Friday, May 16, 2014

Kmart Longview Tx Late 2013

Here is another Texas Kmart store located in Longview Texas near downtown at 1100 Mc Cann Rd. This store is probably from the 1970's looking at the design of the store and is very similar to the New Iberia Kmart location. This also was one of the busiest Kmart stores I have been to in a long time. When I arrived the parking lot had several rows filled with cars which is always good for business.  
Holiday section facing electronics, no signage at this store like in most Big Kmart stores. 
Garden center
More holiday section facing electronics
Holiday section going towards Toys and the back corner of the store.
Walking down the main back aisle of the store towards clothing.
Back corner of the store with hardware and automotive departments.
Back to front facing the pharmacy
The other back corner of the store near the layaway
Closed down cafe area partially covered by blankets.
Front of the store checkouts

Wide view of the store.

29 comments:

  1. These are very interesting photos of a modified mansard slice facade Kmart. Thanks for the photos. I requested photos of this store and you responded quickly! Anyway, your photos of the Longview Mall should also be quite interesting.

    I'm guessing that this store is from the late 1970s or maybe very early 1980s. It has a layout that is seemingly a bit different from the mansard slice ex-Kmart on Jones Rd. and FM 1960 W. in Houston, but I've seen photos of other mansard slice Kmarts with a layout that is seemingly like the Longview store. I don't know if the department locations are basically the same as they were when the store opened or if things were moved around at some point.

    It is good to hear that the store was busy when you visited it. The store seems to be maintained at a higher level than other Kmarts of similar vintage. That is not to say that the store is modern looking though. Certainly things like the strip lighting, giant HVAC vents, and the giant security camera covers are quite antiquated looking. Of course, those are classic Kmart features.

    Some of the department signage is mismatched and from different eras. The appliance sign, for example, is a current design. Many of the other signs are from the previous design though. The mismatching isn't the most professional looking thing ever, but it's typical Kmart I guess. I suppose that the inventory of TVs is blocking where the electronics department wall signage would normally be, but oh well I guess. The main corridor near the electronics department seems kind of narrow, but maybe that is just a visual effect due to the picture angle or perhaps they had some temporary holiday displays up. It's hard to say.

    Anyway, it's nice to see a currently operating vintage Texas Kmart. There aren't many Texas Kmarts in general now so these pictures are a special treat. Hopefully the store will continue to do well.

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    1. I also visited the New Iberia Kmart again which is a similar store from the same era. The New Iberia Kmart seems to be suffering from inventory problems or staffing problems. In nearly every department there were big empty gaps in merchandise and stuff was just lying on shelves instead of on pegs. The clothing departments were the only exception and had full racks with good organization of products. They electronics section was really low on inventory and had a bunch of items that were out. They also did not have any portable cassette players like at other locations and did not have a price sticker on the pegs either where the CD players were located. I am not sure if they are eliminating them or if they never carried those at this location.

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  2. This store was opened originally in 1976, and expanded in 1991. Of note; when the expansion was announced, the store had a suit filed against the owner of the land to the right of the store; there is a lot about the size of a small grocery. It was never developed. That owner wanted Kmart to expand onto his property. When Kmart planned to go the other way, they had to restripe the parking lot to accommodate the number of cars required by the city, so that developer sued Kmart to try to stop their expansion. It didn't hold up in court, and the store was expanded to the left. Strangely, they built the new auto center first, then expanded into the old one and the newly added area after. It was very strange.

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    1. I wondered why the back of this store seems strange compared to other similar Kmarts. I want to say the Belle Chasse Hwy Kmart in Gretna La also has a similar design at the back corner of the store, but I have not been there for years.

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  3. It sounds like the New Iberia Kmart is suffering from the common case of Kmart malaise. Fortunately, it looks and sounds like the Longview store is in better shape. I’m not sure why the stores vary so much, but perhaps local management/district management has a lot to do with it. Some of the Kmarts around here are located in such isolation from other Kmarts that perhaps there are logistics problems that cause product shortages, but perhaps not or else the Longview store might have had trouble too. Of course, there are a few other Kmarts in East/NE Texas/West Louisiana so it’s not like the Longview store is in total isolation.

    It does not look like the New Iberia Kmart has a picture of the Walkman woman in the electronics department based on the pictures you posted of that store a couple of years back. It would have been quite unfortunate if the Walkman woman picture was there if they were not selling portable cassette players. Granted, I’m sure the portable cassette players that they sell aren’t the best quality given that quality portables aren’t really made these days AFAIK. They are probably very basic units that don’t even have rewind buttons. Hopefully Kmarts as a whole have not stopped selling portable cassette players. It would be a shame if they did that just as it seems that cassettes have a chance at a small comeback. The Kmart website has this Jensen cassette player listed, but it says that it isn't available for shipping and it does not appear to be in stock at the Longview and Lufkin stores. Perhaps they have a different product in the stores though.

    The backstory about the Kmart expansion is interesting. I looked at the store on Google Maps and it does seem like the expansion area is pretty obvious. I’m not sure how many mansard slice facade type Kmarts were expanded, but there probably weren’t a ton of them that were. Perhaps this store has been a strong performer for many years now.

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    1. The last place I saw a cassette player at a Kmart was in Bossier City last year. I wonder if they are doing a reorganization of the electronics departments to eliminate these players which would explain the only store pickup option on their website.
      Yeah the ceilings are much lower in the New Iberia and Longview Kmart locations which would explain the stores not having the Walkman lady picture. I have noticed that Sears stores only have one kind of portable CD player now so it looks like they are getting out of the retro Walkman business. The Kmart did have a full sized cassette voice recorder which is kind of strange because Smartphones have voice recorders and most people had switched over to using pocket recorders.

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    2. The differences between Longview and New Iberia (both opened at the same time with the same design) are that of location. New Iberia is across the street from Walmart, several grocery stores, and most of the town's main retail district. The closest Walmart is about 4 miles from Longview's store. Also, New Iberia is 30,000 people, and Longview is close to 80,000. New Iberia is also close to Lafayette, the regional hub, where Longview is one of the bigger cities in the area. New Iberia isn't in bad shape, it's just a Kmart.

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  4. It seems that Jensen still sells portable cassette players so perhaps Kmart has decided not to sell portable cassette players in the stores. It is hard to say, but hopefully they will return to the stores soon enough. One thing that Kmart and Sears have both online and in the stores is Sony’s brand new cassette recorder boombox, the Sony CFD-S50. I believe the CFD-S50 is a replacement for the CFD-S05 model that Sony has been selling for a few years now. I know that Sears at least sold the S05 model. The only difference between the two models (aside from the looks) that I can tell quickly is that the new model appears to play MP3 CDs. I don’t think the older model did that. I saw next week’s Sears ad through SYWR and Sears will have the new CFD-S50 boombox on sale for $45 next week. It’s nice to see cassette recorders in Sears’ ad. It’s a shame that Sony isn’t making cassette Walkmans anymore, but at least they are making new cassette recorder boomboxes.

    I wonder which model of cassette recorder Kmart is selling in their stores. My guess is that it is the RCA one. I think there is some demand for those “shoebox” voice cassette recorders still because Wal-Mart introduced a new model of them last year under their “Onn” house brand (they used to sell the RCA one before that). The RCA recorder (and probably the Onn one too) aren’t the best quality recorders, but they will work. RadioShack still has two models of voice recorders, the CTR-121 and CTR-122 (the 121 is a "shoebox" style recorder, the 122 has a Walkman-like shape), that use AC bias and thus have better recording quality than the RCA DC bias recorder. The CTR-121 may be discontinued at this point, but it is still available in some stores.

    I was browsing the Montgomery Ward website the other day and noticed that they are selling a boombox that is a blatant ripoff of the Sony CFD-G700CP cassette boombox that was discontinued a couple of years ago but is still sold in some stores. I know that there is a picture of one that you took at the Lake Charles Kmart. The Wards one does not have a cassette player, but it looks just like the Sony model. I’m not sure what to think about Wards selling something like that, but fortunately they have cassette systems to compensate for that.

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    1. It looks like you can record onto a tape with the Sony Boombox, but not tape to MP3. I read the instructions, but I did not see any option other than recording onto a tape. I think it is cool they are selling something that can play tapes and record modern music onto a tape. I may put that on my wishlist.
      I had not been to the Wards website for some time now, since their prices are usually higher than most other online stores. I still have hope that Wards will eventually open stores but they will have a difficult time especially if they use some of their old locations.

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  5. The Sony CFD-S50 only records to cassettes. It does not have a record to USB function, but there are some cassette boomboxes from more generic brands that do have that function. Those boomboxes may work fine, but I would be a bit skeptical about the quality of the cassette playback on those. It's hard to say how well the Sony boombox plays back tapes and records them since it is a new model, but I've heard pretty good things about some of the previous models of Sony cassette boomboxes like the CFD-S05. Obviously it's not as good as a component cassette deck, but it's not bad either especially given the price.

    I'm really glad that Sony is selling a new cassette boombox, but I kind of wish that they put a microphone on it (or at least a microphone input) in order to record voice recordings. Many cassette boomboxes had that function back in the day. In fact, I saw a Tozai dual cassette boombox from the late 1990s in a thrift recently that had a mic on it. It certainly would have been nice to make an occasional voice recording, but oh well I guess. It can still record from the line-in input, the CD player, and the radio.

    I was browsing the electronics department at Wal-Mart this week and I saw that they have the CFD-S50 for $50 as well. I'm guessing that Sony will sell quite a few of those boomboxes between Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Sears at the very least. Obviously there is some demand cassette players and recorders if Sony and major retailers are selling them. Hopefully Sony will release a new cassette Walkman here soon too.

    I kind of doubt that the current Montgomery Ward will open B&M stores, but who knows. It would be great if they did. I doubt that Wards would open stores in old Wards locations given that it is a different company from the old Wards, but perhaps the current Wards would hope that old Wards shoppers would flock to the old stores if Wards reopened. That seems like a reach though.

    The current Montgomery Ward catalog and website is quite interesting in that they sell a lot of items that are considered outdated by other retailers like cassette stereo systems and typewriters. Wards currently has 3 typewriters for sale for instance. The prices are very high, but I'm guessing that Wards is making money selling those items. Perhaps they've found a bit of a niche selling items like that. It would be great seeing a B&M national chain store that sold stuff like new cassette shelf systems and typewriters even if it wasn't Wards, but it probably isn't too likely.

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    1. I have noticed that a lot of the vintage cassette and typewriters are going for a premium price. I picked up a dual cassette deck for cheap at the flea market that works great, but I had to really look and test out decks at a few stores until I found a good one for only $15. A lot of the places leave their stuff outside for so long it really messes up the unit. I did see some high prices out there still but I found a good deal on a newer deck.

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  6. Wow, I am glad that you were able to find a working cassette deck for a good price. I am very curious to know what kind of cassette deck you brought and how you like it. Hopefully it has a headphone jack so you can at least listen to it with headphones or through computer speakers if you don't have a receiver/amplifier to plug it into yet. Obviously you would need a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter to plug most modern headphones to a cassette deck, but those are pretty cheap and easy to find (though they aren't cheap everywhere).

    Oddly enough, the last two cassette decks that I have brought from the thrifts have been dirty and grimy. The Luxman wasn't as dirty as the Pioneer deck that I brought towards the end of last year, but it was grimy too. It, like the Pioneer, has some kind of sticky substance on the outside. It's not as bad as the Pioneer was though and the tape transport is much cleaner than the Pioneer one was (though it's still kind of dirty). I'm sure it'll clean up just fine, but I have not done that yet. Oddly enough though, the Luxman has some spotting on the back panel kind of like it was out in the rain or something. I don't think that it was exposed to water, but it kind of looks like it was so I'm not sure what caused that. Well, anyway, it works fine (actually it sounds terrific even without a head cleaning and I'm really looking forward to testing the recording capability) so I'm not too worried about it. I have a hard time believing that someone put a cassette deck that cost $600+ originally out in the rain, but who knows. Also, who knows why two different cassette decks are grimy on the outside.

    I see typewriters in the thrifts every now and then and sometimes I check them out, but I've never intended to buy one so I don't know what they are going for in the thrifts. I still have an early 1990s electronic Smith-Corona typewriter purchased from Service Merchandise so I don't really have a need for another typewriter especially considering that I have not used the one I have in years. It could still be useful for filling out forms and such or for writing in a less distracted way, but the need for that has not arisen in a long time.

    It is good to hear that there are cassette decks at the flea markets even if a lot of them don't work right and are expensive. I prefer the thrifts, but cassette decks can be hard to find in the thrifts regardless of price and condition. Sometimes I get lucky like I did with the Luxman (well, that counts as being very, very lucky), but I do a lot of thrifting so I guess that increases the odds.

    I was at the Baybrook Mall Sears recently and noticed that they had the Sony CFD-S50 cassette boombox out on display. I don't know if it was plugged in to try out, but I suppose the clerks would let you plug it in if you wanted to. I'm sure some other Sears have it on display too. The Baybrook Sears also had an RCA cassette recorder boombox on display too for about the same price, but I've heard some negative reviews about some of RCA's recent boomboxes and shelf systems so I would certainly steer towards the Sony one if you ever choose between the two. I guess you could always demo the two of them at the Sears store I guess though. As an aside, the story of the RCA brand is a long and confusing story to say the least.

    I will post replies to your other recent comments in the next few days. I've come across a lot of interesting retail photos and updates on the Internet recently so it will take me some time to gather everything.

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    1. I have a Vector Research VCX 350 dual deck. It makes good recordings as far as I can see. I was actually able to connect it to the TV and plug in a video cable from the game system so the TV will recognize the input.
      When you mentioned the Service Merchandise typewriter, I thought of why that company does not get much love from retail historians like Ames and others do.

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  7. Part I:

    I am not really sure why Service Merchandise and other catalog showroom retailers get ignored when other retailers like Ames, Zayre, and Caldor get (or got at least) so much attention. I can only speculate about this, but many of the retail bloggers are in the Northeast and Midwest and those discount chains had a significant presence there. Service Merchandise, Brendle's, Wilson's, and Best were southern based retailers and there just aren't many southern retail blogs aside from yours and a few others. Even then, most of the other southern retail bloggers/photographers focus more on southern Atlantic states. Now, granted, Service Merchandise and Best had locations nationwide, but I guess they weren't the "home team" in the retail blogging belt. That is just speculation on my part, I have no idea why they don't get much attention.

    I say that Service Merchandise and other catalog showrooms deserve more attention. They sold a vast variety of goods (usually of decent quality at least) at pretty good prices. The stores were nice places to shop as well since they had more "hands on" displays than what some other stores had at the time and now. Instead of having the boxed products out on the sales floor (in most departments at least), they had the actual products out on the floor to use and try out. The store would then get the boxed product out on a conveyor belt from the back storeroom when the product is purchased.

    We purchased a lot of electronics and other goods from Service Merchandise due to their prices and selection. They were more trustworthy than places like Federated and they had better prices than places like Circuit City, Foley's, Joske's/Dillard's, and Sears for the most part. I also used to love to look at the catalogs and read about all the electronics products. Now Service Merchandise didn't sell ultra high end stuff, but a lot of their competitors didn't either. They certainly sold better stuff than Ames at the very least.

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    1. Service Merchandise locations seemed to have been snapped up quickly for the most part as well. The only one I know of that is still vacant is the San Jacinto Mall location and the labelscar still shows on the outside of the building. I guess the rapid demise of the chain and the fact that interest in retail history was not very big online yet may have hurt the legacy of the chain. Nobody has really made a blog focusing on Service Merchandise like they have with Caldor, Bradlees, Venture, Ames, and even fading grocery stores.

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  8. Part II:

    Vector Research, wow, you picked out a real oddball deck! That's not necessarily a bad thing though. I don't know a whole lot about Vector Research, but my understanding is that they usually had pretty well built stuff that was actually manufactured by other companies. YouTube user UXWBill, who I have mentioned before in another post, did a video about a Vector Research CD player, but I'm not sure about their cassette decks. I'm not sure who the OEM is for your model cassette deck. I can't find much information about your model, but I think I found a picture of it here (it's hard to make out the model number on that deck though). It's hard to tell from pictures, but it looks like a well-built deck from the mid-to-late 1980s. I'd say that it's probably from 1987 or 1988. It has pretty basic functions, but it looks clean. Having deck 2 on the left and 1 on the right is a bit odd. It's also a bit odd that it has mic inputs and not a headphone output, but oh well. Of course, I could be looking at the wrong model so I may be way off on this.

    Plugging the cassette deck into a TV input is certainly a creative way to listen to tapes! I'm guessing you're using your CRT TV as most flat panel TVs have pretty bad speakers. At least most TVs have tone controls for bass and treble so at least you can adjust that if you need to. It sounds like you've been recording with it too. Did you get some blank cassettes too or did you use something that you had on hand already? Anyway, it's great that it sounds good.

    I actually picked up yet another cassette deck today from the thrifts. This one is a Technics RS-M205 from the very early 1980s. It's a pretty basic deck, but I've heard good things about these lower end early 1980s Technics decks so I decided to pick it up (it was only $5 anyway and it fully works). One nice thing about it is that it has analog meters. It's also pretty compact so it won't take up a ton of room in my collection. This one was pretty dusty, but it's not grimy (except for the plug, the rubber on it has become like tar. I'm not sure what I can do to repair that.). The tape transport is quite clean though (except for the capstan and pinch roller) and it sounds pretty good in my limited testing, but I need to listen to it more to get a better feel for it. I've had a lot of luck lately finding working cassette decks in the thrifts at decent prices so I figure that I better act while I can because I know things will dry up again.

    The same thrift had a low end 1990s Kenwood dual cassette deck for a couple dollars more, but I didn't even bother to check that one out. I've seen Kenwoods like that before in the thrifts and they're just too low end for my liking (though they may sound okay). I have a high end Kenwood Dolby S cassette deck from 1995 that was purchased new from Colonel Audio and Video. It sounds great and has great features like auto calibration and manual biasing override, but I've had issues with the tape transports since almost around the time it was new so I don't have a really high opinion of Kenwood cassette decks from that era anyway.

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    1. You have the right photo of the deck, despite buying it off of a table at the market it is really clean and all of the functions work well. For now I am using the flat screen to play tapes and some newer Sony HF C90HFR blank tapes from Kmart for recording.
      It sounds like you can make a good profit fixing up some of these older thrift store decks. I still need to take apart my deck and check the internals and dust it out if I need to. I have been taking apart all of my video game cartridges and cleaning them thoroughly, but the deck is on my list. Once I finish this project and get my walkman bands from Sears to fix my walkman, I will move onto the tape deck. Rebuilding the walkman will be expensive if I need any more parts and Sears had my parts on back order for about 2 weeks so I should see them soon.

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  9. Part I:

    Perhaps another reason why discount and grocery stores garner so much attention on the blogs is because they are "everyday" type stores that almost everyone shops at. Going to Kmart and Safeway, for example, was a common occurrence for me and many others in the Houston area for sure. Going to stores like Service Merchandise and Best was more of an occasional trip I suppose. That said, I personally went to Service Merchandise very frequently. I know we went there a lot to demo audio equipment when we were looking to buy something.

    Anyway, I'm sure there are a lot of people who didn't go to Service Merchandise a whole lot even if they were in the neighborhood. People or families who weren't into things like electronics may not have memories of it. That said, they had a pretty awesome catalog too and I remember reading it very often in the pre-Internet days to see the latest goods. It wasn't just useful for electronics. They had things like sporting goods, toys, and jewelery of course in there too. I'm surprised that people don't have fonder memories of the catalog showroom catalogs given the memories some people have of Sears Wishbooks and things like that.

    Service Merchandise built many stores in the 1990s (with the twin arches design) and some of those were in popular shopping centers. I know that they built a few of those stores next to Venture stores here in Houston like the Willowbrook Mall area store and the 290 and W. 43rd St. store. The Willowbrook store became a Circuit City and is now an Ashley Furniture store I think. The W. 43rd St. store had some more trouble finding new tenants, but I believe it is now a Joe V's discount HEB grocery store. I have not been there, but I'm quite sure that it is a popular spot now.

    I personally preferred the older style ex-Wilson's Service Merchandise store that on FM 1960 and Champions Forest over the Willowbrook area store even though the Willowbrook store was much closer to me. That store had a better atmosphere for trying out items IMO. Of course, Service Merchandise had some older stores (though redesigned in most cases) up until the end. The I-10 store between Town & Country Mall and Memorial City Mall was an older store, but I believe it was renovated around 1999. I'm sure that the San Jacinto Mall store was interesting, but I never went there.

    It's also a bit surprising that Montgomery Ward and even Sears aren't blogged about more often. While they may not be "everyday" type stores, stores like Sears have (or at least had) a pretty major influence on most people's lives. Plus, Sears and Wards tended to have pretty unique architecture at each store (though Sears started to standardize things a bit in the 1990s with many stores from that era looking like the Pasadena Town Square store on the outside at least). Thus, each store has a pretty unique story to tell.

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    1. The San Jacinto store was an old school Wilson's type of store and I believe was two floors. I went there once while it was going out of business and I peeked through the windows a few times before they boarded up the mall entrance. Most of the Service Merchandise mall locations were Wilson's stores originally and I am not sure if any were originally Service Merchandise stores.
      The retail center on 290 and 43rd has lost nearly every large store at one point, but it has come back. I am sure the 290 construction will hurt many businesses but once it is done things will get better.

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  10. Part II:

    It is good that your cassette deck is clean because I had a surprisingly hard time cleaning my Luxman deck. I thought it would clean up easily like that filthy Pioneer deck that I got some time back, but it was a greater challenge than that. Oh well. I've seen the Sony HF 90 tapes on Kmart's website (5 for $9 or 2 for $4). Those aren't great prices, but they aren't bad prices either. Walmart may charge more for the 2 pack, but I have not checked their prices in the last few months. The funny thing about the 5 pack one is that the link for it at Kmart comes up with an old picture of it with a coupon on the tapes for a free rental at Blockbuster. I wonder if Kmart is still selling any tapes with those coupons. They also have a picture of tapes with the current Sony HF wrapper design (the third picture, I'm not familiar with the wrapper design in the 2nd picture), but it isn't the default picture that loads. I wonder if the tapes you brought (if they were purchased recently) have the current wrapper design. I also wonder where they were manufactured. That may give some insight on who is supplying the tapes for Sony right now. The last Maxell UR cassettes I brought new last year were from Indonesia. I've heard that some Sony tapes may be made there too, but I'm not sure and I'm not sure if they are from the same supplier now. I have a lot of Maxell tapes and some older sealed Sony HF tapes, but I'd like to try the current Sony tapes to compare them to the old HFs that we used frequently back in the day.

    I probably could make some good profits off of thrift store electronics. That Technics RS-M205 deck that I got for $5 is selling for $40 and more on ebay right now. That's pretty remarkable for a pretty low end deck, but it does sound very, very good (I have not tried recording with it yet). Of course, most cassette decks are not priced that low at thrifts (though I've gotten one for as little as $2) and sometimes it is hard to find even an expensive broken cassette deck at the thrifts. I've been having good luck lately, but I can't count on that continuing so I'm stocking up while the times are good. I don't plan on selling any of my stuff right now though. I'm enjoying playing around with everything.

    I had a few great thrift store finds this past week too. I think I told you before that I've pretty much given up on 1990s+ JVC VCRs. I've had a couple and they are just woefully unreliable. I won't even look at them at the thrifts, but I was making an exception for TBC equipped S-VHS VCRs (including some models of D-VHS VCRs). I have yet to see one in the thrifts though after all this time, but I came across one at a thrift for like $8. I actually passed up on it first because I was not familiar with the model number (SR-V10U), but I came home and looked it up and realized that it is one of the handful of TBC S-VHS models that have a golden reputation for cleaning up tapes that have less than stellar video on them. I went back the next day and fortunately they still had it. It works (well, that is a tenuous statement since it is a JVC) and I'm looking forward to playing around with the various settings that it has. There are several of these model VCRs on ebay right now and most are selling for around $200 so I think I got a good deal on it.

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    1. The tapes I got were newer tapes without the Blockbuster sticker and made in Indonesia. They have a decent sound quality and play copies almost as good as the original after playing around with the settings on the deck.

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  11. Part III:

    Perhaps even more exciting than that is that I found some awesome used blank audio cassettes at another thrift store. I've never seen a sealed or unsealed metal tape at a thrift, but I came across one. It's not just any metal tape, it's a TDK MA-X tape. That's TDK's 2nd highest tape. The MA-XG is their highest tape, but I've head that the MA-XG actually has the same tape as the MA-X and just has a better (well, fancier at least) shell. I'm not sure what a used MA-X is worth, but sealed ones are selling for about $25 each. I also don't plan on selling this, but it is exciting to get such a rare and high end tape at a thrift. I also picked up a TDK AD "super ferric" Type I tape at the same thrift. The AD isn't as rare as the MA-X for sure, but I never see "super ferrics" at thrifts either so it is just as rare in that sense. It's a wonderful and seriously underrated tape too so I'm glad to have it. Super ferrics may actually be the best tapes to use out of them all, but I guess perception held them back as tape companies pushed Type II and IV tapes (they probably had better profit margins) and I guess most people assumed that Type II and IV would be better than a Type I.

    I'm glad to hear that you are getting your Walkman belts from Sears soon. Hopefully those will work for you because Walkmans are selling for a pretty high price these days and they aren't too common in the thrifts. I didn't know that you had an LCD TV. Did you buy one recently or is this some kind of secondary set? Does it have good sound quality and does it work well with your video games?

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    1. I have an LCD and a tube TV that I use for the old games. I need to get a receiver and speakers so I can make the most out of my sound system.

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  12. Part I:

    The retail situation on 290 between 610 and the Beltway is actually pretty good right now even with the construction. The aforementioned W. 43rd St. ex-Venture/Kmart/Service Merchandise shopping center seems to be doing well with it's current mix of discount retailers. The shopping centers near Hollister and Tidwell seem to be doing well too. Five Below opened one of their initial Houston area stores in one of those shopping centers. I'm not sure how many of the people shopping at these stores are "locals" and how many are just passers by who live beyond the Beltway, but it's probably good business sense to have a lot of discount type stores on that stretch for the locals. 290 construction may get worse before it gets better so we'll see how that area does in the next couple of years.

    I have not done a ton of research on old Service Merchandise locations so the ones I know about are mostly the ones that I shopped at back in the day. The Gulfgate Mall and San Jacinto Mall Service Merchandise stores were inherited stores from Wilson's though. I'm not sure about this region, but Service Merchandise did have mall stores that almost certainly were not Wilson's stores prior. Here is a picture of an ex-Service Merchandise store at the South Hills Mall in New York State. I'm quite sure that Wilson's was nowhere near that far north. Of course, that NY store may have been something else before it was a Service Merchandise.

    One interesting Service Merchandise video is this weird video that is almost certainly from the last year or two of the chain when they eliminated electronics. I'm not sure what that video was used for, but it's very odd. One memorable feature of Service Merchandise stores in the mid 1990s was that Bill Cosby did ads for them like this one. They also used to have Bill Cosby cardboard standups near the front of the stores. It was kind of weird, but Cosby was still quite popular at that time. Perhaps the main reason why Cosby did ads for Service Merchandise is because Service Merchandise agreed to sponsor Indycar driver Willy T. Ribbs' racing program. Ribbs was the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 and Cosby was a big supporter of him at the time. Ribbs was a good sports car racing driver, but his Indycar career was mediocre (that's putting it kindly) so people remember Cosby's ads more than Ribbs' racing.

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    1. I would have really enjoyed a trip to the South Hills Mall, the Service Merchandise, Media Play, Big Kmart and the neon across the ceilings is something you really don't see anywhere these days. I am pretty sure this mall is gone or shut down by now.
      The Service Merchandise store featured in the 2 minute youtube video entrance looks like the entrance to the 290 and 43rd st. store. I wonder if Service Merchandise had changed the format of their stores earlier, if the company could have lasted longer. It was just a pain to write tickets down and then wait for the product to be sent down from the stockroom. Speaking of long waits for item pickup, the Toy's R Us electronics/ video game area used to take forever even if you were the only person in line. I am glad stores no longer have these terrible customer setups.

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  13. Part II:

    You'll definitely want to get some sort of stereo setup for your cassette deck as I doubt that you're getting Hi-Fi quality sound from LCD TV speakers. Some TVs are better than others in the sound department though so maybe it's not too bad. Well, at least you can listen to your tapes in the mean time until you get some new stereo equipment.

    That's interesting that your Kmart Sony HF tapes are made in Indonesia because the current Maxell UR cassettes are also made there (AFAIK at least, these things can change). It's quite possible that the two tapes are fully or partially related at this point. I'd like to get one of the current Sony HF tapes to see how they physically and audibly compare to a current Maxell UR.

    The picture of the Sony HF tapes with the Blockbuster coupon on Kmart's website must be quite old, but it would not shock me if there is a Kmart somewhere that is still selling tapes with those coupons on them (or perhaps even Sony HF tapes that are even older than that). Fortunately, it sounds like you got newer tapes so maybe Kmart sells tapes at a decent rate.

    On the topic of Maxell, I was looking through my mail a few days ago and noticed that Bed, Bath, & Beyond mailed out an ad with a cover image that is a blatant ripoff of Maxell's famous "blown away guy" cassette ad. Instead of advertising a cassette, they were advertising some kind of Ion brand Bluetooth speaker that doubles as an ottoman. Now Ion does make some cassette products (though probably of lackluster quality, but I can't say for sure) like this one, but I thought that it was inappropriate to use that ad for something that isn't Maxell or cassette related. I'm not sure what Maxell thinks about that ad cover. They still use the "blown away guy" in their marketing.

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    1. I have seen a similar Sony blank tape for sale at Walmart recently. They are possibly related and maybe even come from the same factory with different labels attached.
      I am interested in going to the Music Town store off of 249 and Louetta to see if they have any good tapes there. There are a few other stores that pop up on google, but they don't specifically list cassettes for sale. I guess I can look to Ebay and Amazon, but the prices are so high. I have seen cassettes that I found at Half Price for less than a dollar selling for five dollars or more.
      I am going to keep my eyes open for a good receiver but probably later on in the year. One of my vehicles has a cassette deck with good stereo sound so I can hear the tapes the way they were meant to sound.

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  14. The South Hills Mall was quite a spectacular place according to the photos that I have seen. It had a lot of neon and a few retro storefronts right down to the end. The mall was demolished in 2008-9 and replaced with a power center, but the Kmart may have survived the transition. Here are some interesting photos of the old mall and the new power center. Also, here is a picture of a slice of a Kmart "mansard slice" facade at South Hills Mall.

    It seems that the South Hills Mall demise was caused by another mall, the Poughkeepsie Galleria, opening up right next door. The Galleria ended up stealing Sears from South Hills and most of the shoppers too it seems. In addition to Sears, Kmart, Service Merchandise, and Media Play, South Hills also had some sort of Phar-Mor owned pharmacy. All that was missing was a Montgomery Ward and it would have been a real shrine. Oh well.

    The FM 1960 and 249 Service Merchandise had a similar design as the 290 and 43rd Service and the Service in that odd video. Service's order tablets did add some inconvenience to the purchasing process, but they did eventually have the "Silent Sam" computerized ordering system in the stores. They ended up replacing the tablets all together with the pull cards that were taken to the cashier. Perhaps moving to a traditional retail model quicker would have saved the company, but I'm not so sure. Just about all of the middle tier mass merchandise department type stores have been squeezed out of the market except for Sears. It's not like Sears is doing well either.

    I'm not all that familiar with the Music Town store even though they aren't all that far from me. Hopefully you'll report your findings if you ever visit them. I'm not really familiar with Houston cassette stores aside from thrifts and Half Price Books (though I have not yet shopped for cassettes there in recent times), but I'm sure that there are some stores somewhere. There was a music store or two in Houston that participated in Cassette Store Day last year, but that was focused on new cassettes and not used ones I think. Anyway, I mainly look in the thrifts since the prices are good there (as you say, some used cassettes sell for quite a bit elsewhere) and there are new, sealed blank tapes to be found there too. Plus, the thrifts are one stop shops for audio cassettes, VHS tapes, and used equipment.

    I'm sure you'll find a good used receiver, and perhaps even speakers too, if you keep hitting the thrifts and flea markets. If not, like I said earlier, there are new options that are reasonably priced. It's probably worth it to be picky if you aren't in a rush.

    I was at a Wal-Mart this week and saw that they had a 2 pack of Made in Indonesia Sony HF 90 minute cassettes for $4. I may end up buying one of those packs from Wal-Mart (or perhaps one of the Kmart options) just to compare the Sony tapes to the Made in Indonesia current Maxell UR cassettes. I'm quite curious to see if they are the same, similar, or totally different tapes.

    I did also notice that Wal-Mart is selling 5 packs of Memorex VHS cassette tapes for about $13. The Memorex tapes are made in South Korea. I believe that at least some of the current Maxell VHS tapes are from Korea as well. A lot of VHS tape has come Korea over the years so I don't know if there is any relation, but perhaps there is some connection there too.

    Wal-Mart still has their house brand "Onn" shoebox cassette recorder, but they also have an Onn CD player/cassette recorder boombox as well. That boombox is only a tad cheaper than what Kmart and Sears want for the new Sony CFD-S50 boombox. I could be wrong, but I think I'd rather get the Sony for about the same price.

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