Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Alabama Bookstop

Here comes Trader Joe’s

They’re opening the first Houston-area store in the Woodlands, which doesn’t count as far as I’m concerned. But it’s all right, the one I am interested in will follow behind shortly.

The 13,500-square-foot store at 10868 Kuykendahl has a fraction of the items found in a big supermarket but does offer a trove of gourmet and organic items, often value priced. For example, a 15-ounce box of toasted whole grain oats cereal is $1.99.

The store’s grand opening is Friday, 8 a.m. The Woodlands store and one opening in Fort Worth the same day will be the first two Trader Joe’s in Texas.

[…]

Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s will open two more Houston-area stores this year, in the Memorial area at 1440 S. Voss and in the Montrose area at 2922 S. Shepherd in the renovated Alabama Theater.

The Montrose store opens Sept. 21, and the Memorial store will open in the fourth quarter of the year, Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki said.

There are also plans for stores in San Antonio, Dallas, Plano and Austin.

See here, here, and here for some background. We’ve enjoyed visiting Trader Joe’s when we’re in Portland with my folks. It’ll be nice to have one here nearby. Between this, the Dunlavy HEB, and the Waugh Whole Foods, Montrose is clearly the grocery store capital of Houston. Prime Property has more on the goings on at the Alabama Theater location.

Trader Joe’s makes its move

Alabama Theater, here they come.

Trader Joe’s is officially considering the historic Alabama Theatre for its first Houston outpost.

The proposal is on the agenda for this week’s meeting of the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission, which would have to approve changes made to the property.

That would be tomorrow. You can see a copy of the proposal at the link above, and some images at Swamplot. It was in early August that the Alabama Theater possibility first came up. I’m delighted to see that there’s still life in the historic old place.

Trader Joe’s to the Alabama Bookstop?

Maybe.

Trader Joe’s is eyeing the old Alabama Theatre on Shepherd and West Alabama, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Earlier this year, the grocer said it planned to open stores in Houston and Dallas. Specific locations were not identified.

Weingarten Realty, which owns the property, would not comment. Neither would Trader Joe’s.

I showed this to Tiffany, and her reaction was “Well, THAT sure wouldn’t suck.” The commenters on that post seem to agree with her. This is little more than rumor, so I don’t know how much stock to put in it, but the location is an obvious fit for them, and the size is right. Parking may be a bit of an issue, but that strip center used to have a Whole Foods, and the BookStop and Cactus Records were high volume, too, so it ought to suffice. What do you think?

Angelika Theater closes

Bummer.

“After 13 years of continued service to the Houston community, the Angelika’s lease has been terminated by the Angelika’s landlord….”

No word yet as to whether the Angelika, one of a global group of affiliated theaters, will reopen outside of the Bayou Place location downtown.

As one commenter said, “Houston, a city of 5+ million, only has 1 independent/alternative theater now?” That’s just wrong. Hey, if the Alamo Drafthouse doesn’t move into the Alabama Theater, maybe the Angelika can. Can’t hurt to ask about it, that’s all I know. CultureMap has more.

Weingarten’s whining

Apparently, the folks at Weingarten are a wee bit sensitive about the negative reactions they’ve gotten since their plans to demolish the interior of the Alabama Theater became public knowledge. They’ve been keeping their PR people busy with a continued barrage of ever-denser statements about what may or may not be happening at that location. It’s all got a kind of perverse beauty to it, actually. Go click that last link (to Swamplot, naturally) to catch up on the latest.

Staples confirms it is not looking at the Alabama Theater

Swamplot noted this last week when one of its readers sent an email to Staples, and now the company has written a letter to the Chron to confirm that they are not seeking to redevelop the Alabama Theater.

Staples was invited by the owner to consider leasing the Alabama Theatre location. We showed interest because the area has a dynamic community with numerous growing small businesses. As is customary, we looked at the property and provided the owner with our prototypical plans to review, in order to provide us with an idea how the property might be adapted for our use.

[…]

As for this location, we are pursuing other opportunities in the area at this time. Staples will continue to be a good neighbor as we expand in the Houston region. We support the communities in which we live and do business, and we always welcome feedback.

Amy Shanler, public relations director, Staples Inc., Framingham, Mass.

Good to know. Link, naturally, via Swamplot.

Whose job is it anyway?

This Chron editorial reviews the Weingarten/Alabama BookStop situation, and raises a pertinent issue:

Most cities aggressively protect the handful of places that make them special. Houston doesn’t. We offer incentives to make stadium deals work for sports teams. Why not make historic preservation more attractive to business? So far, Houston has taken only tentative steps in that direction. We need to do better. And we need to start soon, while there’s something left to protect.

Well, back in 2007, Council passed an ordinance that allowed for tax abatements for buildings that were granted historic status; they then followed it up in September by granting historic status to, among others, the Alabama Bookstop. Doesn’t seem to have had any effect on Weingarten’s behavior, at least as far as I can tell. I subsequently suggested a complementary approach, which would be to impose a tax penalty on anyone who tears down a building designated as historic. I still think that’s a pretty good approach to pair with the one Council has already taken, but it may be too late to do that in time to have any effect on the Alabama. Still, if we ever hope to actually preserve a building like this, some kind of economic incentive is going to be needed. We may as well get to work on it now.

No Staples for the Alabama Theater

Some news from Swamplot, from a commenter there named Andrea:

“After writing to Staples PR this is their canned response: ‘While there has been speculation about Staples in connection with the historic Alabama Theater, we do not have a lease agreement at this location. Staples will continue to be a good neighbor that supports the communities where its customers and associates live and work as the company continues expanding in the Houston region. The rumors, however, have sparked a larger debate about the location. Therefore, we recommend that concerned citizens direct their letters and suggestions to Weingarten Realty as we are not involved in this development. Many thanks, Amy Shanler,
PR Director’”

So that would be one less obstacle in the way of the hoped-for outcome of an Alabama Drafthouse. (The Facebook group now has 3,420 members. Have you joined yet?) That makes this call to action from Sarah Gish somewhat out of date, but here is is anyway:

I am asking you to write Weingarten Realty Investors and Staples, Inc. to let them know that you care about the interior of the Alabama Theater. A brief note will do, but remember to be polite. Anger does not create long-term changes – it only incites short-term ones. Having “good manners” will give your letter a better chance of being read. And, in the end, I hope that both Staples and Weingarten will listen to us and will realize that we want to preserve the historic interior of the theater. Thank you for taking action if you can. You can write letters, send emails (feel free to forward this one), tell your friends, and spread the word.

Skip the Staples addresses she lists there, and you’re good to go.

Keep hope alive for the Alabama Drafthouse

Crossing my fingers.

More than six months ago, the owners of the Houston-area Alamo Drafthouse locations talked to Weingarten Realty about leasing the historic Alabama Theater. The negotiations fell apart when the groups couldn’t come to an agreement.

Now, with mounting public support to bring the cinema to the former Bookstop location at West Alabama and Shepherd, those talks have restarted, according to one of the owners of the Houston Alamo locations.

“With the groundswell of support, we’ve re-engaged discussions with them,” said Neil Michaelsen, a partner with Triple Tap Ventures. “As time goes on people’s views change. With the combination of support, we thought it was worth inquiring.”

[…]

Even though the Alabama space is smaller than desired, Michaelsen said his group has worked with architects to come up with scenarios that could possibly work, including a venue with at least two screens.

“We’ve spent money and time and effort to try and do something there,” he said.

I sincerely hope you figure it out, as do many other Houstonians.

UPDATE: The following message was sent to the members of the Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater! group, which by the way now has 2,143 members:

Here is the official response to our Facebook group from Neil Michaelsen, who is the President of the Houston Alamo Drafthouses and who is responsible for all future Alamo Drafthouse expansions in Texas:

“First and foremost we are flattered and very appreciative of the “Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater” fans for their support of the Alamo. In terms of the Alabama, we agree wholeheartedly with the group’s members that it would make an excellent Alamo location and space. Several months ago, we had a number of discussions with Weingarten in regards to bringing an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to the Alabama, unfortunately at the time, we were not able to come to an agreement with them. We’ve recently reengaged with Weingarten on that subject and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of these discussions.

It would be a shame to see the Alabama destroyed, and if there is a way to save it we want to take a lead in doing so.”

Hope!

UPDATE: ‘stina, who gets the credit for coming up with the idea of having a Drafthouse at this location, has more.

Alabama Drafthouse Theater idea gains momentum

With the revelation that Weingarten has plans to demolish the interior of the former Alabama BookStop so that it may get turned into a Staples or something like it, more people are expressing the wish that something be done instead to preserve the old theater’s unique look. One obvious idea: Make it a theater again.

Whenever I’ve written about the historic theater and former Bookstop on Shepherd and West Alabama, readers always comment about how great it would be if Alamo Drafthouse took over the space.

Now there’s a Facebook page promoting the movement called “Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater!”

Well, I certainly agree with the idea, which as far as I can tell was first expressed by ‘stina last September. Nancy Sarnoff asked some real estate brokers who didn’t think this was a realistic idea, but until the Alamo Drafthouse CEO (whom Sarnoff has contacted for comment) says it’s a no go, I say keep the dream alive. By the way, as of this publication, there are 1,317 members of that Facebook group. Whether that means anything or not, that’s the question. Hair Balls has more.

Weingarten update

Swamplot keeps digging to find out more about what’s going on with the Alabama Theater. Basically, though Weingarten is being weaselly about it (I know, I’m shocked too), it seems clear they are planning to demolish the interior of the building.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that Weingarten is actively pursuing any strategies for the property other than the demolition plans it had drawn up.

What’s our evidence for saying that?

  • A local construction company currently has the drawings out to bid to subcontractors. The drawings are labeled “Issue for Permit and Bid.” A set of drawings issued for preliminary pricing only is likely to be labeled as such.
  • The same construction company does not appear to have any other projects out to bid for the same property.
  • Nowhere in the bid documents is there any reference to any alternative to demolition.
  • The bid documents do include “alternates.” But all of them refer to demolition.

Click over and see the evidence for yourself; there’s more here as well. And be sure to note comment #5 in the first post, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

The Alabama Staples?

Swamplot brings an update on the Alabama Theater, where the now-closed BookStop was.

It looks like the former Alabama Theater — known since the early eighties as the Alabama Bookstop, and since last fall as that big vacant space for lease in Weingarten Realty’s Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center — is about to be gutted. A local construction company is currently taking bids from subcontractors for a rather complete interior demolition. The plans, prepared by Heights Venture Architects, show major alterations to the floor, walls, and ceilings.

The theater’s original sloped floor will be buried under a new concrete slab; wood floors inserted during the 1983 bookstore conversion will be removed. For now, the balcony will remain.

Click the link to see diagrams and more. Frankly, saving the exterior is about as much as I’d hoped for. I never figured the interior would be preserved in any real fashion. It’s a shame, but it’s still better than demolition.

According to Prime Property, Weingarten says it “has not signed a lease nor has any lease under (letter of intent) with any particular tenant at this time”, though it did not say there were no active plans to alter the interior. We’ll see what happens. Hair Balls and a subsequent post on Swamplot have more.

More Alamo Drafthouse locations on tap

Some news of interest from Nancy Sarnoff’s new blog.

The two Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in the Houston area are being sold to an investment team that plans to open at least seven more in Texas.

Triple Tap Ventures LLC will convert the company-owned locations at West Oaks Mall and on Mason Road in Katy to franchises.

The Austin-based theater/dining concept shows first-run and independent films while a wait staff serves hot meals, beer and wine to your movie seat.

The new franchisees wouldn’t say where in Houston they plan to build new stores, but there’s been talk over the years about this type of operation opening near downtown Houston.

“There is a lot of potential to grow Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas throughout Houston and we are currently evaluating a number of sites throughout the metropolitan area. We plan to develop the concept rapidly throughout the area and all of our expansion territories,” Neil Billingsley-Michaelsen, president of Triple Tap Ventures, said in an e-mail.

As she notes, I passed along a suggestion to them from ‘stina that I think would rock: Let the Alabama Theater become a theater again. I have no idea how viable this idea is, but I sure do hope they at least consider it.

The best idea you’ll hear for what to do with the Alabama Theater

How about turning it back into a movie theater? And not just any theater, either, but an Alamo Drafthouse theater. I wholeheartedly endorse the concept that ‘stina enunciates in her letter to the Alamo Drafthouse corporate office.

I don’t know anything about movie theaters or real estate, nor do I have any money. But the historic Alambama theater in Houston has recently been vacated by the 25 plus year tenent, and it seems like a perfect location for an Alamo Drafthouse similar to the one in downtown Austin. The theater dates back to the thirties, and it’s more or less been in use for most of its existence. Twenty five years ago, another Austin company, Bookstop, renovated the theater and turned it into a wonderful bookstore. The rows were turned into stacks of books; the stage, a magazine stand. There’s a lit up marquis on the front of the building, and the art deco decor still is on the walls. The screen and curtains still hang. After Barnes and Noble bought out Bookstop, a Starbucks went into the balcony. Sadly, Barnes and Noble recently built a larger store in a nearby location, and they closed Bookstop at the Alabama Theater on September 14.

I don’t know anything about the building’s cost or square footage or leasing requirements. I don’t know anything about your company and the way it expands. This theater seems different than the other franchise Alamo Drafthouse locations, aside from the original, as it’s a single screen well within the heart of a city. But the demographics of the neighborhood seem like they’d work. The theater is where River Oaks and Montrose and Midtown meet. There is a Landmark theater in the River Oaks Theater about a mile and a half away, and there is an Edwards Megaplex about two miles away on the freeway. But there is nothing like the Alamo Drafthouse anywhere nearby. River Oaks/Upper Kirby residents tend to be affluent and cultured. Montrose/Midtown/Heights residents tend to be ecclectic and progressive. Rice University is just down Shepherd 2 miles.

This weekend, a Buffy-Sing-a-Long was held in one of our public parks in downtown Houston (about 5 miles from the Alabama theater) and the response was overwhelming. The park was filled with happy Buffy fans popping poppers and telling Dawn to shut up. I don’t know the numbers, but it seemed that at least a thousand people were there.

I’m just a resident of Houston who is sad to see the Alabama theater empty. When chatting with my friends about the fact at the Buffy Sing-a-Long, we realized that the match up of the Alamo and the Alabama could be perfect. Should you have any Houston based investors/inquiries, maybe you would want to direct them to the Alabama?

Sincerely,

‘stina
Movie fan

I would love to see this happen. The main obstacle is likely to be parking, as the strip center the now-defunct BookStop is in doesn’t have an abundance of it. But surely something could be worked out. Please, Alamo Drafthouse, take a look at this. Thanks very much.

Metro and its art deco demolition debacle

I saw this Swamplot report yesterday and I thought “Why, Metro, why? Why are you pissing off your supporters so?”

This timely building at 4819 Harrisburg in Eastwood, built in 1935 for the Sterling Laundry & Cleaning Co., showed up in yesterday’s Daily Demolition Report. The architect was Sol R. Slaughter, who also designed a home on the bayou in Idylwood the same year.

The building faces Metro’s new East End Corridor light-rail line. Rice University project manager Spencer Howard writes in with a few details, but isn’t exactly sure what’s going on:

The building was renovated as an artist live/work/gallery just a few years ago.

METRO pledged to save the facade of the building with the clock on it, across from Eastwood Park. They preferred to have someone else buy it and move it, but if that didn’t happen, they were going to move it back on the property and reattach it behind the new setback. Yesterday they sent out the demolition list for next Monday and it was on it. The neighborhood has alerted their gov’t reps.

This building is in the same style as the Alabama Bookstop and River Oaks Theater, in case it’s not clear. I can say on good authority that their government reps have heard the neighborhood’s cries. I am told that one of the permits Metro needed to do this demolition has had a temporary hold placed on it, and that they will need to explain just what the heck they think they’re doing, and why they didn’t bother to tell anyone why and how they went from “move the facade” to “tear the building down”, before anything else can happen. In the meantime, perhaps they can give some serious thought to how they can quit acting like idiots.

Lisa Gray on the closing of the Alabama Bookstop

Lisa Gray writes about the impending closing of the Alabama Bookstop, to be followed by the opening of the new Barnes & Noble and the rest of the remade River Oaks Shopping Center, and what it means for the Bookstop’s historic building and the nearby River Oaks Theater. Along the way, she notes the Facebook group I created, I Will Not Shop At The West Gray Barnes & Noble and quotes from my post about it. Looking back, I see that I wrote the original post announcing the group two years ago Saturday. And now is when it goes from being theory to reality. All I can say is I still feel the same way about the place. If you do too, I hope you’ll join me in not shopping there.

Alabama Bookstop to close next month

In June, I noted a Swamplot post that said the Alabama Bookstop would be closing soon, but that property owner Weingarten would not be demolishing the existing building. We now have a reported date for the Bookstop to close up shop.

Barnes & Noble Booksellers will close its Bookstop location in the revered Alabama Theater, 2922 South Shepherd, on Sept. 15 and reopen Sept. 16 in a new store tailor-made for a larger audience just up the street in the River Oaks Shopping Center at West Gray Avenue.

The new store brings more books, music and DVD sections, an expanded children’s area and a full-service Barnes & Noble Café to the well-heeled neighborhoods that surround it.

Manager Jacques Oppinger, a native of the Inner Loop community, envisions a shared customer base and media tie-ins with the neighboring River Oaks Theater.

But the announcement inevitably leaves Houston’s preservationists, who rallied to save the River Oaks Theater from demolition as part of that shopping center’s redevelopment, wondering what sort of transformation might befall the Alabama Theater.

A new tenant has not been found, said Brooke Harvey, leasing director for Weingarten Realty Investors, which owns the River Oaks and Alabama Shepherd shopping centers where both of the old marquee theaters are located.

Until then, he can’t speculate about how the cavernous, art deco interior, which retains its balcony and terraced first floor, might be used going forward.

“We love the building. We’re just leasing it as is,” Harvey said.

“We have no plans to make any changes. You just won’t be buying books in there.”

That’s about as encouraging as one could hope, especially the bit about the River Oaks Theater. If both of these buildings survive in their present form and have some reasonable assurance they will continue to exist as they are, that will be a huge victory for preservation. Thanks to 29-95 for the catch.

UPDATE: Swamplot has more.

Will the Alabama Bookstop be spared the wrecking ball?

A commenter at Swamplot, who claims to have inside information, has the following to say about the River Oaks Shopping Center and the Alabama Bookstop.

1. Barnes and Noble owns Bookstop. They are closing it to move to the new location at ROSC.

2. Weingarten has no intent of demolishing the Alabama Theater. They have been marketing the space for re-use. They intend to restore the facade when a new tenant signs on.

Everyone knew that the Bookstop’s days were numbered. With the massive Borders Books just a few blocks away at Alabama and Kirby, and the new B&N opening soon, there couldn’t possibly be enough capacity to keep the Bookstop in business as well. The question that vexed everyone who cared about preservation was what would happen to the historic Alabama Theater building that currently houses the Bookstop. If this information is accurate, it’s the first positive thing I’ve heard about its disposition since Weingarten first announced the demolition of the original River Oaks Shopping Center.

The commenter had more to say about other matters, including this somewhat puzzling bit.

4. Weingarten’s long term interest in ROSC is to achieve the highest and best use for this property. They want to bring a higher density to the center that they feel is appropriate for its location.

5. Before the crash last fall they were working on a plan to improve the walk-a-bility of the ROSC through landscaping and art. I believe the project is on hold right now. Its interesting how everyone is in favor of density (less driving and more walking) except when it affects something in your backyard.

I still don’t understand how adding a massive bookstore and a five-story parking garage contributes to “less driving and more walking”. There’s a discussion in the comments to that Swamplot post about how of course the ROSC is “walkable” because hey, you can park your car in the lot and then walk to any of the nearby stores. By that definition, the shopping center that includes the Costco at I-10 and Bunker Hill is walkable, too. The new ROSC may or may not be more pedestrian-friendly than the old one was, at least for those who drove and parked there. There are certainly things that can be done to make it so, some of which were explored in that comment thread – planting trees, widening sidewalks, etc. I seriously doubt Weingarten cares to spend any of its own money on stuff like that, but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about that. When there’s mixed-use development in this area, as well as transit options to get residents in and out of there without needing to drive, then we can talk about density and walkability in a meaningful fashion.