Let’s face the fact that the façade (French for face) of a storefront creates the greatest impression about a retail business. An appealing frontage lures customers inside, while a more run-down exterior can steer customers to stay away. Fortunately, many retailers and property owners in Westchase District have decided not only to face it, but re-face it, investing big dollars into remodeling existing strip malls and stand-alone stores.
A Whole New Look
In 2014 Whole Foods Market announced it would replace its 25,600 square-foot location at 11145 Westheimer with a 45,000 square-foot store across the street in a Westchase Shopping Center space previously occupied by Randalls. The Austin-based grocer gutted the property down to its frame, opting for a crisp, new design that will feature a brewery.
“We opened our Wilcrest store in 1991, nearly 25 years ago, and we’ve been proud to serve the Westchase community for so many years,” says Mark Dixon, Southwest Regional President for Whole Foods Market. “When the opportunity arose to move to a larger location, we couldn’t resist. After so many years in our current location, we felt it was the perfect time to expand and offer our shoppers a brighter, warmer store with more space to gather and meet, just across the street. Now we’ll have an increased area to create larger venues and offer additional products and services that will excite both new and long-term shoppers.”
The center is owned by Weingarten Realty, a Houston-based real estate investment trust that is the city’s largest commercial real estate property owner, representing more than 47 million square feet of real estate. Weingarten is investing about $2 million to upgrade the fronts of the center’s adjoining tenants, including Golf Galaxy, Palais Royal, Petco, Ross and the new Five Below.
“With Whole Foods relocating and expanding its footprint with a brand new first class store, it strongly influenced our decision to remodel the facades of the other stores to balance the look and feel of the center,” said Patrick Manchi, vice president and regional leasing director for Weingarten.
“The timing makes sense for us to reinvest in this shopping center due to Whole Foods joining the tenant mix and the consistent growth of businesses and retailers in the Westchase District,” Manchi added. “As an owner of shopping centers across the nation, we consistently explore opportunities to add value to all of our properties.”
While several examples of retail remodeling currently can be seen in the District, the trend started a few years ago. In 2013, Ampex Investments put a new roof and taller fascia panels on the Lakeside Estates Retail Center, located on the northwest corner of Westheimer and Wilcrest, as well expanding the parking in back. The effect was a hit with tenants.
“For years, my storefront was a dark red shade that I thought was kind of ugly and hard to see along Westheimer,” said Bob Siegrist, owner of the UPS Store/Gift Store in the center. “Now I think more people notice my business from the street and I even get customers who comment on it. It’s been great.”
Another strip center undergoing renovations is Corner at Lakeside, located at 10820 Westheimer. Home to such dining favorites as Café Pita +, General Joe’s Chopstix, Koto Japanese Restaurant, Salata and Saldivia’s South American Grill, all businesses in the back of the center are receiving a complete redo of their façades.
Starting Over from Scratch
Sometimes a new façade and a fresh coat of paint is not enough. In efforts to stay competitive, several fast food chains decided to raze their restaurants in Westchase District and replace them with more modern versions. Since 2013, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Taco Bell – all along the District’s section of Westheimer – have rebuilt their stores from the ground up, reflecting more modern designs.
In 2013, owners of the McDonald’s at 9601 Westheimer demolished everything from the roof to the foundation, rebuilding a modern store in just 120 days equipped with the latest equipment, energy efficiencies and double drive-thru lanes.
“It’s important to look good as well as be efficient,” said Debbie Adams with Janus 1 Unlimited. Adams has owned the store since 1991. “There’s only so much retrofitting one can do to a store and we felt it was time to upgrade everything completely. I also office nearby, so I feel it’s important to be a good neighbor.” Adams said that since the rebuild, the store’s business has increased by about 10 percent.
The Wendy’s at 10780 Westheimer underwent an extreme makeover, reopening in November 2014 sporting a sleeker street appearance. Features in the restaurant include: a fireplace; a variety of inviting seating options, including lounge chairs and booths; Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs; and digital menu boards.
Most recently, the Taco Bell at 10615 Westheimer reopened January 6 after a mid-August demolition as a brand new, rebuilt-from-the-ground-up store. Fish weren’t biting, so the Long John Silvers portion of the store was cast overboard in favor of a wider drive-thru lane. General Manager Nelly Carballo said the new-model store features all-new equipment and a bigger kitchen, but your same go-to menu for those late-night border runs.
Whether changes have been cosmetic or structural or both, the trend is clear: Westchase is a vibrant retail area and business owners recognize the role store faces play in attracting customer faces.