Retail — Shopping in the Bayou City
As a culturally diverse city, Houston is full of choices. In few areas is that more apparent than in the many malls, shopping centers and quaint retail districts that tempt shoppers from home and abroad. From the rare finds to the can't-pass-it-up bargains, "Shopping in the Bayou City" details those choices, and even includes a map to make sure no one misses the big sale.
Houston has professional sports such as basketball, football and baseball, and it also has shopping -- the city's unofficial pastime. The options are varied with something for everyone. Massive malls, trendy boutiques, factory outlets, flea markets, national chains and one-of-a-kind specialty shops all can be found here. The following is a road map for the intrepid shopper.
Houston has at least 23 shopping centers with more than 500,000 square feet of retail space each, and anchored by retail staples such as Dillard's, Foley's, Palais Royal, Sears, JCPenney, Mervyn's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman-Marcus. The shopping centers also are host to many of the nationally recognized retail chains and a variety of specialty stores.
The Galleria (www.galleriahouston.com) is the number one shopping and tourist destination in Houston, with more than 16 million visitors each year. With its more than 350 fine stores and restaurants, an Olympic-sized ice rink, and two Westin hotels, it houses the best-known names in high-end retailing - Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Tiffany & Co. - as well as mainstream favorites such as Banana Republic and Eddie Bauer. A 700,000-square-foot expansion, opened in March 2003, added 70 stores to the mix, including a flagship Foley's and Houston's first Nordstrom, making The Galleria the fifth-largest mall in the country with 2.4 million square feet of retail space.
Memorial City Mall (www. memorialcitymall.com) is situated west of downtown. Built in 1966, the mall has just undergone a three-year, $100 million-plus renovation, adding about 500,000 square feet to the existing 1.2 million square feet and making room for more than 75 new vendors. In addition to a new Foley's flagship store (larger than its sister store in The Galleria), the mall anchors include Sears, Mervyn's, Target and Dillard's. The transformation of the mall into an upscale, family-friendly shopping destination involved making design changes to allow natural light to pour through windows and skylights, adding light fixtures hand-crafted by local artisans, and adding an ice rink and a children's play area that features a 28-foot-high foam castle.
The Woodlands Mall (www.thewoodlandsmall.com) features Dillard's, Foley's, JCPenney, Mervyn's and Sears as anchors. A 150,000-square-foot expansion, which opened in spring 2004, connects the mall to The Woodlands Waterway, a river walk-themed development. The expansion added a number of upscale retailers and restaurants in an open-air setting, taking advantage of The Woodlands' natural ambiance. The Woodlands Mall is one of only a handful of regional malls in the country offering an indoor/outdoor shopping experience.
Other major shopping areas include:
• Almeda Mall ( www.almedamall.com )
• Baybrook Mall ( www.shopbaybrookmall.com )
• Brazos Mall ( www.brazosmall.com )
• Deerbrook Mall ( www.shopdeerbrook-mall.com )
• First Colony Mall ( www.shopfirstcolony.com )
• Fountains on the Lake
• Greenspoint Mall ( www.greenspointmall.com )
• Gulfgate Center
• Katy Mills Mall ( www.katymills.com )
• Mall of the Mainland ( www.mallofthemainland.com )
• Market Street ( www.marketstreet-thewoodlands.com )
• Meyerland Plaza ( www.houstoncl.com/shopping/meyerlandplz.htm )
• Northline Mall
• Northwest Mall ( www.houstoncl.com/shopping/nrthwest.htm )
• Pasadena Town Square ( www.pasadenatownsquare.com )
• Portofino Center
• San Jacinto Mall ( www.sanjacinto-mall.com )
• Sharpstown Center ( www.shopsharps-towncenter.com )
• Town & Country Village ( http://www.houstoncl.com/shopping/tcvillage1.htm )
• West Oaks Mall ( www.shopwestoaksmall.com )
• Willowbrook Mall ( www.shopwillowbrookmall.com )
Sitting three stories high under a vaulted atrium on two downtown city blocks, The Shops at Houston Center is host to 60 stores and restaurants. The Shops at Houston Center connects to the Houston Center office buildings via skywalks and to the rest of downtown via the Downtown Tunnel System -- more than six miles of underground space connecting office buildings, banks, shops, restaurants, hotels, parking facilities, courts and city administration buildings. Catering primarily to the downtown workforce, the tunnels are filled with shops and eating establishments. Also connected to the tunnels, Foley's (1110 Main) is Houston's oldest department store and features everything from clothes to furniture.
In the warehouse district east of downtown, where Chinese immigrants first settled in the late 19th century, Houston's first Chinatown was born. Although there was a shift toward southwest Houston in the 1980s, where a "new" Chinatown was established, both "old" and "new" Chinatowns offer a variety of shops and restaurants.
Montrose, an area bordered by Allen Parkway, U.S. 59, Bagby Street and Shepherd Drive, is a neighborhood of residences and eclectic shops. The savvy shopper will find pockets of funky accessories, antiques and crafts shops, secondhand stores, galleries, coffee bars and restaurants, primarily on Westheimer Road and Montrose Boulevard.
Rice Village, located near Rice University, the Texas Medical Center and the Museum District, is one of Houston's oldest shopping districts. The 12 city blocks offer more than 325 boutiques, family-owned businesses and big-name stores. There's even an authentic five-and-dime store, jam-packed with everything imaginable -- like the shopping area itself.
Upper Kirby District
The Upper Kirby District, an area near Kirby Drive and Westheimer Road, can be identified by its trademark red British phone booths. Interspersed among a wide selection of restaurants, freestanding stores and small shopping centers offer a variety of goods, from books to upscale home furnishings.
River Oaks Shopping Center is the oldest shopping center in Texas and the second oldest in the nation. Situated on both sides of West Gray Street between Shepherd Drive and Driscoll Street, the art-deco style center is home to Houston's oldest movie theater and features restaurants and more than 65 shops, from fashion to home décor to kitchen gadgets.
Down the street, River Oaks Shopping Plaza (West Gray Street at Dunlavy Street) has a Marshalls' mega store, a T.J. Maxx and an OfficeMax, along with a variety of smaller retail stores and eating establishments.
The Post Oak shopping district along Post Oak Boulevard between Westheimer Road and Loop 610 has streets lined with huge, silver arches and labeled with retro-type signs. Several shopping centers grace the district, starting with the Centre at Post Oak on the corner of Westheimer Road and Post Oak Boulevard. The Centre has a collection of boutiques and retail chains, including Marshalls, Old Navy and Barnes & Noble.
Across from the Centre is a shopping center anchored by The Container Store and Oshman's, with a Pier 1 Imports and other retail stores in between. At 1800 Post Oak Boulevard is The Pavilion on Post Oak, which features more than 20 of Houston's most elegant shops such as Hermès of Paris and Esther Wolf.
Highland Village Shopping Center is another of Houston's oldest shopping centers. Just minutes from The Galleria on Westheimer Road near Mid Lane, it has more than 60 stores, including large national chains such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Ethan Allen, Williams-Sonoma, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and Z Gallerie. Highland Village also features several trendy high-end boutiques such as the exclusive designer clothes boutique, Tootsie's.
Uptown Park, at the corner of Post Oak Boulevard and Loop 610, was designed to give Houston an Italian-style piazza with shops, boutiques and cafés. It's where Old World meets modern day. The shopping is upscale -- women can find a pair of Jimmy Choo's at Velvet Slipper Couture; men can find tuxedos at Bill Walker Clothier; babies can be dressed by Haute Baby.
Old Town Spring ( www.oldtownspringtx.com ), located about 20 miles north of Houston on Interstate 45, offers quaint shops in restored homes with a turn-of-the-century feel. Located near the original rail yards built in the early 1900s by the Great Northern Railroad, the more than 150 Victorian-style shops offer antiques, collectibles, clothing and accessories for home and gifts.
Once a sleepy fishing village, the 30-acre waterfront site enjoyed a transformation into a theme park devoted to waterfront dining, attractions and shopping. The specialty shops include Christmas at Kemah (with Christmas ornaments, gifts and home decor), Kemah Outfitters and The Toy Crossing, a children's store.
Galveston, once known as the "New York of Texas," serves as host to the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state. More than a half-million people gather each year to participate in the 12 days and 11 nights of live music, parades and masked balls, all complete with flamboyant costumes. The Strand National Historic Landmark District is the center point for these festivities as well as for shopping on the island. This charming historic district, comprised of 26 square blocks, offers more than 100 shops, restaurants and art galleries. Nestled within The Strand District, is the Post Office Street Arts and Entertainment District, which includes Gallery Row, a must-see for shoppers seeking art, antiques and collectibles.
Antiques abound in Houston, ranging from fine American and European examples, to primitives and Texana. Carolyn Thompson's Antique Center of Houston ( www.antiquecenteroftexas.com ) and Market Place are two of many area antique malls where several dealers display their treasures under one roof. In addition, there are several individual galleries such as Simpson's Antiques (www.simpsongalleries.com), Houston's oldest fine art auction house, which carries a large collection of antique furniture, crystal, china, porcelain and oriental rugs.
Nineteenth Street in the Heights, located north of Interstate 10 just outside of downtown, has several charming blocks perfect for the antique shopper. In addition to the many antique shops, this area houses art galleries, home furnishing boutiques, restaurants and cafés.
Old Seabrook community's Back Bay market, held twice a month, is a popular place to look for antiques and local arts and crafts.
Westheimer Road, between Montrose Boulevard and Kirby Drive, also is home to many antique shops.
Katy Mills Mall ( www.katymills.com ), located 25 miles west of downtown on Interstate 10, opened in 1999 as a place to eat, shop and play. This 1.3-million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex houses more than 200 of the best names in manufacturer and retail outlets, off-price retailers and unique specialty stores. Major stores include Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Bed Bath & Beyond, Books-A-Million, Burlington Coat Factory, Marshalls, Off 5th Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, Old Navy, Old West Warehouse, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store and Sun & Ski Sports.
In addition, Conroe Outlet Center ( www.conroeoutletcenter.com ), north of Houston on Interstate 45, has 60 top-name and designer stores (e.g., Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne), unique one-of-a-kind shops and special seasonal outlet stores. Factory Stores of America, between Houston and Galveston located on Interstate 45, offers more than 40 outlet stores. Harwin Avenue in southwest Houston also has several outlet stores, with goods ranging from shoes to luggage.
Shopping flea markets is a popular weekend activity, and not all are outdoors. For example, Trading Fair II near Reliant Stadium is an indoor flea market open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with 400 dealers.
Traders Village Houston ( www.tradersvillage.com ) takes up 105 acres in northwest Houston at 7979 N. Eldridge Pkwy., making this the largest flea market on the Texas Gulf Coast. Open each weekend since 1989, Traders Village attracts a million shoppers each year who browse the 1,000 shops in a state fair atmosphere.
The Houston Flea Market, located at 6116 Southwest Freeway at Westpark Drive, sits on 14 acres and is another of the largest and most popular flea markets in the area.
Groceries, Food and Wine
The main grocery stores scattered around town are Randall's, Kroger's, Fiesta, Wal-Mart and H-E-B. For international flavor, Fiesta carries a vast selection of food products from other countries. For those hard-to-find ingredients, Whole Foods Market and Central Market feature a wider than normal selection from which to choose, as does eatZi's, which specializes in providing chef-prepared, restaurant-quality meals for easy take-away. Rice Epicurean, the oldest family-owned supermarket chain in Houston, is known for its meat department and gourmet deli selections.
Known for its selection of food and drink and its helpful staff, Spec's Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods has just completed a year-long expansion of its downtown location (2410 Smith), nearly tripling in size to 80,000 square feet. In addition to the wine and liquor selection, Spec's downtown has a 15,000-square-foot deli where sandwiches are made fresh to order and customers can find gourmet and specialty foods. Spec's also has 16 additional stores located all over Houston.