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The Superette Grocery/Convenience Stores


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Passing down Yale Street this afternoon, I noticed that Happy Land has closed and is up for sale. For those unfamiliar with Happy Land, it was one of the last Superette's, if not THE last one, in Houston. Where I was raised in the Heights, we had Tony's on E. 20th, and Van's on Aurora, both within walking distance of the house. For those unfamiliar with a superette, they were small, grocery/convenience stores (for the lack of a better term) that typically had your basic grocery items, auto supplies, household goods and a meat counter. What really killed the Superette in Houston? Convenient stores can't be the culprit as U-Totem, Baby Giant, and 7-11 all existed alongside the Superettes of Houston. These used to be everywhere, now they are nearly a mere page in Houston's history.

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I've never heard that term "superette", interesting. I remember the Baby Giant, spotted from the Pierce Elevated, behind St. Joseph's Hospital, downtown. It had that stick of dynamite - neon sign that always caught my eye. I always thought of it as a firecracker. We just had 7-11's and U-totem's in SE Houston. In the East End, in the sixties, my great grandmother would frequent the individually owned corner stores. They had those old screen doors. Of course, they were within walking distance from her home.

Do you have the cross street or approximate address for that store on Yale? I would like to see it.

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Nena, I don't know the exact cross street's name. It Is a small dead end street that actually is connected with Happyland's parking lot at the front facing Yale. Happyland was between Tidwell and Janisch, on the east side of Yale. It is about a block south of the old Hohl Elementary, now High School Ahead Academy. Best way to spot it us to look for the old sign in front with the yellow smiley faces. Coming up Yale from 610 it will be on your right, just past Esther's Soul Food. Of course, on your left coming from the 45 end of Yale.

Superette was a term used more frequently maybe 30 years ago, not so much now. Tony's was still in business until the early 2000's, when it finally closed down, bur it had become a shadow of itself in its last 20 years of its existence.

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We've still got a "superette" in our neighborhood...KG Food Center at the corner of Tierwester and Mount Pleasant.

Owned by the same Korean family since it opened in the early 1960s. Mama (in her 80s or 90s) still works the cash register, one son works with her up front, and another son works in the butcher shop. The boys grew up in the neighborhood (South Union) but the family no longer lives in the neighborhood as they did for decades.

The place is about the size of a convenience store, but has meat counter, produce, everything you need. It's a neighborhood institution, a necessity for many around here who don't have transportation, but I wonder how long it will stick around.

I'm part of the problem, as I rarely shop there. I only go in for the essentials when I'm in a pinch. It really hit me the other day when I took my four year old son in...it was his first trip there since shortly after he started walking. He loved the place, so I'll make a better effort to support them.

This is the store my wife used to walk to as a kid to buy beer and cigarettes when the grown ups needed them. It's nice to know that my son has a place to go when I'm too incapacitated to buy my own beer and cigarettes. :-)

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Kids are missing out on so much these days.  I remember being dispatched on my bicycle to go get my dad's pipe tobacco and cigars.  I suppose the cashiers were pretty confident that a 10 year old kid wasn't picking this stuff up for himself.

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The little side street is Leago St. I work near W. Donovan and N. Shepherd and pass that store up on my drive home.

Thank you, Hanabi-Chan. It is indeed Leago. I had forgotten one other superette on Yale, farther north. This one's named Jimmy's. It is at the corner of Red Ripple and Yale. Apparently, the widening of Yale between Parker and Tidwell really did a number on this one's parking lot. There isn't one up front now, only 3 or 4 parking spots on the Red Ripple side. Also, lost its flashy sign with all the light bulbs flashing in a circular pattern, I assume, to the same construction. It looks abandoned on the outside, but I saw a man walking out with a bag as I passed this morning so they must be open for business. Great pics of the 2 still in operation. I guess there are a few more still alive than I was aware of. Michelle is absolutely right, there used to be one in every neighborhood, and in a lot of cases more than one. You could walk in the front door, and before it had a chance to close, you had already been greeted BY NAME. Nearly unheard of in this day and age of *ahem* "customer service".

Nena, I very well remember the Baby Giant. There was one on Main, next to Shipley's, and another on Main at Boundary, just over the bridge heading toward downtown. I always loved the neon dynamite stick sign. We were lucky enough to have both U-Totem and Baby Giant near my grandfather's house on DeGeorge St. That area certainly has changed since those days.

Edited by Purpledevil
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Maybe these were too big to be 'superettes' but I remember some Lucky 7 stores on north side of town (not to be confused with Lucky Stores' Eagle grocery stores which appeard in Houston in the late 1970's). I believe each was independently owned but the affiliation must have allowed for volume pricing of, at least, the packaged items. These stores were generally larger than a U-Tote-M but smaller than a Weingartens or Henke grocery store. The Lucky 7 at Airline and Gulf Bank was owned by the Io family. Chester Io was also a member of the Little York Volunteer Fire Dept. I'm not really sure but I think the store at Fairview and Taft was also a Lucky 7.

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I've always thought the name "Superette" came from the fact that these stores were miniature supermarkets.

 

Unlike convenience stories that only sell basic necessities at inflated prices, Superettes had everything a larger supermarket has but on a smaller scale.

Edited by FilioScotia
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Eh, Michoacan isn't really the same thing. Good place to get some good cuts of meat for a fair price though. FilioScotia described them to a tee. They were mini supermarkets. They sold what the big boys did, on a smaller scale. That's what made the superette special. When you went to your neighborhood superette, they knew you and you felt like a part of their family when you walked through the door. Try getting a loaf of bread on credit at Randall's or Kroger. They'll laugh you out of the store. Bounce a check? That's gonna cost you big time nowadays. That's not the way it was in the days of the true superette or neighborhood food mart. Convenience stores now are all the same, everything inside is easily interchangeable with another location, including the clerk. It seems to me the days of being "a regular customer" has lost its significance over the years, and no one seemed to have noticed while it was being allowed to happen.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've always thought the name "Superette" came from the fact that these stores were miniature supermarkets.

 

Unlike convenience stories that only sell basic necessities at inflated prices, Superettes had everything a larger supermarket has but on a smaller scale.

 

Exactly right.

 

I thought Baby Giants were convenience stores like U-Tote-M. We had a U-Tote-M in Baytown on Bayway Drive next to the Lakewood Pharmacy.

 

The Baby Giant I remember was on Spencer Highway in Pasadena.

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I suppose Freaky Foods (the Richwood Super Market, next door to King Cole Liquor on Richmond at Woodhead) would also qualify as a superette.  It certainly knew the neighborhood - in the late '70s - early '80s, it had an amazing selection of soft porn for every taste, quite the assortment of rolling papers, and a cookie aisle that was beyond belief.  And yellow beacons on top of the storefront.

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I suppose Freaky Foods (the Richwood Super Market, next door to King Cole Liquor on Richmond at Woodhead) would also qualify as a superette.  It certainly knew the neighborhood - in the late '70s - early '80s, it had an amazing selection of soft porn for every taste, quite the assortment of rolling papers, and a cookie aisle that was beyond belief.  And yellow beacons on top of the storefront.

 

It was open 24/7.....a real experience to go into at 3AM!!!!

 

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Awww the days of walking to "the little store" to buy kool-aid & candy cigarettes. It was a small grocery store that was owned by a man & wife. It was in walking distance. Nowdays can't let your children play outside in their own yard much less walk to a little store. Times have changed so much. Its not fun anymore for kids. No wonder they play video games. The world is to evil for kids to be kids. They will never experience childhood memories like we had.  Drinking out of a water hose, playing outside till dark, climbing trees, kickball etc.. It's a real shame.

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  • 1 month later...

The east end still has at least a few of these stores.  I know of one on Canal, and one on Harrisburg at Forest Hill.  I think I know of a third on Griggs.  Just as described, large convenience store selection with produce and a meat counter.

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OK, how would you tell a superette from a convenience store by looking at it? Obviously, anything attached to a gas station would be a convenience store, but there are lots of other sketchy/older convenience stores that sell the same product mix (beer/wine, lotto tickets, snacks, etc.) at around the same prices of other convenience stores. Former UtoteM stores qualify, as Circle K began dumping the old 1960s ones without gas pumps almost immediately.

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I guess the easiest way to tell an old superette from your basic stop-n-rob is that the superette either currently has or at one time had a meat counter with a full time butcher slicing fresh meat in it.

Jimmy's on Yale still has their meat counter, I stopped in for a pack of smokes a few days ago on the way to the bank, so it qualifies. It didn't look like the counter had been used In years, but it was there nonetheless.

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I guess the easiest way to tell an old superette from your basic stop-n-rob is that the superette either currently has or at one time had a meat counter with a full time butcher slicing fresh meat in it.

 

 

OK, that brought back some scent memory... kind of a manky scent memory that would probably have sent Maaaaaaarvin Zindler into a swivet.*

 

 

*(Today is apparently turning into Vocabulary Day.  Sorry, I just can't help it.)

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I went to school in the 1960's with a guy whose father owner and Lucky 7 Grocery store. The store was located on the northside but they (the family) lived in Tanglewood and not the cheap seats either. So these types of stores must have been pretty profitable back then. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

It was open 24/7.....a real experience to go into at 3AM!!!!

 

 

My family shopped at Richwood's in the 1950s--right up until the day in 1957 when my father went there to get an orange crate (Remember those? Flimsy nailed-together wooden boxes that oranges came in).  My kindergarten teacher had told us to bring crates to set up a pretend store. My dad came home from Richwoods's fuming. "They charged me ten cents for this rickety little orange crate! TEN CENTS!! Weingarten's would have given it to me for free! We're never shopping at Richwood's again!" And we never did. At least, he never did. When I grew up I went occasionally. Before the makover that changed it into a dime-a-dozen-gas-station-convenience store, it look just like an extension of King Cole Licquor Store--same architechture, building material, etc. When it was made over I was unaccountably sorry.

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Not a superette... but it has a launderette attached, like U-totem. I forgot about them. Sunny's had a kid in the logo, I vaguely remember. Guessing 1960's, from the Googie roofline and orange colored sign. 

 

*corner of Baldwin and 301 Tuam.

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I went to school in the 1960's with a guy whose father owner and Lucky 7 Grocery store. The store was located on the northside but they (the family) lived in Tanglewood and not the cheap seats either. So these types of stores must have been pretty profitable back then. 

 

Was this the Orlando family by any chance?

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