Historic Alabama Theater reopens as Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's opened Friday in the old Alabama Theatre. (Blanca Beltran)
September 21, 2012 3:45:01 PM PDT
It's a place a lot of Houstonians hold dear to their heart -- the old Alabama Theater. And on Friday that landmark officially became home to a specialty food store, Trader Joe's.

For years, the theater has been at the center of a battle between preservationists, who wanted the building saved as much as possible, and developers.

Seventy-three years ago, the Alabama was a neighborhood theater on Shepherd Drive. In the 1980's, it showed its last movie and was converted to a bookstore. This is its latest chapter as a grocery store. But more than that, it's a Trader Joe's.

On grand opening day, the checkout line stretched around the store and there were some of the store's trademark samples like Cookie Butter.

Trader Joe's has a huge national following and judging by the opening day's response, Houston is now part of it. But it's also in a space that's sentimental to a lot of people.

Six years ago, the Alabama was in danger of being demolished. A preservation effort convinced the shopping center owner to consider other options and its new tenant, Trader Joe's, is the result.

A landmark saved. But not all of it. Even during the Bookstop days, the original art deco murals were intact in the Alabama interior and the walls were still brightly colored. When the space was prepared for a new occupant by the property owner, all of that disappeared.

"It's a very few cities that protect interiors and where they are. A lot of times it's just the community voicing its opinion," said David Bush with Preservation Houston.

The point for Preservation Houston is that the building still stands, much the same as it was from the outside. Inside it's filled with people, including some who once saw movies here.

"For one thing, I wanted to see how much they were able to keep and I'm glad they were able to keep as much of it as they did," said shopper Marilyn Gore.

The store will be open daily from 8am to 9pm.

Trader Joe's is famous is known for its cheap Charles Shaw wine, gourmet and organic items, as well as prepared foods.

The grocer is slowly moving into the Houston market. They opened a Woodlands store earlier this year and have another location planned in the Memorial area.


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