H-E-B President Scott McClelland said there was a lot of pressure on him to get the new 92,000-s.f. store at 2300 Shepherd Drive in Houston’s The Heights just right.
“My daughter lives in The Heights,” McClelland told The Shelby Report’s Jan Meade on opening day. “She told me, ‘Dad, if you really love me, you’ll build a good store where I live.’ We hope we delivered. We tried to put a lot of edges in here.”
The store had its challenges. The first was an alcohol ordinance from back in 1904—one year before H-E-B was founded—prohibiting grocers from selling beer and wine.
H-E-B backed a campaign to encourage voters in The Heights area to vote yes on Proposition 1, an ordinance that would allow the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption. They came through and then some.
“It passed 65 percent to 35 percent—which really became a referendum about H-E-B,” McClelland said. “My commitment to the community was, ‘if you’ll overturn the ordinance, we’ll build you the best store that we know how.’”
It was constructed on less than four acres, so this H-E-B is “on stilts,” he said. “Meaning, the store is on the second floor with the parking and the pharmacy on the first floor.”
The Heights community is populated with many young professionals and artists. The store’s décor reflects that spirit and a sense of the community.
“We pulled the store all the way to the edge of the property line to give it a real urban feel, used unique fixturing and materials in building the store to give it a Heights feel,” McClelland said. “One of the things that we’ve done that’s interesting is that we’ve tried to democratize art by introducing local artists into the store.”
One installation in the new H-E-B consists of 13 chickens decked out in knitted sweaters. They float above the escalator in the multi-level store. In the 1920s and ’30s, H-E-B ran a promotion giving customers who caught a chicken either a penny or a mink stole.
“If you were so lucky,” McClelland said.
Outside the store, there are big red letters: HE GHTS. The missing “I” is deliberate. People stand in the spot where it should be to complete the spelling. It is an effort to encourage locals to think of it as their store.
McClelland did not contain his pride.
“As I look across my almost 29-year career, there are certain stores that you’re maybe—you know you’re proud of every store but certain stores that you’re more proud of—this one probably moves to the head of the list because of how hard we had to work to get it approved and then the work we did to make sure that we customized it to the local neighborhood and so today really is a ‘red letter’ day for us.”
H-E-B’s own architects designed the new store. More than 400 partners (employees) make the store run. Every partner but one transferred to the new store from the former “old, little pantry,” which was the oldest store the company operated.
McClelland said customers are emotionally attached to their grocery store and to that extent, H-E-B builds stores “customers can psychologically relate to, where they feel like, ‘this is my store.’ It’s funny how when I go to a store, people talk to the fact that this is ‘my H-E-B,’ and they get a personal ownership of it.”
That personal ownership builds loyalty to H-E-B.
Winell Herron, group VP of public affairs, diversity and environmental affairs, said the store, which is the grocer’s second multi-level store in Houston, represents “the best that H-E-B has to offer.
“We’re really excited. It’s a beautiful store,” she said. “The first floor has our pharmacy and CurbSide and upstairs has all of the amazing departments that H-E-B customers have grown to love and expect from H-E-B. It also has an incredible beer and wine selection, a beautiful floral department, full-service meat case and seafood case.”
Construction of the store began in October 2017. The doors opened Jan. 30.