imagine that the Kmart has low ceilings, but has probably been painted to eliminate any trace of the former Wards. Some of these converted stores have elements of their former identities hidden behind in stockrooms and behind shelving units.
      I found my Montgomery Ward receipt from the Willowbrook store closing sale. I have a small collection of bags and receipts from stores that are gone. I have bags and or receipts from Circuit City, Maison Blanche, Mervyn's, Montgomery Ward, and K and B. I will have to check out the VCR when I have an off day. I could use another one for my house, thanks for the tip.
      99 Cents Only was supposed to leave Texas around 2008, but they wound up staying and expanding. I know they closed several stores at one point, so it is good to hear they are back. Some of my photos were use in the Circuit City documentary which I really enjoyed. http://circuitcitystory.com/
      I did read about the 99 Cent photos and I can't believe someone payed that much for those photos.
      I doubt my photos will ever sell, but I am always happy to let others use my photos as long as I am credited and sent an email or comment.

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  67. Part I:

    I wasn't aware of the Circuit City documentary. It would be interesting to see that sometime. It would be awesome if someone did a documentary about Montgomery Ward and also about the rise and fall of Sears/Kmart. There was the Malls R Us documentary about "dead malls," but I have not seen that one either. There is probably some sort of joke to be made that the Circuit City documentary should have been published on DIVX discs, but that might be too much of a cruel joke about a dead company!

    I remember when 99 Cents Only decided to leave Texas, but I am glad that they changed their mind. They are one of the better dollar stores as far as I can tell, although they do have some odd products. For example, they sell a 48 pack case of 12 count condoms on their website for $48. It goes without saying then that they also sell cases of pregnancy tests on their website as well! They also supposedly sell 99 cent wine in their stores as well which just adds to the comedy of the situation.

    I am curious to see what that Montgomery Ward turned Kmart looks like inside as well. NickE from the Dead and Dying Retail blog has photographed the outside of that location. I'm not sure if he went inside it, but if he did, it would be great to hear his comments about it. I don't know if he is reading this or not, but maybe he'll come across it sometime.

    I used to have a red Montgomery Ward bag that looked just like the one at the end of this 1986 Montgomery Ward Christmas VCR sale commercial. I don't know what happened to it though, but maybe I still have it somewhere. I think I also had a Wards Christmas bag that celebrated Ward's role in the formation of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but I'm sure that is gone by now. I may still have a late 1980s plastic Montgomery Ward bag that has their logo from that time with the logos of a bunch of brand names that they were selling at that time. Of course, a mass merchandiser having all those brand names was actually pretty big news at that time, but even stores like Kmart and Home Depot used to decorate some of their stores with a ring around the store of brand names that they sold. I also still have a Wards receipt and receipt jacket from a Frigidaire freezer that was purchased from the Willowbrook Mall Wards. I have some cassette tape storage boxes from the late 1970s that still have Montgomery Ward price tags on them. I also have some boxes and price tags from other long gone places, but a lot of this stuff wasn't purposely collected.

    Speaking of old Montgomery Ward commercials, there are a lot of them posted online. I think I've shown you the 1967 Pasadena Wards one. There is this 1971 one that is hilarious. I don't know if it is intentionally or unintentionally hilarious, it's hard to say! Here is a 2000 one that ironically indicates that you just can't fail shopping at Wards. Of course, Wards would fail by the end of that year. It's kind of sad watching that commercial knowing now that the end of the line was very near. I know that Sears Optical has run some good intentionally comedic commercials lately, but here is a great unintentionally comedic disco-era Sears Optical commercial.

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    1. The Malls R Us documentary is unbelievably expensive at $398 from the filmmakers. I have never found it for less anywhere else. There are a few clips on youtube, but I have not seen a complete version. The Circuit City video is now less than $10 and very interesting. I have watched it several times, but mostly for the commercials that are featured on the disc.
      I guess you can't rely on dollar store condoms or tozai condoms if they ever sold those.
      All I can say about the 1971 commercial is wow, what were they thinking. Almost all of the glasses on the Sears ad look identical.

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  68. Part II:

    Hopefully you'll still find that VCR there if you are interested in it. That NAM store is always very busy (it's probably the busiest thrift store that I frequent) and I'm sure a VCR with a remote won't last long. Actually, I had an odd week thrifting last week because I came across a handful of VCRs with remotes at various thrifts. Odd. I only brought one of them, a very nice Mitsubishi Hi-Fi VCR that was outrageously marked at $35, but it was 75% off. That's still more than I normally pay for a thrift store VCR, but this was a nice VCR and I've been wanting to get a Mitsubishi VCR remote for my other fleet of Mitsubishi VCRs and that was still cheaper than what I'd pay for just a remote online.

    I saw on Friday that the Goodwill at FM 1960 and I-45 (the old CompUSA) had a large CRT Wards Admiral TV for $25. It's probably a 32" or so. I don't know if you would be interested in that (I really wouldn't recommend buying a SD CRT that big), but I guess I'll let you know about it in case you're interested.

    There was a thrift store I came across last week that had two factory sealed VHS copies of Rain Man. That was really odd. I don't think they were originally purchased together as one had a Best Buy price tag on it and the other didn't. Did someone buy two copies of that movie and never opened it or did two separate people donate movies that they never even opened? Odd, because I rarely, rarely see sealed VHS movies at thrifts. I brought one of them as Kmart played a pretty big role in Rain Man. Of course, the famed line from that movie was "Kmart sucks." I wonder if Kmart sold that movie way back when. That would be odd if they did. Maybe two different Kmart fans received those tapes as gifts and refused to watch them. Hey, it's possible!

    It is interesting how much of a stigma Kmart suffered back in the day. It's probably because they were the first really big discount store. Kmart was fading away by the time discount store shopping became normal and not something to hide so Target and Wal-Mart didn't suffer from the stigma as much, but I guess there still is an anti-Wal-Mart stigma of a slightly different kind these days. Of course, if someone said today that Kmart sucks, I would have a really had time disagreeing with them. Many Kmarts today do indeed suck if one isn't a retro retail fan, but I guess there is a lot that can be said about that topic.

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  69. $398 is way, way too expensive. There's no way I would pay that much to see the Malls R Us documentary. Who knows if there is anything all that enlightening in that documentary for those of us who read the various online mall blogs.

    I've been a long-time subscriber to the Consumer Reports magazine. Perhaps the oddest product comparison they had was a condom test they published 4-5 years ago I guess it was. I'm not even sure how they went about testing those! I don't think they rated the 99 Cents Only condoms, but the cheapies didn't rate that well in general if I remember correctly. So, yeah, that might be one area where it makes sense not to accept Tozai brand quality, but you probably didn't need Consumer Reports to tell you that!

    That 1971 Montgomery Ward commercial went from being awesome to being totally weird when they switched from the woman to that fat guy. I don't know if they intended it to look the way it did, but it is certainly a bit suggestive! That Sears Optical commercial, well, I think one of the user comments on YouTube summed it up well when it said that it looked like the woman was wearing industrial safety goggles. She sounded like someone who would wear industrial safety goggles too! But that was the disco era fashion so it's more of a statement about the era than Sears.

    Speaking of old Montgomery Ward commercials, I was at the West Rd. and Beltway 8 Goodwill near Jersey Village and I saw that they had a big old Montgomery Ward branded microwave with the pre-1982 era logo on it for like $15-20. I think it may be the same microwave that was displayed in this also somewhat odd looking Wards commercial from 1982. I'm sure that you would not want a microwave oven that is at least 31 years old, but I suppose that is an option if you want some Wards vintage gear. Who knows if it works or if it even heats well after all this time. It could have some radiation leakage problems after all this time, but who knows. At least it has a digital keypad and a modern looking door release button unlike the somewhat older JCPenney microwave that we used to have.

    I was thinking about that picture of the Montgomery Ward-turned-Sears in Sandusky, OH that I posted earlier. Do you think that automotive center sign on that Sears was a recycled Wards sign? It's hard to say I guess, but this Wards auto center sign looks kind of similar. It's not unheard of for rivals to recycle signs at converted locations (I know that Kroger has done it), but it is still a bit interesting.

    Finally, I came across a vintage 1950s video on YouTube that may have shown a short clip of the Palms Center Montgomery Ward or another Wards store that looks quite similar to the Palms Center Wards. The clip is at around 17:40 in this video.

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  70. Thanks for sending over the videos I will check them out soon. I have a bunch of stuff going on that is keeping me away from the blog this past week, but I will have a new post soon. That auto center in the Wards photo looks very much like the Greenspoint auto center used to.
    There are many things that I would rather spend $398 on besides a video. Even if the video was the most awesome movie ever, I would not pay that much.

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