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Remembering Houston's U-tote-um Convenience Stores


Ashikaga

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  • 3 months later...
U-Tote-Ums immortalized in Townes Van Zandt song...

Talkin' Thunderbird Blues

Among the strangest things I ever heard

Was when a friend of mine said man, let’s get some thunderbird

I said what’s that? He just started to grin

Slobbered on his shirt, his eyes got dim

He said you got fifty-nine cents?

I said yeah, I got a dollar, but don’t be a smart-aleck

I ain’t gonna spend it on no indian relic

And he said Thunderbird’s not an old indian trinket,

It’s a wine, man, you take it home and drink it.

I said it sure don’t sound like wine to me

And he said he’d bet me the change from my dollar

We hustled on down to the nearest U-Tote-Um

The guy wanted my id, I whipped her out and showed him

Before it bit the dust, I guess that U-Tote-Um was one of the dominant convenience store chains in Houston. What would you say is the dominant convenience store chain in Houston today?

He got a green bottle from the freezing vault

My friend started doing backward somersaults

Through the cottage cheese

Took it back to his house, started drinkin’

Pretty soon I set in to thinkin’

Man, this Thunderbird tastes yummy, yummy, yummy

And I know it’s doing good things to my tummy, tum..., t...

That's how you reason when you're on that crap

Got a few more bottles, chugged them down

I pulled myself up off the ground

Decided I go see my dearest sweet wife

Who met me at the door with a carving knife

Said get them damn grape peels from between your teeth.

I could see we’re gonna have a little misunderstanding

I said dear, I better get in touch with you later

She said forget it, man, you’re never touchin’ me again!

Now I’ve seen the light and heard the word

And I’m staying away from that ol’ dirty Thunderbird

A message come from heaven ready to find,

All I drink now is communion wine

Six days a week

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The U-Tote-Um in my neighborhoos was on the corner of Mandell and Richmond. There was also a 7-11 in a tiny strip center on the corner of Graustark and Castle Court. Before we had our own washer, I would go with my mom to the washateria on the other end and get an Icee. I didn't like the texture of Slurpees when they made the switch as much, but the flavor names were better. My favorite was "Fulla Bulla". :lol:

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There used to be a U-Tote-Um at the corner of Park Place and Poplar. In the 70's I'd walk up to buy a Dr. Pepper and copies of Mad Magazine and Cracked.

It's a bar now.

That might have been the U-Tote-Um that I went to back in the early 1960s. I lived just down Galveston Road where Park Place Boulevard dead ended into it. I thought that the one that we went to was a little south on Galveston Road, but maybe it was on Park Place. I do remember a Minit Mart on Park Place.

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I believe that I remember a U-Tote-Em near my grandparents' home, at the corner of Mykawa and Belfort. It seems that there might have been a couple more along Telphone Road between I-610 and Airport. Any other recollections of such locations?

No the place on Belfort & Mykawa was a 7-11. My friends and I used to frequent that place for Big Gulp Slurpees and video games (Punch Out, Crazy Climber and Asteroids). I lived on Crosswell.

Anyone remember the Sunny's on Belfort & Northdale?

Edited by djrage
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  • 3 weeks later...
I think Leroy Melcher started them.

The biz school building at UH is named after him - Melcher Hall.

From various internet sources found this out: Leroy Melcher had owned a food brokerage company called Shaffer-Melcher Brokerage Co. He and a partner, Pete Weitinger, negotiated to acquire the U-Tote'M stores in 1950. He became president of U-Tote'M in 1953. There were only 10 stores at the time and eventually grew to over 1,000 stores in 13 states.

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  • 5 months later...

I am originally from Houston with most of my family still in Rosenberg. There was a U-Totem at the corner of Avenue H and Georgiana Street. There was a couple of them in town but this I know for sure in that my grandparents lived in a house nearby. I remember going over to the store when I was young to get gum, candy or soda. They did not have gas for sale and the store was the size of a regular 7-11. In the 80s the store closed and some private business opened.

The design of the outside included yellow and black square tiles in a diamond position. The counter was on the right hand side of the double metal and glass doors. The cashier was at customer level and not on a raised platform, as were 7-11's beginning in the 70s through 90s. They had a metal sign that was a totempole at first, and later a simple metal pole with the company sigh above. The store was also clearly marked with the font of the company directly above the two doors of entry.

Thats all for now.

Shipfitter :D

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I did some more searchin on UtoteM and found that the Zippo Lighter Company did a special edition lighter for UtoteM and you can find that at http://www.grannysjewelrybox.com/gp278r.htm however that item I guess has been sold per that website. Note the spelling of the business is as above from my current searching.

I did find this picture on the web.

Credit for picture: http://tulsatvmemories.com/outside2.html

utotem.jpg

Shipfitter :D

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I did some more searchin on UtoteM and found that the Zippo Lighter Company did a special edition lighter for UtoteM and you can find that at http://www.grannysjewelrybox.com/gp278r.htm however that item I guess has been sold per that website. Note the spelling of the business is as above from my current searching.

I did find this picture on the web.

Credit for picture: http://tulsatvmemories.com/outside2.html

utotem.jpg

Shipfitter :D

Thanks for the photo!

I'm writing a history of my neighborhood and have been depserately searching for a photo of a UToteM. There was one exactly like in the picture located at W Gulf Bank and Cheswick (Store 94) which opened in 1966. There was another one nearby on W Mt Houston just west of the North Freeway, which I believe opened in 1965.

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Life is really short if you think about it, and sometimes the smallest of memories are sweet. I would walk over to UtoteM with my grandfather. He is long since gone, but the memory remains.

I went to a Padres baseball game tonight in San Diego, and remember going to games as a child and watching the Astros on TV with my grandfather. We would walk to the UtoteM, pick up some goodies, then watch the games. It was really cool to see fathers passing down the tradition of watching baseball, even though the CrackerJacks are now 5.75 per box.

Latez

Shipfitter

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I am currently searching for the following items:

Additional UtoteM pix

Houston Union Terminal (Union Station)

This station was located where the new ball park was built. This was the main station for Houston until Amtrak began service. What I am looking for is any pictures in regards to this building, both in it's prime and also in it's neglected state prior to redevelopment. This is NOT the current Amtrak (Amshack) station that is currently used.

Post em up!

Adios

Shipfitter :P

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I am currently searching for the following items:

Additional UtoteM pix

Houston Union Terminal (Union Station)

This station was located where the new ball park was built. This was the main station for Houston until Amtrak began service. What I am looking for is any pictures in regards to this building, both in it's prime and also in it's neglected state prior to redevelopment. This is NOT the current Amtrak (Amshack) station that is currently used.

Post em up!

Adios

Shipfitter :P

You are in luck. I just happened to come across a few today, in fact.

Here's an article I found on the Houston Gulf Coast Railroad Museum's site about the redevelopment of Union station. Wasn't looking for it... came upon it by accident. Only reason I read it is because I once worked with the guy who wrote this article and that caught my eye.

http://www.kingswayrc.com/gcst/union/union.htm

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U-Totem advertised on TV when I was a kid.

"You tell 'em....U-Totem" (to music)

I was born in 52 and I guess my first memories of U-Totem might have been when I was 6 o7 maybe.

They were everywhere.

The one by my house had a wooden Indian outside to emphasize the totem.

A Hershey bar was a nickle there.

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This may be a little late response but yes, I remember U Totems, thought not from as far back as 40 years ago. I remember them from 20 or so years ago. Matter a fact I remeber one outside the neighborhood I grew up in at Sage and San Felipe. They were a chain of convience stores that died out when Circle K came into being. But I remember taking many trips to the U Totem...

I have a lighter from U-Tote-M. Back in the day! Butane gone, non-refillable. Just kept it because they disappeared.

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I have a lighter from U-Tote-M. Back in the day! Butane gone, non-refillable. Just kept it because they disappeared.

Did you know that the man who expanded the U-Tot-Em chain from ten stores to more than a thousand and made a fortune from them gave a lot of his money to the University of Houston?

LeRoy Melcher's name is all over the UH campus, including the LeRoy and Lucile Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting, the home of KUHT Channel 8 and KUHF Radio.

http://www.stp.uh.edu/vol65/65/news/news4.html

"Just in case anyone should ask you, you-tell'em U-Tot-Em."

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I have a lighter from U-Tote-M. Back in the day! Butane gone, non-refillable. Just kept it because they disappeared.

Did you know that the man who expanded the U-Tot-Em chain from ten stores to more than a thousand and made a fortune from them gave a lot of his money to the University of Houston?

LeRoy Melcher's name is all over the UH campus, including the LeRoy and Lucile Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting, the home of KUHT Channel 8 and KUHF Radio.

http://www.stp.uh.edu/vol65/65/news/news4.html

Actually, U-Tot-Em's didn't "die out'. They're still there, with a different name. Melcher sold the chain to Circle K, and overnight all his stores became Circle K's.

"Just in case anyone should ask you, you-tell'em U-Tot-Em."

Edited by FilioScotia
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  • 7 months later...
U-Totem advertised on TV when I was a kid.

"You tell 'em....U-Totem" (to music)

I was born in 52 and I guess my first memories of U-Totem might have been when I was 6 o7 maybe.

They were everywhere.

The one by my house had a wooden Indian outside to emphasize the totem.

A Hershey bar was a nickle there.

Yes, indeed. I remember when I was a little kid with my mom in the store. I would ask her if I could have a candy bar. She told me that I could as long as I didn't pick out "a ten-cent one." I also remember that U-Tote-Um sold ICEEs.

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Yes, indeed. I remember when I was a little kid with my mom in the store. I would ask her if I could have a candy bar. She told me that I could as long as I didn't pick out "a ten-cent one." I also remember that U-Tote-Um sold ICEEs.

I remember part of the song - "If any one should ask you where to (this part I don't know), You tell 'em U-Tote-Em"

There was one on Park Place. I don't know if it became the grocery stroe that was then a bar that was then a carpet store that is now I have no clue - but it was on the corner of Park Place and I have no clue what the other one was.

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Now I've just remembered something else from my days in Houston over 40 years ago. I recall us stopping by a convenience store chain called "U-Tote-Um." The sign was an indian totem pole. Does anyone else out there remember those stores?

Are there any popular chain convenience stores over there in Houston? If there are, what are their names? There are some Racetrac's over here. I looked up their website. It said that there are also some over in the Houston area. I saw an article in the Houston Chronicle that said that the Diamond Shamock stores in Houston are changing their names to Valero. I don't know if the ones over here will do that or not. When I last saw them, they were still Diamond Shamrock.

Chet Cuccia

I remember them ... didn't they evolve into Circle Ks?

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"Just in case...anyone should ask you...You tell em...U Tot Em"

Little Woodrows on Bellaire at the railroad tracks was a U Tot Em

To be honest, I've grown disenchanted with convenience stores. Their prices are too high. I only stop by them to purchase things that would be the same price anyplace else (lottery tickets, newspapers, gasoline, etc.) But I do remember going a little ways down Old Galveston Road to a U-Tote-Um. Ah, fond childhood memories!

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Now I've just remembered something else from my days in Houston over 40 years ago. I recall us stopping by a convenience store chain called "U-Tote-Um." The sign was an indian totem pole. Does anyone else out there remember those stores?

Are there any popular chain convenience stores over there in Houston? If there are, what are their names? There are some Racetrac's over here. I looked up their website. It said that there are also some over in the Houston area. I saw an article in the Houston Chronicle that said that the Diamond Shamock stores in Houston are changing their names to Valero. I don't know if the ones over here will do that or not. When I last saw them, they were still Diamond Shamrock.

Chet Cuccia

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Now I've just remembered something else from my days in Houston over 40 years ago. I recall us stopping by a convenience store chain called "U-Tote-Um." The sign was an indian totem pole. Does anyone else out there remember those stores?

Are there any popular chain convenience stores over there in Houston? If there are, what are their names? There are some Racetrac's over here. I looked up their website. It said that there are also some over in the Houston area. I saw an article in the Houston Chronicle that said that the Diamond Shamock stores in Houston are changing their names to Valero. I don't know if the ones over here will do that or not. When I last saw them, they were still Diamond Shamrock.

Chet Cuccia

yes, that brings back memories. there was a u tote em on fountainview between 59 and richmond. in fact i stole some of those little Super Bubble brand gums from there once. i took the little 1 cent ones and an expensive 5 cent one too! ha, i hope the statute of limitations is over. i felt guilty afterwards though. the sign for u-tote em had a totem pole design on it. sooo many nice memories. thanks.

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One of my meories of a U-tote-um is one Sunday I broke a shoe lace on my Sunday go-to-church shoes, mom drops me off at the U-tote-um to pick up a pair of laces, clerk couldn't sell them to me, it violated the Sunday blue law. Couldn't buy shoe laces for my church shoes, cause it was Sunday--your state government at work.

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One of my meories of a U-tote-um is one Sunday I broke a shoe lace on my Sunday go-to-church shoes, mom drops me off at the U-tote-um to pick up a pair of laces, clerk couldn't sell them to me, it violated the Sunday blue law. Couldn't buy shoe laces for my church shoes, cause it was Sunday--your state government at work.

I never did understand the "blue laws." I always thought that it was a violation of the separation of church and state. I mean, if the owner of a business has such strong religious convictions, he/she can close on Sunday. And if a customer has such strong religious convictions, he/she can wait until Monday to buy what he/she wants or needs.

When I was a kid, U-Tote-Um and other convenience stores were just about the only businesses open on Sunday. A lot of gas stations were closed. That meant that you had to fill up your car on Saturday if you were planning to go for a drive on Sunday. I remember I was about 10 or 11 when I saw there in Houston the signs of Piggly Wiggly stores saying "Open Sundays." Now most, if not all, stores are open on Sunday. I like it that way. The only way that it could be any better would be if all businesses were 24/7. Someone on another topic said that Walgreen's and CVS are.

Edited by northbeaumont
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I never did understand the "blue laws." I always thought that it was a violation of the separation of church and state. I mean, if the owner of a business has such strong religious convictions, he/she can close on Sunday. And if a customer has such strong religious convictions, he/she can wait until Monday to buy what he/she wants or needs.

When I was a kid, U-Tote-Um and other convenience stores were just about the only businesses open on Sunday. A lot of gas stations were closed. That meant that you had to fill up your car on Saturday if you were planning to go for a drive on Sunday. I remember I was about 10 or 11 when I saw there in Houston the signs of Piggly Wiggly stores saying "Open Sundays." Now most, if not all, stores are open on Sunday. I like it that way. The only way that it could be any better would be if all businesses were 24/7. Someone on another topic said that Walgreen's and CVS are.

Eckerds was open on Sunday, but several sections were roped off, stuff you couldn't buy on Sunday.

Certain Walgreens and CVS's are open 24/7, but most are open 8am-midnight.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There was a U-Tote-Um around the corner from my house in Texas City when I was a kid. My Mom would give my brother and I money to go get candy (I was 8 and my bro was 5; try sending kids that age 3 blocks away to a store nowadays), and the neighbor would send his 6 year old son there to buy his cigarettes. Ah the good old days.

Edited by ScottP
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  • 3 months later...

LOL! I have been looking all over for this ! THis is quite possibly THE only shot of a U-tote-M in existence, and you can thank Francis Ford Copolla for it.

utotem.jpg

That's Matt Dillon running away from the store there.

The little convenience store at the corner of Skyline and Fountainview used to be a U-tote-M. Still standing today.

Edited by TJones
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LOL! I have been looking all over for this ! THis is quite possibly THE only shot of a U-tote-M in existence, and you can thank Francis Ford Copolla for it.

utotem.jpg

That's Matt Dillon running away from the store there.

The little convenience store at the corner of Skyline and Fountainview used to be a U-tote-M. Still standing today.

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Another U-tote-M picture. Or did you mean the only U-tote-M in existence?

I meant the photo, that's why I put possibly. That is a great shot by the way, I am glad there is another shot. I am sure the U-tote-M in the Copolla movie is long gone also. That shot is EXACTLY how I remember mine though. Maroon and yellow checkered tiles, Neon sign, robber fleeing the store............

Edited by TJones
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Wow, we've all lived the same life!

I tended to frequent the 7-11 store that was near our house in Baytown, but we occasionally went to the U-tote-um up by the Lakewood Pharmacy -- and yes, I do remember the totem pole signs they used to have. That pic of Matt Dillon in front of one is a jarringly exact shot of what they once looked like.

The U-Tote-Em "regular" was Dr. Pepper and a moon pie with a Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos comic book thrown in.

Does anyone remember the "Baby Giant" stores in Pasadena/Deer Park? Weird name.

As for the Thunderbird call, I am too young to remember that, but we used to listen to ZZ Top's song "Thunderbird" and call out, 'what's the word?' to which we'd inevitably respond with an enthusiastic THUNDERBIRD!

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Wow, we've all lived the same life!

I tended to frequent the 7-11 store that was near our house in Baytown, but we occasionally went to the U-tote-um up by the Lakewood Pharmacy -- and yes, I do remember the totem pole signs they used to have. That pic of Matt Dillon in front of one is a jarringly exact shot of what they once looked like.

The U-Tote-Em "regular" was Dr. Pepper and a moon pie with a Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos comic book thrown in.

Does anyone remember the "Baby Giant" stores in Pasadena/Deer Park? Weird name.

As for the Thunderbird call, I am too young to remember that, but we used to listen to ZZ Top's song "Thunderbird" and call out, 'what's the word?' to which we'd inevitably respond with an enthusiastic THUNDERBIRD!

Retama, we have/had something a little unique to Baytown, those Jones 7-11s around town remeber those? I remember the U-Tote-M on Bayway Dr. also. My grandmother's house is in Lakewood. For those who may have seen the segment on the news about a month ago where the car ran off the road and into the Baytown Little Theater, the U-tote-M is right in front of it.

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Retama, we have/had something a little unique to Baytown, those Jones 7-11s around town remeber those?

Yes, TJones, I remember them well. A friend of mine who still lives in Baytown told me that the last two (the one in Cedar Bayou and the one on Ward Road) have now closed, both within the year. I used to go to school with kids from the family that managed those stores.

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