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Posts from November 2011

Alco Stores debuts in Houston with Spring Branch store

Posted on November 18, 2011 in


Big-city folks may not have heard of Alco Stores, but that could change as the retailer rolls out in larger markets, including its two stores in Houston.

The Kansas-based chain with 214 locations has carved out a niche serving small towns that don’t have a lot of other retail options. Now they are going into what they believe are underserved areas of large cities.

The store makes its debut in Houston on Saturday at 1818 Gessner in a format similar to a small-scale Target, offering goods such as hardware, electronics, food, paper goods, sporting goods and beauty products. The store offers a food section that caters to the Hispanic community.

“We’re just trying to give the customer the opportunity to walk or drive five minutes versus having to get in the car and drive 25 to 30 minutes,” said Bob Stearns, director of store administration and loss prevention of Alco, who was on-site preparing for the opening of the Spring Branch store. “We just hope it’s a more convenient atmosphere for them. It’s all about saving time and money.”

Alco is taking over the space of a former 99ยข Only location on Gessner. It will be the company’s second test of a “large market” store following the pilot store in Grand Prairie in suburban Dallas that opened last month. Another Houston-area store is scheduled to open on Nov. 25 at 4200B Pasadena Blvd. in Pasadena.

“Although Spring Branch is a larger community than those served by the majority of our Alco stores, it appears to be an underserved community, with limited broad-line retailers nearby,” said Wayne Peterson, chief financial officer. “We found a very attractive location convenient to a large customer base.”

The store is less than two miles from the Target at the Memorial City Mall and is seven miles from a Walmart on Silber.

Texas is the largest market of the 23 states where Alco operates, and the stores will be served from a distribution center in Abilene, Kan., where Duckwall-Alco Stores was founded in 1901.

The company is also looking for store sites in San Antonio, Dallas and other Houston locations.

“They are proven operators,” said Ed Wulfe, chairman and CEO of real estate firm Wulfe & Co. “They’ve been able to serve the middle income market currently underserved by the larger powerful retailers. They’re kind of the in between guy.”

The publicly traded company last year closed its smaller Duckwall stores. It reported revenue of $465 million in the latest fiscal year.

The 30,000-square-foot Spring Branch store is a bit larger than the company’s average of 21,000 square feet. The average sales per store are more than $2.2 million.

The Spring Branch location will employ 25. The chain offers 15 percent senior discounts on Mondays for those 62 and older.

Plan for parking changes worries Houston restaurants, bars

Posted on November 18, 2011 in


As Houston considers the first overhaul of its parking ordinance since 1989, those voicing the most concerns are restaurant and bar owners.

Owners say proposed requirements for more spaces at new bars and restaurants would be a hardship for small-business entrepreneurs who lack funds to buy or rent more land.

The changes are still under discussion and would not affect businesses that are already open, but owners say the proposal sets the wrong tone.

“This runs the risk of isolating small start-ups from even beginning,” Kevin Floyd, co-owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge in Montrose, told the Planning Commission at a hearing earlier this month. “They’re the ones that have the flexibility to be creative.”

The issue heated up again Thursday, as a City Council committee heard public comment on the proposed parking ordinance revisions that have been in development since early last year.

Bobby Heugel, also a co-owner at Anvil, told the Development and Regulatory Affairs Committee on Thursday that the proposal should include tiered parking requirements for different sizes of bars, as it does for different types of restaurants.

“Instead of one blanket approach, we could have different designations for a bar vs. a nightclub,” Heugel suggested. “If your nightclub exceeds 4,000 square feet, we could have different parking requirements and not damage the little guy.”

City officials say the proposed changes are designed partly to get parked cars off neighborhood streets.

“We receive a lot of complaints about bars not having enough parking,” said Suzy Hartgrove, spokeswoman for the Planning and Development Department.

As the city’s staff and the Planning Commission studied the issue and compared Houston with other cities, they found that the locally required number of spaces for restaurants and bars was lower than those in many other cities, Hartgrove said.

The city’s existing parking ordinance requires a restaurant to have eight parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space. The new proposal divides prepared-food establishments into three types, each with different parking requirements.

A restaurant would need 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet, a dessert shop would need six spaces, and a take-out or drive-through eatery would need four spaces per 1,000 square feet.

Not all on same page

Under the existing law, bars must have 10 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet. The proposal calls for 14 spaces.

Proponents of public transit and denser urban development also questioned the need for more parking.

Zakcq Lockrem, an urban planner and Citizens’ Transportation Coalition volunteer, told the Planning Commission that requiring more concrete is not the solution.

“We believe we should be encouraging a city where we use walking, biking and transit to get around,” Lockrem said.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the issue again Dec. 1. Depending upon the commission’s action, the proposal could go to the City Council by the end of the year.

Under the existing ordinance, restaurants need eight parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space. The proposal divides eateries into three different types:
Restaurants: required to have 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet.
Dessert shops: required to have six spaces per 1,000 square feet.
Take-out: required to have four spaces per 1,000 square feet.
Under the proposal, bars would be required to have 14 spaces per 1,000 square feet, up from 10 under the existing ordinance