Friday, October 8, 2010

A Myst-erious Business

Editor's Note: Here's one I prepared in late August. --PS3D

Cyan Worlds (formerly Cyan) is a fairly mysterious company. We talked about Cosmic Osmo months ago, but Cyan Worlds is still an intriguing company.

1. The Mysterious Color Cosmic Osmo
I'm still wondering about the real "color" Cosmic Osmo. A full page is what I remember, and oddly enough, some of the most vivid things (like Queen Osmo, the radio tower) later resurfaced years later when I finally managed to get my hands on a Cosmic Osmo and the Worlds Beyond the Mackerel disk image. I tried visiting the 1997 version of Cyan to get my hands on that elusive page, but the links to the Site Map and Other Worlds was down.

2. Sunsoft
Sunsoft, a Japanese company, helped finance Myst, but Sunsoft's intent was to gain the exclusive rights for consoles. Specifically, the SNES CD-ROM add-on. No real screenshots of what the SNES CD would've looked like, but it's likely that it would look more like the grotesquely underpowered Sega CD. However, while we never saw Myst or Cosmic Osmo on the Super Nintendo, years later, Sunsoft helped bring Myst (and later, "The Manhole: Masterpiece Edition") to the iOS. Was Sunsoft always with Cyan, or did they re-join forces? And if it was the latter, why?

3. Three and Four
We know why Ubisoft is the publisher of the latter Myst series. A deal was inked with Brøderbund, but Brøderbund changed hands, as The Learning Company bought it, Mattel bought The Learning Company, Mattel sold The Learning Company to Gores Technology Group, and the entertainment holdings were sold to Ubisoft...but that doesn't explain why Myst III: Exile and Myst IV: Revelations were not developed by Cyan Worlds. The answer supposedly was that they were working on Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, but that ran into delays, cutbacks, cancellations, and reopenings. Not exactly as intended.

4. That Bad, Huh?
In 2005, Cyan laid off almost everyone and appeared like they would totally die, and was only saved after a deal with Turner Broadcasting and GameTap. But how did Cyan get to that position, anyway? Did they burn through all the cash reserves of original Myst and Riven sales, as well as later Myst licensing that fast? One theory is the changing of hands of Brøderbund's entertainment holdings caused losses for Cyan (Mattel Interactive was a big money-loser) but that's pretty vague. You'd think that the changing hands would allow them to bail out.

Comment Discussion: What are your memories of playing Cyan games?

Friday, July 30, 2010


From Nintendojo's "Requiem for a System": the article "64DDenied". It focuses on the Nintendo 64DD. Sorry, no OCR. Click on scans for a better view. Not available on

After this, it's full speed ahead on the Spirit of 2005. It may continue into the fall.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Meijer vs. Walmart!

I went on vacation, and I finally got a chance to see Meijer stores and other Wal-Marts. So, what was the prognosis?

First, let's go over a few things. I was spoiled by size by my local Walmart: 254,000 is huge, and I'll rarely get more than that.

I visited two Meijers and one Walmart Supercenter (in Marquette, MI)

The first Meijer I visited was north of Ann Arbor (en route to Flint, I believe) and was very dated. Signage was all in teal and had early-90s-type italic fonts. There were no drop ceilings, but it was still low. There wasn't even alcove shops in front, just a large window. It was the type of store that almost felt like a craft store, but the 1990s look was just enough for me to think "this needs a renovation" rather than "I wouldn't be surprised if I saw a Lisa Frank notebook around here somewhere" or "why don't they stock Nintendo 64?"

Photos coming soon.

The second Meijer I saw was much more akin to an actual hypermarket. It had alcove shops, higher ceilings, and more. It had towels and more. Unfortunately, I couldn't check the departments and Made in Whatever as well as Kmart. I do, however, have a directory.

I was disappointed that the "restaurant" was only a Starbucks Coffee, but they did have a barbershop, an actual butcher, a substantial produce section, and non-food dry goods.

The Wal-Mart Supercenter (it was branded as "Walmart", but a "Wal-Mart Supercenter" labelscar was visible) in Marquette was much better than the local one, despite being smaller. It too was an expanded Wal-Mart, and had a McDonald's (instead of a Subway), a pharmacy as an alcove shop, a portrait studio, and even an arcade. The arcade, sadly, was just a bunch of animal crane games and one of those "bubble of plastic" things. Said Wal-Mart also had some gourmet cheeses.

Finally, for the sake of completeness, the College Station Walmart directory, showing us that bigger isn't necessarily better.

Leave comments, ask questions. And another blog post will follow by tomorrow.

Friday, July 23, 2010


First off, let's get one thing straight. This is NOT about the PC-FX, the Japan-only sequel to the TurboGrafx-16. This is about something ENTIRELY different.

When I was younger, my family only used Macs. I didn't mind it...the graceful Macintosh was a lot cooler looking than the Windows flavors available at the time, except with one minor difficulty.

Most games were available on PCs.

By the time I actually came to this sad truth, there was only one option other than getting a full PC. It was a product called Connectix Virtual PC with a promise to put a virtual PC in your Mac. It had previously made the Virtual Game Station (a commercial PlayStation emulator) that seemed to run OK, so why couldn't VPC open a world of games I never knew? Unfortunately, my family never bought it, and one of the reasons became painfully clear: it was much slower than an actual PC. Unless I really wanted to play Minesweeper or some early DOS game, let's face it...I was out of luck.

But I found out a far more awesome example...things called PC cards. Sadly, despite being faster than VPC, they were discontinued as expansion slot-less computers (like the iMac) took over (and more Mac ports of PC games became available). So I gave up. Years passed. Eventually OS 9 was completely obliterated and Boot Camp appeared, which although being a great solution, rendered OS 9 in a position of emulators. However, during that time, I found out that PC cards were not only super-expensive, but also not as fast a PC.

In late 1998/early 1999 Mac magazines (such as MacAddict) published ads for Orange Micro's "PCfx!", a card designed for game playing.

Pretty awesome, huh? And where'd those list of PC games come from? They stopped at F, but I'd like to see the whole list. If I was a bit older in 1998, that would've been the coolest-looking thing since sliced bread, and I would beg that Mom and Dad order it off a catalog (MacPowerhaus was one such catalog vendor, not the maker of the product) so we could install it in our Mac clone PowerWave tower right away. $650 for an awesome thing would run all the games we wanted, right? Wrong!

As you can see (click it to make it larger), the "PCfx!" would've been a disappointment in many aspects. You could play 1997-era games and 2D games, but it wasn't enough to run the latest games of 1998, and certainly not of 1999. At that rate, a little more could pay for a much faster actual PC. Given that the PCfx! was one of Orange Micro's last PC cards (the OrangePC 660 was faster, but more expensive), it was no surprise that PC cards fizzled by 1999 (the fruit-colored iMacs had no expansion of any kind). Orange Micro made other peripherals after the PC cards died, but it too perished in 2003. And that's the end of the story.

Anyway, since I'm back, it's full speed ahead for my other blogging and type pursuits. Webpages will be created, BATs will be produced. Blog posts will pick up. Already, in the schedule, there's two webpages, a little less than half a dozen Spirit of 2005 posts, and "Meijer vs. Walmart".

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Genuine Ending of Cypress Gardens

The tale of Cypress Gardens is quite depressing, yet somewhat fascinating. In case you didn't know, Cypress Gardens was in a way Florida's first theme park. It had its ups and downs: it opened in 1936 and soon rose to be a place of water ski shows, lush gardens, Southern Belle models, and other live demonstrations. It was sold in the 1980s following the opening of a certain mega resort but lived in the shadows of the other major theme parks like Universal Studios Orlando, surviving primarily as a niche.

Unfortunately, after the September 11th attacks, the economy spiraled downhill, taking out the tourism and retail businesses that were treading water. Cypress Gardens was one of these, and it closed in April 2003.

And that was the end of Cypress Gardens. Just like that, it closed, leading the historic gardens to decay and possibly razed for yet another condominium complex.

Cut forward to summer 2004. I was going to Panama City Beach FL for the first time and in a Florida tourism booklet I picked up at the welcome center mentioned Cypress Gardens. Assuming it was out of date, I read it anyway. It explained that Cypress Gardens had been bought and would open as "Cypress Gardens Adventure Park" featuring not only the traditional gardens, shows, and Southern Belles, but a water park, new theme rides, and 150 live animals.

From this description of ( which I guarantee won't last long:

Cypress Gardens Adventure Park

Cypress Gardens Adventure Park reopened in December 2004 after a 19-month closure. This family-oriented amusement park located in Winter Haven, still features the spectacular historic gardens and water ski shows it’s been known for since its’ debut in 1936, but it also has more than three dozen thrill rides, concerts and daily shows, including comedy, song and dance and other attractions. Cypress Gardens is half the size and half the price of Walt Disney World, so it makes a great all-day family getaway. One of the must-see attractions at the park is still the 45-minute ski show that made Cypress Gardens famous as the “water-ski capital of the world,” during its’ heyday in the 50s and 60s. The beautiful gardens are another highlight in the park. Cypress Gardens Adventure Park is less than 30 minutes from U.S. Highway 192, one of Orlando’s main tourist corridors. The admission price is $38.95 for ages 10-54 ($31.95 for seniors) and $31.95 for children ages 3-9 (free admission for children age 2 and under.) This price provides access to all activities in the park including rides, shows and concerts, and entrance to Splash Island Water Park is also included in the general admission fee to Cypress Gardens. The ticket price also allows you a second day free if used within six days of the first park visit.

Cypress Gardens Adventure Park Address and Phone Number
Cypress Gardens Adventure Park
6000 Cypress Gardens Boulevard
Winter Haven, FL 33884

Cypress Gardens Adventure Park Rides and Attractions
The Gardens
Native plants and exotic flowers combine in this spectacular display. A giant Banyan tree, planted in 1939 from a seedling, stands proudly in the historic gardens. The Topiary Trail features a collection of colorful topiaries in the shapes of animals such as a rabbit, swan and serpent. A sparkling waterfall is the centerpiece of this trail, surrounded by brilliant blooms. In the Plantation Garden at Snively Mansion, you will find the aromatic herb garden, rose garden and butterfly garden at the Wings of Wonder butterfly arboretum.

The Shows
Choose from eight shows at Cypress Gardens. The daily water ski shows at Mango Bay proves that the “water ski capital of the world” lives on. Watch skiers take to the water and sky as they perform their gravity defying feats of wonder. They perform jumps, ballet-like movements and comedy routines – all on water skis! This show leaves visitors laughing and gasping at the skill of these wonderful performers. Enjoy a parody of life on the high seas at the “Pirates of Cypress Cove,” and thrill to the grace and beauty of the ice skaters at “Cypress Gardens on Ice.” Live music is part of “Farmyard Frolics” and “Jubilee Junction Gazebo.” At the “Wild West Shenani-Guns,” a Wild West town comes to life in a humorous skit of mischief and mayhem. “The Living Garden” is extraordinary. Performed daily in the Topiary Garden, watch as a beautiful “statue” comes to life and is transformed into a living fountain of beauty. Speaking of beauty, the “Southern Belles” of Cypress Gardens have long been a symbol of the park as they stroll the lawns and gardens, welcoming guests to the Adventure Park. The Southern Belles have been a tradition of Cypress Gardens since 1940.

The Rides
Cypress Gardens Adventure Park features 39 rides, including four roller coasters and a great selection of children’s favorites. There are two “adventure zones;” Paradise Pier and Adventure Grove. Paradise Pier has a boardwalk that is reminiscent of an old-fashioned amusement park. This is where you’ll find Hurricane, the park’s signature coaster, the Swamp Thing, a suspension roller coaster with more than 1,000 feet of track. Other rides include the family coaster called Okeechobee Rampage and Thunderbolt, a 120-foot drop tower. Storm Surge is a six-person water ride that plunges six stories down a twisting, churning river. Other traditional rides at Cypress Gardens include the Tilt-a-Whirl, Boardwalk Carousel and Sky Wheel. Splash Island is the park’s brand new waterpark, which features 6 water attractions. Rides are available for everyone at Splash Island, from the gentle “Tikki Garden” for small children to The Polynesian Adventure, a large, wet-play structure that holds up to 500 people at a time. Kowabunga Bay is a 20,000 square foot wave pool, and Paradise River includes more than 1,000 feet of bends and curves for a wild ride around the “Island.” The more adventurous will love Tonga Tubes, a 40-foot tall twin tube slide and Voodoo Plunge, a triple slide complex with two 60-foot slides and a twisting, turning body slide.

The Concerts
More than fifty all-star concerts and special events are held yearly at the Star Haven Amphitheater at Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. Performers include legends like Kenny Rogers and Loretta Lynn. General seating is included in the price of admission and guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. A limited number of reserved seats are available for concert series.

The Animals
An all-new animal area is home to more than 150 animals, including a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles. One of the most famous animal residents of the park is Tarzan, a 75-year old alligator that once starred alongside Johnny Weissmueller in the well-known “Tarzan” movies. Guests can feed the specially trained birds. The animal park also includes a petting zoo for children.

Jubilee Junction
This is Cypress Garden’s “village,” of 15 shops and restaurants. Food includes everything from upscale fine dining at Snively Mansion to the Jubilee Marketplace food court. Artisans can also be found at the Jubilee Junction, crafting their wares. Specialty shops include a year-round Christmas Shop, an ice cream shop, souvenirs and more.

Cypress Gardens Adventure Park History
Cypress Gardens originally opened in January 1936 as one of Florida’s first major tourist attractions. It was a showplace for 8,000 varieties of flowers from all over the world. The first water-ski show was held at Cypress Gardens in 1943, and the park quickly became known as “the water-ski capital of the world,” and drew more than 1.2 million visitors a year. After years of declining attendance, Cypress Gardens went out of business in April 2003. It was scheduled to become a housing development when a grass roots effort to save the park got underway. Proponents were successful in getting the state to agree to pitch in $11 million to help save it. Polk County added another couple of million, and soon Kent Buescher, the founder and owner of Wild Adventures in Valdosta, agreed to buy the park for $7 million. Cypress Gardens was on its’ way to recovery.

And then...

Unfortunately, in 2004, Hurricane Charley ripped through the area as workers were preparing for the park’s reopening, causing approximately $3.5 to $4 million in damage. Numerous trees and much of the lush tropical landscaping was destroyed, but luckily, a banyan tree planted by the park founders Dick and Julie Pope in 1939, escaped with minor damage. The hurricane damage delayed the reopening for several weeks, but in December 2004, Cypress Gardens Adventure Park opened with a new look, new restaurants and attractions and a whole new beginning.

The triple Florida hurricanes damaged the new Cypress Gardens, which essentially doomed the last incarnation of the park. The owners at the time, "Adventure Parks Group" had spent too much money in repairing the park and sold it again in 2007 to Land South Adventures, reverting back to Cypress Gardens. There, it continued to exist for the 2008 season. It was a money loser and reopened again in 2009 with the animals gone and the rides gone, with the waterpark as a separate attraction.

This time, Cypress Gardens really was doomed. On September 23, 2009, Land South closed the park, unable to keep the park in its traditional form no matter what.

The park will reopen as Legoland Florida: sad considering that the demographics will shift again and its just another Legoland. However, it's not a total loss: Legoland Florida will maintain the things that made Cypress Gardens special, like the gardens, the water ski shows, and one of the last roller coasters it had. Plus, its a renovation of an existing theme park rather than a new theme park altogether, saving money, time, and costs. So it looks like Cypress Gardens Legoland Florida will be a success again...but as a whole, the story is bittersweet.

Image Credit: DWTickets

P.S.: Also from, a map for your convenience:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Manor East Mall

Picture Credit from "Bryanite" of The HAIF

One of my favorite local dead malls was profiled last year on Mall Hall of Fame with the help of the HAIF and my old Internet handle, Jonah Norason (it really wasn't my name...which is why I became Pseudo3D!)

But MHoF is hard to navigate (and even harder with a new Blogger setting) so I copied it here. It's kind of notable because it had the first mall-connected Wal-Mart.

From this point on, it's the words of Mall Hall of Fame (it's at the bottom of the page here as well).


The original two stores -Montgomery Ward and Kroger- that were later worked into MANOR EAST MALL.

Photo from

The first phase of what would eventually become MANOR EAST MALL. In 1966, a freestanding Montgomery Ward and Kroger supermarket open at the intersection of East Villa Maria Road and South Texas Avenue, in the southeastern environs of Bryan. A drive-in theater had been on the site previously.

1972 and the shopping options in smalltown Bryan grow exponentially. The previously-existing Ward's and Kroger are joined by 159,900 square feet of air-conditioned mall. Counting Kroger, the complex encompasses 235,400 leasable square feet.

In 1981, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart abandoned the "Discount City" moniker that it had used since its inception in 1962. The new "Brown-era" logo, seen above, was the design aesthetic used for "Wally World's" first shopping mall-connected store, at Bryan's Texas' MANOR EAST MALL.

1981, and the first shopping mall-connected Wal-Mart opens, as a third anchor at MANOR EAST MALL. The 83,900 square foot store was in operation for thirteen years. In 1994, it was replaced by a new SuperCenter, built 1.3 miles away.

Two views of today's TEJAS CENTER, a redress of MANOR EAST MALL. A demalling carried out between 2003 and 2006 demolished nearly half of the mid-century center and replaced it with a power-format complex.

Photos from / Arkitex Design Studio

A contemporary site plan of TEJAS CENTER. Structures highlighted in blue are sections of the 1972 and 1981 mall that were substantially remodeled and reoriented with exterior entries.

Drawing from (Stalworth Real Estate Services)


East Villa Maria Road and South Texas Avenue
Bryan, Texas

Finding an answer to the question "where was the first shopping mall Wal-Mart?" proved quite elusive. An email querie sent to the corporate website resulted in a less-than-helpful, standard form, "check our website" (which had no such information) response. Readers of the MALL HALL OF FAME submitted several likely candidates. The most plausible, it seems, was a "Brown era" store, which was added to Bryan, Texas's MANOR EAST MALL. The shopping complex started out with two freestanding stores; a 1-level (57,500 square foot) Montgomery Ward and 1-level (18,000 square foot) Kroger supermarket. These were situated on a 34 acre plot, 1.9 miles southeast of downtown Bryan. Developed by Bryan, Texas' John Culpepper, they opened in 1966. In 1971-1972, a single-level, fully-enclosed shopping mall was added northeast of the existing Ward's. It was anchored by a 1-level (59,200 square foot) J.C. Penney and included Karmelkorn, The Fair, Orange Julius, Beall's, Britt's and an Eckerd Drug. Including Ward's and Penney's, MANOR EAST MALL encompassed 217,400 leasable square feet. With its completion, Bryan became the smallest city in the Lonestar State with its own fully-enclosed shopping center. The complex was expanded with a third anchor store in 1980-1981. Wal-Mart built a 1-level (83,900 square foot) location onto the southeast side of the existing mall, with the Manor East 3 triplex sandwiched between. MANOR EAST MALL now housed 308,100 leasable square feet and fifty-eight stores and services. Retail rivalry came along in February 1982. POST OAK MALL, located 2.8 miles southeast, in the adjoining community of College Station, encompassed 800,000 leasable square feet and eighty retailers. An expansion of POST OAK MALL -completed in 1985- snatched J.C. Penney from MANOR EAST. The vacant store in the older mall was retenanted by Food 4 Less and then a 50 Percent Off store before being sectioned into Bealls, Jo-Ann Fabrics and a Life Church. Wal-Mart relocated to a SuperCenter-format store (located 1.3 miles northeast) in the fall of 1994. Its abandoned space sat vacant for several years. Meanwhile, MANOR EAST declined into a less-than-prestigious property. Adding insult to injury, Montgomery Ward was shuttered in 1997. Jack Culpepper, son of the mall's original builder, began to envisage a redevelopment of his retail center in 1999. The three phase project got underway in April 2003 and included demolition of 150,000 square feet...comprising the vacant Ward's and two south store blocks of the old interior mall. The remaining structures were demalled, with stores reoriented with exterior entrances. Modern, creme-colored facades were added. A newly-built (93,000 square foot) H-E-B opened, as a primary anchor, December 12, 2004. Encompassing 360,000 leasable square feet and thirty-five stores and services, the complex, renamed TEJAS CENTER, was completed in August 2006. Tenants included JoAnn Fabrics, Bealls, Family Dollar, The Theatre Company (a live-perfomance venue in the old triplex space), Hastings and Gold's Gym.

Sources: Posts by Jonah Norason
Houston Architecture Information Forum / Posts by "RJC0618", "Iron Tiger" and "Scotch"
Bryan, Texas property tax assessor website


I was also IronTiger and initiated a discussion on the Mall on the HAIF. With that said, here's some more details:

• Eckerd stayed around for years, and finally closed up shop around 1998 when it moved to a free-standing location on
• There was a Family Dollar in the Mall in its final days, though I'm not sure if it was actually connected to the interior.
• In my first and last visit in summer 2000, we had just bought a cat and we were looking for pet supplies. Inside was a gloomy place with blue walls and I think some periphery (celestory?) windows. It reminded me a lot of the pool houses in the local pool. You had to turn right and go down a hallway to get to the last store, Animal World.
• In reality, this "forced right" was very likely caused by the fact that the east (to Wal-Mart) and the west (to the other stores) were sealed off.
• The senior John Culpepper lived to see the rise and fall of his creation: he passed away in December 2008.
• The mall was said to be the first "tilt-up construction" mall made. Apparently that's when they pour the concrete and hoist the wall up.
• Gold's Gym was actually in the strip mall portion of the mall (Hastings and others came in-line in the early 1990s)
• I think the description of the JCPenney divide is wrong. I think it was at first Food 4 Less THEN 50 Off Store and Jo-Ann Fabrics, THEN the current three-way split.
• The live theater complex came in-line in September 1997. Wards closed a few months later.
• The Wal-Mart left a nice labelscar for many years afterwards, even up to 2002.
• A five-and-dime called Kress (no, not Kresge) was also in the mall.
• A snow cone stand called Shivers later moved into the parking lot. It moved out around 2003 and spent about five years as a semi-successful store in College Station before biting the dust.
• The predecessor of the H-E-B was an H-E-B Pantry that was located elsewhere on Texas Avenue.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Metropolis Project

Before we begin, if you saw this post before with a different picture, you're not going crazy. There was a post like this, but we took it down, changed the picture, edited it, and put it back up.

Here at Two Way Roads, we celebrate (occasionally) open-source projects.

SimCity, as a franchise, has been exploited by EA repeatedly with recent hack jobs on the PC (SimCity Societies), Wii (SimCity Creator), and the iPhone (SimCity).

Unfortunately, SimCity 4 is the last "real" SimCity everyone uses. Despite mediocre reviews and the fact that sales weren't taking off from the initial release in 2003, fan-made add-ons have kept the series alive. Now you can make a fairly convincing looking city with brand-name restaurants and city landmarks. There's even curved roads and single-track railroads! And despite some amazing work, the game suffers from painful limitations (the biggest including the chunky tile-system, the fairly limited transit systems) which are hard-coded in the EXE.

A promising competitor surfaced in 2007 (shortly after SimCity Societies was shown) called Cities Unlimited, from Monte Cristo. Fans poured their heart into the forums, only to get Cities XL, a chunky knock-off of SimCity that relied on a faux MMO gimmick. This backfired dramatically, and now the fans, burned by EA's hack job and Cities XL, are fed up.

Enter The Metropolis Project. One of a few new open-source SimCity-esque projects, including the older OpenCity and the SC4D-sponsored CityMania. One of the first attempts by people to make a community-driven, open-source game, "Urbs Urbis" was killed circa 2008.

Why is the Metropolis Project different?

It's because The Metropolis Project is dedicated to saving posts from the Cities Unlimited boards, in which fans poured out their hearts into real suggestions. Unlike Monte Cristo, The Metropolis Project will genuinely look into all the suggestions.

With an attractive look, it cites other successful open source projects including Firefox and Ubuntu.

Unfortunately, despite the cool look and suggestions, everything breaks when it comes to reality. The FAQ breaks these things down.

They need pledges and donations to fund it, and if you don't like the final product and ask for a refund: too bad, the money is spent.

I like the idea of a "Firefox of SimCity games", but reality hits hard.

First off, it wasn't mentioned that both Firefox and Ubuntu were both financed by very wealthy foundations. The Ubuntu Foundation STARTED with $10 million and Mozilla Foundation started with $2 million. Two million seems a much lower number than Ubuntu, but two million is still way richer than the average TWR reader.

Furthermore, everyone has very different ideas of what a next-generation SimCity would be, and I'd hate to donate money to something that might not turn out good...or at all. But if everyone's a pessimist (or a fanatical optimist), it will come down to nothing but talk. It's kind of rude to say "if you don't like it, modify it yourself!" simply because everyone is not a programmer. We can't really teach ourselves programming in 21 days, so why try?

Thirdly, there's no base engine. It would save everyone time if a base engine was built to run simulation games (an open-source RollerCoaster Tycoon was stalled back in '08) and not waste everyone's time trying to actually design one.

If the game DID exist and would be open-source, it would become easy to make real expansion packs, not crazy hack mods that merely take advantage of bits of open code. It would also be easy to port. I predict that one of four things will happen.

1. One open-source project will take reign, and everything else uses their incomplete open-source projects to feed the master program. Bonus points will be awarded if one was backed by a millionaire.

2. Open source projects will die, but master hackers break into the SimCity 4 source code and rename it something else. Unfortunately, it's illegal.

3. Nothing will happen.

4. Cities XL would rise again, possibly as open-source. This may not happen for years, however.

I'd like to join The Metropolis Project's forums's promising, and I can finally pour out and develop my thoughts on what would make the greatest city simulator anywhere.

Photo Credit: ISA EXPO

Monday, April 19, 2010

York Peppermint Patty Pieces

TWR's creator, Pseudo3D, always has his eyes open for tasty food. It was a surprise to him that the local Walmart had opened up part of the space that would be the Food Center department of the Supercenter. Pseudo3D passed through and walked into a room with very high, warehouse style ceilings with a small selection of food. Garbage bag-like tarps blocked off the rest of the store-to-be, and Pseudo3D looked back at the main store. A yellow wall was where the ceiling dropped to its normal general merchandise Wal-Mart height. Had he been in the same place only a year ago, he would've been in a parking lot, staring at a cinderblock blue wall.

But back to the present. He wandered through the food department until he came to a selection of candy. There, on the wall, were Reese's Pieces, York Peppermint Pattie Pieces, Hershey's Special Dark Pieces, and Almond Joy Pieces. He had seen commercials for them, and bought one to find out.

Specifically, it was the York Peppermint Patty Pieces. And how were they? Pseudo3D blogged about them a day after he bought them. And here it is.

You've probably seen the commercials of people grabbing for candy only to have it disintegrate into M&M-like candies, with the designation of "(Candy) Pieces". This, of course, is an extension of the Reese's Pieces line which dates back to the late 1970s/early 1980s and rose to fame with a certain certain movie. Since the E.T. trend died down, it's back in the shadows of M&Ms but are still widely available.

So, when I bought the York Peppermint Pattie Pieces, it was $2.50 for a 10.5 ounce bag. Factor in a 6.25% sales tax, and it came to around $2.71, which is a bit expensive for candy but worth a try. And how was it?

Well, it was pretty good, make no mistake on that but if you strip out the creamy mint center of a York Peppermint Pattie and the perfect dark chocolate, it's not really a York Peppermint Pattie anymore. So what you get is essentially a dark chocolate-mint M&M. Not even to freshen your breath. I was hoping that it would have creamy stuff inside (after all, that's what Reese's Pieces have) but alas, no. Factor in the slightly-chemical, ever-so-slightly-salty M&M-style shell, and that's actually a loss.

Anyway, here's some relevant links. According to CandyAddict, the Almond Joy Pieces actually contain coconut pieces and are bigger than norm. I've tried Coconut M&Ms before and those are good...

ANYWAY, I do have some upcoming blog post plans. Not terribly big ones, though...

IMAGE CREDIT: (see link)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Google's Auto-Update Screws Mac Users Over

Have a Mac running Google Earth 5?

Is it black?

If so, it's because Google's demands for updates have caused it to download a bad build, disabling the Earth layer!

Help thread here

If you have something to hate about Google, this could be it!

UPDATE: It turns out that the culprit may have been an auto-update feature on Mac OS 10.6.x. We'll try to get more information!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vista Ridge Mall

I went here over five years ago (May 2004) after playing with my orchestra at Sandy Lake Amusement Park in Carrollton, Texas (suburb of Dallas). After the event and a day of fun, we went to a nearby mall, where we ate dinner. I got a guide to SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition here, a meal at Burger King, and a smoothie from Frullati Café. Regrettably, an Orange Julius was here, which I did not try (grrr) and I do not recall the interior much (it wasn't anything special).

But I DID get the directory, which I have faithfully scanned here.

Apologies for the wrinkly paper (I could have used Photoshop but I don't have Photoshop).

The listing of stores is also in black and white (it was originally the green on the front, but an automatic setting made it B&W)


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Aquarena Springs, Or Rather San Marcos

Despite the name "Two Way Roads", we're not really a travel blog. Such things are plentiful on the Internet, and for all intents and purposes, it is a wasteland. Such things are NOT really like any substitute for travel, unlike Travel Channel's original programming (is the only purpose of traveling to see beaches or eat weird food?). If you really are stuck at home and are poor, try the latest version of Google Earth, a collection of add-ons, and a few travel guides. For the desperate, try a psychedelic drug.

Anyway, the following is a blog post that should've been posted a year ago (I'm a procrastinator!) and is about my visit to Aquarena Springs and San Marcos in general.

Let's just get one thing straight: San Marcos, Texas, is a gilded wasteland.

Some of the highlights (and lowlights)

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I've always been fascinated with the fact that the railroad runs right by this H-E-B. Why? The grand possibility of grocery cart smashing! There used to be a second railroad abandoned in the early 1990s that made it possible for westbound trains to go north.

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I've never been to this strip center here, anchored by JCPenney and Target, but apparently there was a strange mall-like structure in front of it....

Screen shot 2010-03-09 at 4.10.42 PM

Unfortunately, researching for this mystery mall (torn down between 1998 and 2002) is difficult due to...


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Seriously, it's zoomed out so you can see both. This place is really great if you love shopping, and really hellish if you don't. Everyone drives from store to store, there's very little food options available, weather is almost always hot,'s a mess. Personally, I'd prefer if they made a "San Marcos Mills", but hey, it draws thugs.

OK, so Google searchers out there: that's "san marcos indoor mall".

As of 2008, the hotel I stayed at was under construction.

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It was really nice. Conference centers, omelets for breakfast, and a giant lobby with a 20-story high ceiling. It was an Embassy Suites. The only bad things were the Wi-fi was NOT free and the pool was pretty undersized for a hotel like this.

Across the street was "Stone Creek Crossing", which features a Target, Bealls and JCPenney (said JCPenney was freshly-nabbed from the strip center above)

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The downtown. It's more lively than most Texas downtowns (but San Marcos isn't a terribly small town) featuring restaurants, local shops, a courthouse, and a small storefront museum dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson.

There's also a dollar(?) theater, which was a few screens. I don't know of any others. There was also a Mediterranean restaurant that signaled that there's no public smoking bans in place. Seriously, any restaurant with carpet smells like smoke.

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For the sake of completeness, Texas State University-San Marcos.

At last, Aquarena Springs!

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One of the first theme parks in Texas, the park from the 20s to the late 1990s featured an underwater amphitheatre where "aquamaids" drank Dr Pepper underwater, Ralph the Diving Pig, and way creepy diving clowns. Among others.

There were other rides (nothing big, I heard) in the past.

Anyway, the place as it stands today is just a nature park. There are still glass-bottomed boats, but the place still has the sad remnants of its former glory.

The submarine amphitheatre cracked in 1998 and filled up with water. Oh well, it was never really ADA-compliant anyway.
(photo link)

There were also remnants of a gondola ride above the park. A tower also stands, abandoned. The ice cream vending machine was good, though:

That thing was good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizza


This is a restaurant I visited in January 2007 but it is sadly gone now (as of early 2010). The name is derived from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and like the album, it was pretty good. There are other Sgt. Pepperoni's in the USA, but they aren't related. Anyway, the place had good pizza rolls, arcade games (I think? There was definitely another room), and ceilings out of another era.

It was a pit stop after driving on a long road in the county that stretched 32 miles, starting as a hilly rural road, crossing a railroad, becoming an urban four-lane road, crossing the highway, before doubling back on itself, crossing the highway and the railroad again, before going through cotton fields and ending at Texas 105.

That's about where Sgt. Pepperoni's was.

Here is the menu:

What? No anchovies?

So is the pizza man frowning? Or is that just his chin?

update Nov '13: cleaning up

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Auchan in Houston

The following thread derives its non-news article information from and the following contributors: editor, gnu, brucesw, GBryant, avexhype, marmer, samagon, Dagnabbit, Pumapayam

Houston is a very diverse place. In addition to the various neighborhoods, it also has large competition in the grocery market. There’s the San Antonio-based H-E-B, Kroger, a regional grocery store chain marketed toward Hispanics called Fiesta (which is based in Houston), Randalls (a Safeway-owned label that was once locally-based), Whole Foods Marketplace, Wal-Mart Supercenter, SuperTarget, and another local chain called Food Town. In short, there’s no end to the places where you can buy food. A long line of defunct grocery stores and hypermarkets also go in the list, including small local chains and large hypermarkets that have since high-tailed it out of town. This included Super Kmart Center (and all the other Kmart stores in the region) which closed in 2003. It also had another hypermarket, which also closed in 2003, but rather than exiting the Houston market, the regional market, or Texas market, it left the United States altogether. It was called Auchan.

When it opened in 1988, it was unlike anything ever seen in Houston. A building at 230,000 square feet ("mind-numbingly huge" at the time), it featured several small shops and cafés in front, including a travel agency, a jewelry store, a bank, and a food court with Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. With warehouse-style ceilings, the center featured a large supermarket with fresh and unusual produce, great selections of cheese, a beer and wine section featuring even local breweries, such as Austin-made Celis. A bakery made things like delicious éclairs. The kitchen had name brands but the electronics did not. The seafood department brought in large metal tubs of wriggling crawfish every Friday. Just for comparison, an average Wal-Mart Supercenter is at 197,000 square feet.

The way that it dispensed carts was unique. As Dagnabbit puts it:

Auchan had one thing that I would have liked to see spread to other grocery stores in town, it dealt with the shopping carts.

How many times have you been driving through a greocery store parking lot searching for that perfect space and find one only to be turned away because there were one or several shopping carts filling part of it?

That was never an issue at Auchan because in order to use a shopping cart you had to insert a quarter into a slot on the handle to release the cart from the cart in front of it.

So when you were done shopping, if you wanted your quarter back you had to return the cart to the cart return and after you pushed your cart into the cart in front of yours your quarter would be released.

Other memories include the express lane (originally 35) which changed when they knocked down the number to 15 (and added more than one!) and possibly a strike.

Anyway, as time went on, the novelty started to wear off and the clientele changed. Most people had moved onto Wal-Mart Supercenters which came on the scene in the early-mid 1990s. By the early 2000s, the only people that went to it were Hispanic and Asian (as that was the part of town where they lived). The store was physically dirty and run-down. The 80s-style rectangular skylights were never updated. A second location opened in 2000 on the South 610 belt in what Wikipedia says is a former Target but it did not become a great success. In 2003, the corporate headquarters in France decided to pull the plug on the Houston market and the American market as a whole.

The second store on 610

As a side note, Houston was not the only American city to get an Auchan. One opened in Chicago in 1989 but sold two years later.

Auchan Opens U.S. Hypermarket; Heralds Lowest Prices in Houston

HOUSTON -- With the hoopla of a homecoming pageant, the Auchan Group, the $9 billion French retailer, opened its first U.S. hypermarket here this month. It is the third true hypermarket concept to open in the United States in the past 10 months.

Led by the music of a local high school band as well as the Auchan bird character, opening ceremonies contrasted sharply with the relatively "quiet" debut of Carrefour, Auchan's France-based competitor which opened its first U.S. hypermarket in Philadelphia earlier this year.

Auchan execs, with local politicians, major vendors and the media, opened the doors to the 230,000-square-foot grocery and general merchandise store, on a 31-acre site in the southwest section of the nation's fourth-largest city.

The store, operated by Texfield Inc., an Auchan subsidiary formed in 1987, will have an immediate impact on the competitive Houston market.

"A highly competitive market is good for Auchan and other retailers because it forces us all to strive to be the best," said Wilfrid d'Audiffret, Texfield's president. "But the real winner is the consumer, who benefits from excellent prices and high levels of service and quality."

Business was brisk and steady on opening day. But, the debut did not attract the huge crowds that turned out last Dec. 28 for the opening of Wal-Mart's Hypermart USA. Auchan officials were hopeful that business would rise dramatically by Sunday, Oct. 16, when the first circular hit area homes. Prior to the opening, no specific product advertisements appeared. Instead the company promoted its concept of low everyday prices (using the motto, "Pay the least, get the most"), and its image with institutional ads and highway billboards.

Auchan is similar in design to the other hypermarkets, with three entrances, a central checkout with 55 registers, a retail mall, and wide isles from 8 feet to 20 feet. The 130,000 square feet of selling space is evenly divided between food and non-food items.

Auchan has taken a more aggressive merchandising and promotional position than Carrefour. It utilizes endcaps with waterfall-style displays, but doesn't go to the extreme that Hypermart USA does with avalanche displays. The 12-foot to 15-foot shelf gondolas are lower than Hypermart USA's ceiling-high racks, but higher than Carrefour's.

Shoes and domestics occupy half the 23,000-square-foot apparel area. A 200-seat food court has six chain restaurants and eight retail shops.

(original link)

And One on the Closing
Monday, January 6, 2003
Auchan to close Houston hypermarkets
Houston Business Journal

The Auchan Group will close its two hypermarkets in Houston within the next three months.

Combined, the stores employ 730 people.

Citing a sharp increase in regional competition over the past two years, the French supermarket chain said the competition put the brakes on any growth potential for the two hypermarkets — its only remaining U.S. stores — which are reporting losses.

The group said it now plans to pursue and boost growth by concentrating its human and financial resources in what it called high-priority development areas, such as Europe — including Poland, Hungary and Russia — and in Asia with China and Taiwan.

Auchan first opened its doors in west Houston in 1988 at 8800 West Sam Houston Parkway South. In September 2000, a second store was opened in southeast Houston at 6059 South Loop East.

original link

Where They Were

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The 1988 West Beltway Location

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The 2000 610 Location

Update: Two New Articles Have Been Added
Hyperexpansion; France's Auchan stocks hopes with second Houston megastore.(BUSINESS).
The Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX) (Sept 2, 2000): p1. (1024 words)
Show details

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2000 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspapers Partnership, LP
When Auchan opened its first hypermarket in Houston in 1988, the French company was confident it could open more of the mammoth stores within two or three years.

Twelve years later, Auchan finally has realized its long- delayed ambition. Its second retail outlet in the United States will open in southeast Houston within the next week, proving that the European hypermarket concept can survive stateside.

"We had originally thought the first store would break even within a couple of years, but it took us five years instead of two," said Gerard Gallet, president of Auchan U.S.A. "Now that store does very, very well. That's why we were able to get the approval from France to do the second store."

Much has changed in the retail landscape during the past dozen years, making it possible for Auchan to turn the corner from being a freakish curiosity to viable shopping alternative.

At 235,000 square feet, Auchan was the biggest store in Houston by a factor of two when it opened. Now humongous stores are the order of the day. Wal-Mart is opening SuperCenters that are somewhere around 200,000 square feet each. Kmart has its own superstore concepts, and the warehouse clubs like Sam's have emerged as retail powerhouses. When you consider that Home Depot and Lowe's also operate megastores, Auchan doesn't seem as bizarre as it did in 1988.

Some Americans have decided that they like having everything under one roof, Gallet said. They don't want to leave the grocery store and then drive to a clothing store and then go somewhere else to buy housewares.

Another significant shift is the westside neighborhood where Auchan planted its flag is teeming with new homes, apartments and businesses. Back in 1988, the Sam Houston Tollway had not been completed.

"In 1988, the economy here was not so good. Retailers were leaving Houston, not opening new stores. To us, it seemed like a good time to set up shop," Gallet said.

That same contrarian view is evidenced in Auchan's newest choice of store site. The store, which will have its grand opening Thursday, is located on Loop 610 at Wayside.

"This area fell on hard times in the 1980s, and when Houston had its recovery, this area did not recover along with it," said David Mertins, director of the new Auchan store. "There has been almost no reinvestment here."

That appears to be changing, now that the nearby Gulfgate Mall is in the lengthy process of being redeveloped.

"That is one of the few areas in Houston that isn't covered up with stores," said realty broker Tom Estus, president of the Shelby-Estus Realty Group. "But if you look at the population density of that area, Auchan has all the customers they need right there within four or five miles of the store."

Auchan hopes to attract customers from miles in all directions, but its core constituents will be right there in its back yard. The demographic profile of Auchan's new neighborhood is, for the most part, a mix of Hispanic, black and white Houstonians.

The westside location, by contrast, is a magnet for the multitude of nationalities living in the area around Westheimer and the Sam Houston Tollway.

There is no predominant ethnic group out near the westside Auchan, said David Asher, produce manager and buyer for Auchan.

"We did a survey of this area, and we found that no ethnic group had more than a 13 percent share of the population," Asher said. "So we have every type of ethnic group and income level shopping in our store."

Because a true hypermarket is stocked half with food - meaning the westside store has almost 120,000 square feet of grocery space - Auchan is able to accommodate that kind of ethnic diversity with foods from around the world. It also is able to appeal to a range of incomes by stocking gourmet fare like fine French cheeses and wines, while at the same time selling bulk bags of rice and other discount fare.

"Houston is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the United States. And because we are so big, we can serve all those different people," Gallet said. "The city's diversity is a very big asset to us."

Auchan expects that diversity to come into play at the new location, but the company also realizes it must do a good job of serving the Hispanic customer who is predominant in that area. To achieve that goal, it has added a Mexican-American bakery chef to work along side a French pastry chef. It also is giving more room to foods that appeal specifically to Hispanic Houstonians.

The new store is smaller than the first, measuring 180,000 square feet. But most of the difference is storage space, with only 15,000 feet of actual retail space separating the two stores. The new Auchan is not big enough for a fast-food outlet inside - the first has a McDonald's.

Still, there is nothing small about the new Auchan. The store can brag of 64 feet of cold beer on display, a few thousand bottles of wine, a 32-foot fish counter and a "valley of soft drinks."

The new store will grow next spring when the lease expires on an adjacent dollar store and Auchan snaps up the extra space.

"This store used to be a Target store, but it has been totally rebuilt. It has a new floor, a new roof, new plumbing, new electrical - even the parking lot is new," Mertins said.

The differences between the original Auchan and the second generation store are slight. Basically, this is more of the same, and Auchan bets that Houstonians will like it that way.

"We have learned a lot about Houston, and we are ready to use that knowledge. We are not ready to move outside of Houston yet. Our next store will be somewhere else in the city," Gallet said.

"We think we can do three or four more hypermarkets in Houston before moving on to neighboring cities like San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. But all of our future growth in the United States will be directed out of Houston."

CE reaches new heights at Auchan - consumer electronics; Auchan hypermarket in Houston - Regional Analysis: West South Central - company profile
Discount Store News, May 8, 1989
CE Reaches New Heights at Auchan

HOUSTON -- Auchan, the hypermarket retailer based here, has elevated consumer electronics to the status of power department to better compete with national discount and CE chains.

The French-owned firm may be the epitome of a regional retailer, 1990s-style: Each store (the second opened recently just outside Chicago) will be independently owned and will have its own buying and merchandising staff.

That philosophy will lead to highly individualized store operations, an Auchan spokesman noted, which in turn will lead to more responsiveness to local market conditions. In Houston, an important element in the competitive stance is a first-class consumer electronics department.

Like later editions of Wal-Mart's Hypermart USA, the company has spotlighted its CE department by putting it in the front of the store, hoping that its wide selection, low prices and superstore-within-a-store appearance will draw customers in and lead them to shop the rest of the store.

Auchan's strategy is to be directly competitive with national CE chains with a strong local presence, like The Federated and Highland Superstores, by carrying a wide, upscale selection of audio and video products at aggressive price levels.

"Do we sell a lot of $2,000 projection televisions? No," commented a spokesman. "Does having them create other sales? Yes."

Depth is just as important. With 22 camcorders and 68 televisions, Auchan's selection compares with virtually any specialty store. While the 20/80 rule (20 percent of units account for 80 percent of sales) still holds, the company feels that CE shoppers need a wide selection. "They're not always shopping for what they can afford today," a spokesman noted. "Often, they're shopping for what they might be able to afford tomorrow."

The hypermarket faces a tough market in Houston. In addition to the town's widely publicized financial crisis. Houston is very well-stored at the discount level. Fiesta Mart, a local high-quality grocery/lower-quality general merchandise operation with ultra-low prices is very popular with Houstonians, particularly the city's large Hispanic population. Sam's Wholesale Club, Target, Marshalls, K mart, Toys "R" Us and many other discounters have strong, well-established presences in the city.

The company has addressed local needs by concentrating on certain popular, but highly localized, product areas. For example, the store features what might possibly be the largest crawfish display in the United States in its fresh seafood department. Given the Houstonians' love of fresh shellfish and fish, the seafood department is a very deep, well-stocked department.

In apparel, a large part of one run is given over to rodeo wear, a significant event in Houston life. The company features cowboy boots, rhinestone-studded shirts, and other Western wear in a promotional aisle near the back of the store.

Auchan also beefed up its children's apparel department because of a perceived lack of outlets in the local market. Similarly, toys is a power department in the germination stage. Located front and center in the store, the department is very competitive in price, but still lacks selection in certain hot areas. For instance, its stock of Fisher-Price products is deep, but other products, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle goods, are not carried.

It is significant that Auchan has chosen consumer electronics to act as a drawing card. As the economic situation in Houston has improved, pent-up demand for "luxury" items like CD players and VCRs has been unleashed. With one major competitor in trouble (The Federated), Auchan saw an opportunity to make a power statement.

Located in the front, left-hand corner of the store, CE at Auchan is a prototypical power department. The area has wide aisles, deep displays and a wide choice of mostly upscale brands.

Prominent among those brands are Teac, Pioneer, JVC, Sony, Panasonic, Zenith, RCA, Magnavox, Brother, Canon, Minolta and Yashica.

Auchan, as a new company, had problems initially getting some market leaders to sell to it. Several suppliers envisioned a hypermarket as a wholesale club with fresh produce, and were loathe to have their products sold from warehouse racks.

Similarly, many were worried that Auchan would cherry pick their product lines, as warehouse clubs have been known to do. "We had to convince them that we would support full product offerings, not just discount a few items heavily," the spokesman said.

Auchan tends to stick to the upper end of the "good, better, best" equation, offering only limited selections at opening price points. In TVs, for instance, the price of remote models is almost indistinguishable from older clicker models, so Auchan concentrates on remote sets. Also, the supply of low-end sets has dried up as foreign manufacturers switch to alternate geographic markets (Latin America, for instance) and alternate uses for the cheap tubes (computer monitors). As a relatively new firm in the United States, it is not at the front of the line for the few low-end supplies that exist.

The same holds true, although not as markedly, in the CD player niche. "Basic CD players are becoming a commodity item," the spokesman said. "Name brands help margins a bit, but added technology is the key. Most technological `improvements' don't actually give consumers very much for their money, but that's not true of disc changers."

Changer models, therefore, are selling better than basic one-disc items, and Auchan tends to favor that more profitable niche. "The first guy on the block with a 12-disc changer [against the maximum of six available today] will make a killing," the spokesman commented.

Auchan is particularly sharply priced in its photo department. "We price against local competition, but we also look at where our customers shop in real life," the spokesman said. One place they shop, evidently, is in New York, at 47th St. Photo, a major discount mail order outlet. Allowing for postage costs and the irritation factor of waiting for delivery, Auchan keeps prices on identical products close to 47th Street's.

As a spokesman noted, Auchan is still in the learning stages. "It's still to early to tinker with our concept," he said. "We're all still learning, at all levels."

Original link

Finally, I've added yet another article (as well as mentioning the Texas pronunciation, at least, was "o-shawn")

Auchan's novelty lures big crowds - hypermarket; includes related article on retail trade in Houston - company profile
Discount Store News, Dec 19, 1988

Auchan's Novelty Lures Big Crowds

The talk around Houston these days is not of crude oil, but cooking oil, blue jeans, stereo equipment and anything else that can be found in the city's new retail store, the French hypermarket Auchan.

In fact, some consumers are traveling as far as 30 miles to see the new 230,000-square-foot store that offers over 60,000 sku's of groceries and general merchandise in a one-stop shopping experience that includes a mini-mall with a variety of convenience services such as a shoe repair shop, a jewelry store and six fast food restaurants.

Although the store is only nine weeks old and a full evaluation of its progress is not available, the customer reception has been excellent, said Wilfrid d'Audiffret, president of Auchan's Texas subsidiary, Texfield Inc.

During the two-week-long grand opening, customers waited in line for up to two hours at each of Auchan's 55 checkout stations; the 1,700-space parking lot was closed down three times due to traffic congestion; a special cash register was set up outside the store specifically to sell Coca-Cola, which cost $1.59 for a 12-pack of cans; and company executives pitched in to help bag customer purchases.

So far, the southwest Houston location is the nation's lone Auchan site. Another store, located in suburban Chicago, is due to open next spring.

The Chicago store will open in two phases, the first of which will consist of 130,000 square feet of groceries and hard lines general merchandise, said Dave Skinner, store manager. Phase two will be a 28,000-square-foot soft lines addition, currently in the planning stages.

The new store will be located in the Bridgeview Court shopping center along with Venture and other retailers. For this reason, Skinner said Auchan of Chicago will not have a mall area like the Houston location, but may have a handful of concessions, perhaps a bank branch and a fast food restaurant.

Each Auchan store, and any others that will follow, will be operated independently as separate subsidiaries of the French company. Each store will be unique to its particular market in terms of store layout, design and merchandise selection. This is done so that each store can cater to its local market and customers, said d'Audiffret.

In Houston, Auchan created an upscale-looking facility stocked with name brand goods in a store split almost in half between groceries and general merchandise. State-of-the-art technology and many high-tech fixtures are incorporated throughout the mammoth unit.

The store layout contains two racetracks, wide aisles and a mixture of traditional gondolas and steel warehouse racks that can stretch to 20 feet high in some departments. A mall area, located at the front of the store, contains 14 concessionaires plus a food court equipped with tables and chairs.

Auchan is designed to fulfill a customer's basic shopping needs, said d'Audiffret, but several power departments are included: consumer electronics--where trained sales people work on commission--lawn and garden, seasonal, and children's apparel. Auchan decided to feature these power departments after studies revealed that they would satisfy a void in the Houston market, he said.

In consumer electronics, for example, Auchan sought to be more than just a "player" in the market. It is determined to compete head-on with the area's specialty retailers.

"We wanted to be exciting and two-dimensional," said an Auchan executive.

The showcase department features a 10-foot-high wall of TVs, volume presentations in everything from camera tripods to VCRs in a specialty store setting that includes a red and white grid ceiling to excite and attract customer interest.

Auchan also is positioning itself as a provider of everyday low prices, which company executives feel widens its customer base to cross all socio-economic lines. However, special pricing for the grand opening was evident and is likely to continue.

For example, the grand opening circular advertised one gallon of Glidden wall paint for $3.99, live Maine lobsters at $4.50 per pound, and a six-pack of men's BVD briefs for $8.99, extremely low prices for those items.

Although Auchan is committed to an everyday low price strategy, the hypermarket is staffed with 700 full-and part-time employees, a sizable portion of selling space dedicated to customer traffic flow, and numerous innovative fixtures. These are high overhead expenses that could prove to be a liability, given the retailer's rock-bottom prices.

In the weeks since the hypermarket's grand opening, on Oct. 14, the French-based retailer has already learned a few things about merchandise selection and the American consumer. Currently, management is "making lists" of new items to include in the store's selection.

Some merchandise areas are conspicuously absent, such as ready-to-assemble furniture and home office departments, hot-selling categories for many other retailers right now. Product additions in RTA and home office will be added sometime in the future.

Auchan sought to create an image for itself apart from the nation's other hypermarkets and discount stores. Company executives excluded vendor signs along the aisles in order to cultivate a more distinctive look.

In contrast to what is commonly practiced in Europe, Auchan took a vertical approach to its American hypermarket: merchandise is stacked vertically on the shelves to give customers of all heights equal access to products.

The entire checkout area is vastly different from those at other retailers. There are no POP displays such as candy and magazines, and d'Audiffret doesn't anticipate adding any. Also, the company's POS system features a new vertical scanner designed to prevent dirt and moisture from clogging up the scanning glass.

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Another distinguishing feature of Auchan is its shopping carts. For a cart, customers must pay 25 cents, which is refunded to them at the appropriate drop-off point. This ensures a constant supply of carts for new shoppers.

PHOTO : Going head-to-head with consumer electronic retailers in the area, Auchan's huge CE

PHOTO : department has a specialty store flavor.

PHOTO : Bright colors and suspended wooden fixtures give Auchan's food area the feeling of a

PHOTO : European open-air market.

COPYRIGHT 1988 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Original link here.

Regrettably, no photos are in the article (that was only in the original).

UPDATE November 19 2010: Another article found!

Vive le mart; Auchan's local hypermarket turns 10.(BUSINESS).
The Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX) (August 24, 1996): p1. (1402 words)
Show details

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1996 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspapers Partnership, LP

It's difficult to think of the monstrously large Auchan store on Houston's far west side as being anyone's baby.

But to Wilfrid d'Audiffret, that's exactly what the French-owned hypermarket is. It was d'Audiffret who came to Houston from Lille, France, and oversaw the planning, construction and opening of the experimental store. He even flew over Houston in a helicopter to pick out the right real estate for the 220,000 square-foot behemoth.

"I came to Houston 10 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1986, to start a company and create a new kind of store," d'Audiffret said. "I came with a suitcase and money from the company in France. That was all."

A decade later, d'Audiffret is packing his suitcases once again and heading back to France. The only general manager Houston's Auchan has ever known, he leaves here knowing he accomplished something few people have been able to do. He successfully exported the hypermarket concept, a tremendous success in Europe, to the United States.

Most of the European hypermarkets - mega-stores as big as 4 1/2 football fields - have flopped here.

"Hypermarkets are a huge success in Europe, but they have failed miserably in the U.S.," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the retail consulting company Davidowitz & Associates.

The Auchan in Chicago has been closed five years. That location sold only food items and was smaller than its Houston counterpart, which pulled in better sales. Chicago and Houston are the only locations Auchan has opened in the United States.

Paris-based Carrefour opened two hypermarkets in Pennsylvania - one in Philadelphia and the other in suburban Pittsburgh. Both proved to be major disappointments and were shuttered. The company had rolled the dice with a $60 million investment and came up with snake eyes.

Euromarche opened five hypermarkets in the United States called Bigg's, but sold them in 1994 and withdrew from the American market.

Some American companies tried to experiment with hypermarkets of their own. Kmart opened one near Atlanta in the late 1980s. But the store, called American Fair, never caught on. Kmart reduced its size and, after that failed to turn the store around, closed it outright.

"The size of that store did turn off many customers," said Kmart spokeswoman Mary Lorencz.

Kmart turned its attention to a new idea called Super K stores, which sell groceries and clothing under one roof. The company now has 93 Super K stores, with most of them falling in the 170,000-square-foot range.

Sam Walton, the Wal-Mart founder who failed at very few things during his lifetime, dreamed of opening a chain of hypermarkets, but dropped further expansion after opening four.

"They are just too large," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Shauna Parker. "We have decided to go with our Supercenters. They are on average 180,000 square feet each."

Each of the Wal-Mart Hypermarkets is about 220,000 to 250,000 square feet.

"That is just too big for most shoppers," said Kurt Barnard, publisher of Barnard's Retail Marketing Report. "The American population is aging today. Shoppers don't want to waste their time walking the length of several football fields."

Europe is more receptive, retail experts suggest, because there are virtually no shopping malls there. The hypermarket functions basically as a mall, offering one-stop shopping under one roof.

The Houston Auchan store is nothing if not huge. Walk inside the front door, and you come face to face with 53 checkout stands. They stretch out in one amazing row that almost fades from view if you examine it from one end to the other.

The Auchan houses a little food court with a McDonald's hamburger stand and Taco Bell counter. There's a video store, a NationsBank, a hairdresser, a jewelry store and a candy stand. The store emphasizes bargain prices and a diverse product mix that includes televisions and tennis shoes, blue jeans and blackberries.

Inside Zizi Saliagas' cart this week were eight bags of groceries and a new telephone.

"Since they opened, I have been coming here. I come two to three times a week," Saliagas said.

The reason for her devotion?

"I can find foods from everywhere, especially from my home country. They carry a lot of Greek products," she said. "I have friends in Clear Lake, and I shop for them to get the pastries and varieties of cheese we like."

Nguyen Tu Don does most of his food shopping at a Vietnamese market near his home.

"I'm Vietnamese, but I like to come here for French and American food," said Nguyen, who moved to Houston from Vietnam only three months ago. "The prices are cheaper here than at other stores."

Catering to the international community living on the city's west side has become Auchan's bread and butter. Or in this case, perhaps rice and curry.

"Our customer base is much more ethnic than it was when first we opened. That is one of the adjustments we have made," d'Audiffret said. "We have many Hispanic and Asian products to sell now."

Evidence of the adjustment includes a prominent display of 20-pound bags of rice selling for $4.99 per bag.

Other adjustments include tossing appliances and some sporting goods out of the store.

"We were not able in some lines, like fishing, to offer our customers the proper selection," d'Audiffret said. "We were not successful in those lines, so we did stop selling them."

Making changes and gaining the loyalty of the international community living nearby has been critical to the store's success. The store attracts about 3 million shoppers per year.

"Our customers come back because they like very much our prices," he said. "We have been very pleased with the results we have with this store. Contrary to some of the rumors in our business, we have been profitable for the past five years. We are successful."

A few years ago, the imminent demise of the Auchan store was a common rumor on the local retail and real estate grapevines. Those rumors are quiet now, and Auchan is planning for its future under its second general manager, Gerard Gallet.

"The headquarters in France is very proud of what Wilfrid has done in Houston," said Gallet, who moved here to take the reins two weeks ago. "This is a very tough market. New competitors are coming in every day."

Gallet plans few changes at Auchan, other than adding a few touches, like expanding some of the gourmet food selections.

"I was able to go back to France for the past three years, and I have some ideas to bring back here," said Gallet, who was the produce manager at the Houston Auchan from 1989 to 1993. "There will be no remodeling or anything like that, but maybe I will expand our selections of wines, cheeses, beers and things like that."

Gallet and d'Audiffret admit the Auchan here has not quite lived up to expectations, but they believe that is simply a matter of time.

"We know by experience it takes seven to 10 years to develop a company before we open new stores," d'Audiffret said. Auchan considers the Houston location a subsidiary company, which it calls Auchan U.S.A. D'Audiffret was president of that company, a title that now belongs to Gallet.

Auchan believes it can build more hypermarkets in the United States, perhaps even another one in Houston. The company has no time line for expansion, preferring to say only it will expand when everything is in place and the timing is right.

"We are a private company, so we don't have pressure from investors. We want to act responsibly," d'Audiffret said.

Being a private company, Auchan was able to be patient as the Houston store slowly developed. But the company is not always so slow-moving.

The company is expanding rapidly in Europe, where it had 79 hypermarkets at the beginning of this year. So far this year, Auchan has opened four new stores and bought two rival companies that own dozens of hypermarkets in France, Spain and Portugal.

To help run that far-flung network of stores, d'Audiffret has been called home to the headquarters in France.

"I have international experience now, so they want me to come back," he said. Despite the beauty and charm of France, d'Audiffret said he is reluctant to leave his adopted home. He is scheduled to fly back to France today.

"The best experience of my life has been here in Houston," he said. "The people here are fan-tas-teek."

EDIT 5/1/11: I found a commercial for Auchan on YouTube! Awesome!

EDIT June 2, 2018: As part of the revamp of The Houston Files, two more articles will be added to this post.
From Houston Post:

Putting Food First
HOUSTON -- With its new store here, Auchan Group has achieved at least one U.S. hypermarket first.
Of the three new hypermarkets in America, Auchan has the greatest variety of food items and, in general, food is considered the more crucial of Auchan's categories, which the company's officials apparently believe is hypermarketing the American way.
Auchan basically remained loyal to classic European hypermarket design with its 230,000-sq.-ft. hypermarket. It is characterized by wide open space: a mammoth exterior suroounded by acres of parking lot; roomy aisles, 10 ft. wide; virtually storewide vistas at several points in the shopping trip; a lofty ceiling with exposed infrastructure and drop lighting, and a line of cash registers that seem to stretch almost to horizon.
"This store is not very different from the Auchan hypermarkets in Europe," according to Jacques Marcelin, president and chief executive officer, Auchan Group, and chairman, Auchan USA. "The differences are related to the needs of the market and the specifics of retailing in the U.S.," which Auchan interprets as a larger food section overall and more space devoted to grocery items.
"We decided that the food part of the store is more important here," Marcelin said.
This is an important difference because it means greater food product variety, which sets the HoustonAuchan apart from the other U.S. hypermarkets as well as from its cousins in France.
The Carrefour hypermarket in Philadelphia -- a store with selling space of 170,000 sq. ft. -- offers 40,000 SKUs in all, half of that in food. The Hypermart USA, opened jointly by Wal-Mart and Cullum Cos. in Garland, Tex., holds 60,000 SKUs, with food items comprising a third of that, in a total 171,000 sq. ft.
Auchan, on the other hand, has 40,000 SKUs of food alone, and 60,000 SKUs overall, in its 130,000-sq.-ft. of selling space, enabling it to appear roomy but without seeming particularly cavernous. In addition, its high aisles tend to section off shopping space, an effect similar to that achieved at Hypermart USA but not employed at Carrefour.
Auchan's 130,000-sq.-ft. selling area is divided about evenly between a full-line food store and a nonfood section similar to a discount department store. Each half has an entrance offering direct access, and a main entrance lies at midpoint in the building.
On the food side, the Produce Market sits prominently at the front end, occupying 650 linear ft. It offers up to 450 varieties of products, depending on the time of year, the company said. A woodwork drop ceiling and natural wood cases set the department apart. Wood cases are also used in the deli section, which includes a 200-item cheese department and other gourmet touches such as an in-store pasta factory.
On the food section's perimeter are an in-store bakery, a tortilla maker and a prepared hot food section including fresh pizza. A large seafood department offers 50-150 fresh items. The meat department, in all, consists of more than 400 items, including a selection of gourmet meat such as rattlesnake, buffalo meat and alligator -- as well as less exotic prepared meat entrees.
Service and clean, upscale presentation are emphasized throughout perishables. Several of the departments offer shoppers full view of preparation areas and easy access to department clerks. According to observers, perishables is easily the most impressive of Auchan's food offerings, and is probably pulling in the bulk of food volume.
Frozen foods are held in four coffin cases adjacent to the dairy aisles. Next in the shopping pattern are the grocery aisles, including a large snack selection, more than 200 cereal products, more than 300 natural food items and a selection of ethnic food.
Grocery has 6,800 items overall. Auchan merchandises grocery products vertically on high racks, typically with one or two facings for each item stacked from the top shelf to the bottom.
Nonfood departments include a 4,000-item health and beauty aids department; housewares, apparel, books and stationery; electronics, toys, sporting goods, shoes, hardware, automotive supplies and lawn and garden equipment. A separate enclosure houses a video and record department.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1988 Penton Media, Inc., Penton Business Media, Inc. and their subsidiaries.
Source Citation:
"Putting food first." Supermarket News 7 Nov. 1988: 15+. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
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