Living and growing up in the Houston area, you grow accustomed to the things that you love, enjoy, or mildly revere being torn down or imploded, or succumbing to economic ruin. Sports teams, stadiums, bars, restaurants, even the reputations of your heroes aren’t safe in the city. We’re in constant rebuild mode. Rip it up, start again. Sometimes, as a native Houstonian writer, I feel like I am waiting for some weird landmark to shut down or go out of business to get a twinge of sadness for an appreciation to pass on.
Wednesday, we found out that Montrose’s Kroger location, lovingly named “Disco Kroger” for its locale and clientele, will shutter in early 2021. Blame low sales, a changing market demographic, a criminal element, and the ever-changing whims of real estate in one of the city’s most lucrative zip codes. Plus, having H-E-B and its über-Texan, 21st-century shopping experience just a few red lights and a few famous potholes away off of West Alabama surely didn’t help.
But that hasn’t been all. Earlier this year we lost the Fiesta in lower Midtown, which was the closest that the area could get to the Mos Eisley Cantina in terms of a mercurial, cultural melting pot. It might have been one of the most “Houston” places we had left.
I am still in low-key mourning over the loss of Montrose’s Jack in the Box location, not because I loved the food, but because it seemed to be an art installation of sorts, a nihilistic place where you could wait in the drive-thru for a half hour only to come home and discover your Jumbo Jack was made with white sandwich bread (probably from Kroger next door), a clutch of still-frozen tacos, and a wet rag as a side item.
Recent transplants might not be hip to the veritable Marvel Universe of Kroger locations and their ascribed nicknames. Disco Kroger has been known for being a party-people magnet, especially after last call when some of us need frozen pizzas, a whole sheet cake, a case of water, and generic Oreos. It was where you could see Houston punk-rock royalty stocking up on organic mac and cheese next to a beleaguered Med Center professional. The post-happy-hour wine and cheese walk of shame. The pregame beer and meat run.
This was also the location where, back in April 2019, a cab driver was fatally shot. As a long-time Montrose dweller, that event shook me. Many locals didn’t like this location because of the sometimes treacherous environment in the parking lot, ground zero for signature Montrose Strange that doesn’t get mentioned in a listicle or a real estate guide.
But Disco Kroger has been my go-to since I moved into the neighborhood a decade ago. It’s where I went when I only had $20 and could find weird, discounted meat and marked-down milk. It’s where I have stocked up for every tropical storm, hurricane, freeze, breakup, playoff game, and global pandemic. Also, the baked chicken from the deli is the bomb.
While everyone else seemingly has already defected to H-E-B, I have stuck by that grimy grocery store. Why? I have never quite been able to get on the H-E-B bandwagon because I am naturally a contrarian and a creature of nostalgic habit.
Plus, I have also gotten a weird pickup vibe from the West Alabama H-E-B, the Bumble to Disco Kroger’s trashy Tinder. I swear a subset of the H-E-B clientele only goes after yoga class. I have heard more awkward pickup lines along those aisles than I can remember. Ms. Lululemon and Mr. Under Armour, pushed together by fate on the coffee aisle. Did you know that they actually make keto-friendly coffee now?
If there is one constant about Montrose, and even Houston at large, it’s that nothing ever stays the same. Here today, paved over tomorrow. It’s not so much about gentrification, it’s the loss of non-manufactured charm.