Get a rare look at H-E-B Austin Store No. 1

Readers can’t get enough updates about the early H-E-B stores in Austin.

When H-E-B renamed this small, ornate brick shop, a former Piggly Wiggly, as its “Store No. 1” in the mid-1940s it was at West Sixth and Colorado streets. You are looking south on Colorado. Contributed by Austin History Center

You might recall that two weeks ago, we located the first eight spots — two supermarkets and six grocery stores — in directory listings from the mid-1940s. Four of those stores had been purchased from the Piggly Wiggly chain in 1938 — hence the company’s current celebration of its 80th year in town — but the names did not change until 1945.

RELATED: We found the original eight H-E-B stores in Austin.

Brief silliness: Several readers remember being told as youths that H-E-B — owned by the Butt family — had actually merged with Piggly Wiggly. The new corporate name was to be “Wiggly Butt.”

Most recognized this as a joke rather than as business news.

Here’s the real news: Alert reader Kent Maysel sent us an image of the spot that H-E-B had designated as Austin’s “Store No. 1.” One of the former Piggly Wiggly shops, it stood at 117 W. Sixth St. on the southeast corner of Colorado and West Sixth streets.

It was gone by 1954, when the ultra-modern Starr Building, also known as the American National Bank Building, replaced the grocery store. This landmark was lovingly renovated in 2009-2010. It became the stylish “Mad Men” home of the McGarrah Jessee marketing agency.

Delighted with the discovery of the image, we sent out an appeal for personal memories of those original eight stores. Some readers firmly recalled the ones on East Sixth Street, East First Street and the supermarket in the TarryTown Center.

Yet “Store No. 1” received no such love.

Until we heard from May Smith. We had previously written about Smith’s experiences in the Austin Sunshine Camp in the 1930s, when it was run to help prevent tuberculosis.

PREVIOUSLY: Remembering Austin’s Sunshine TB camp.

“I happen to be one of the people who went to work at that first H-E-B on West Sixth Street,” May said. “I’m so happy you’ve found all the stores!”

We found the original 8 Austin H-E-B stores

Last week, we settled a question about a perplexing image of a modern supermarket displayed on the H-E-B website. Turns out that the shop with a tall tower was not located in Austin but instead at 18th and Austin streets in Waco. It now serves as a furniture store.
This entry in the Southwestern Bell directory for 1946 shows eight H-E-B grocery stores in Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The column generated an online chat about the locations of the first H-E-B stores in our city. The chain’s website reports that three local stores were purchased in 1938. We also found evidence that those markets had been part of the Piggly Wiggly group.

RELATED: No, this not Austin in this picture of H-E-B

To put the matter to rest, we spent some time in the reading room at the Austin History Center. There, we pulled city and phone directories from the late 1930s through the late 1940s.

We were dazzled by the number of listed markets, some just a block or so from the next shopping option. A few were part of national, regional or local groups, such as A&P, Red & White, or Checkered Front. Others bore cool names such as New China (two locales), Handy Hut Food Pantry or Achilles IGA.

Until 1945, however, we found no listing for an H-E-B; we did find six for Piggly Wiggly. The year the war ended, the Piggly Wiggly brand had disappeared. Instead, H-E-B listed two supermarkets and six smaller stores.

Super Mkt No. 1: 2014 S. Congress. Now: Refurbished condos.

Super Mkt No. 2: 3106 Windsor. Now and then: TarryTown Center.

Store No. 1: 117 W. Sixth. Now: McGarrah Jessee building.

Store No. 2: 824 W. 12th. Now: ACC garage.

Store No. 3: 601 E. Sixth. Now: Nondescript offices.

Store No. 4: 1405 San Jacinto. Now: Capitol complex garage.

Oddly, there was no Store No. 5.

Store No. 6: 1111 E. First. Now: Central Health.

Store No: 7: 39th and Gaudalupe. Now: Natural Grocers?

So eight shops as Austin launched into the postwar boom. By 1948, the numeration had changed, but the addresses remained the same.

No, this H-E-B was not in Austin

Reader Steven Swinnea spotted some contradictions in a H-E-B promotional piece, material taken from the grocery chain’s website, that ran in the American-Statesman earlier this summer. The image in the piece shows a streamlined supermarket, but the clues in the caption and in the markings on the photographic print do not match.

The information on the photographic print and the caption don’t match. Contributed by H-E-B

“The writing purports it to be ‘Austin #1, 18th & Austin,” Swinnea writes. “Where is 18th and Austin? Where would a supermarket fit on 18th — unless it was in the pre-Interstate-35 days?”

He also wonders how the pictured market could be “Austin No. 1,” since the accompanying text says that the earliest H-E-Bs here were elsewhere in town, including at least one on East Sixth Street.

In fact, H-E-B’s homepage reports that the company, founded in Kerrville, then based in Corpus Christi before it settled in San Antonio, purchased three Austin markets in 1938. Based on the car models in this image, the photo, also incorrectly identified on the H-E-B site, was taken in the late 1950s.

Also, several Texas cities do come with Austin streets, some named after the colonist, others after the road toward the state capital.

More Mysteries: Time travel to 1973 on the Drag.

We posted the mystery on three Facebook pages. Two readers solved the puzzle almost immediately, using different methods.

Sam Sargent located the surviving building at 18th and Austin in Waco. How did he find out?

“Googling ‘HEB Food Stores’ and ‘Austin’ to see what came up,” Sargent writes. “I just knew we didn’t have a building like that … in Austin.”

On another page, Donald Spradlin picked the same location.

“I worked through a Google Image Search and TinEye (a reverse image search tool) to get to old images of a close-up of the tower,” he writes, “and went backwards from there.”

Reader Gentry McLean found a KXXV.com article that says the Waco building opened in 1949. It’s now a Sedberry Furniture store.

Next week, we follow the subsequent online discussion about where those first three H-E-Bs, reportedly purchased from the Piggly Wiggly chain, were located in Austin.