Trader Joe’s probably isn’t the first company that comes to mind when you think about preserving historic buildings. Grocery stores are generally more about function than form; Trader Joe’s, even with its fun, laid-back California vibe, is focused on getting customers in, selling them food, and getting them back out in common sense fashion. One of the chain’s stores, though, goes the extra mile in celebrating the roots of its historic location.
Trader Joe’s Alabama Theater store in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Texas, opened in 2012 as the company’s first location in the greater Houston area. For locals, the store’s opening meant more than another place low prices on food and wine. It meant the preservation of a landmark movie theater.
The Alabama Theater, part of the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center, opened on November 2, 1939, with the feature “Man About Town” starring Jack Benny and Dorothy Lamour. After the old Alabama Theater closed, it became Alabama Bookstop, an independent bookstore and eventually a Barnes & Noble location, in 1984. The bookstore preserved both the exterior and interior art deco features of the theater, including the screen, but when the store closed in 2009 there was a real danger of the building being torn down to make way for high-rise development.
In 2011, Trader Joe’s leased the old theater building and started renovations. The Houston Chronicle reported that:
“The company did its best to honor the building’s past, regional vice president Greg Paquet said. More than 1,000 hours were put into refurbishing the ceiling, which has a large medallion. The grocer also kept and rewired the theater marquee and preserved the balcony and mosaic tile floors at the entrance that were kept in place by the bookstore that previously occupied the theater.”
When the Trader Joe’s Alabama Theater location opened in 2012, they leaned into the classic movie theme by creating movie-themed wall art and movie posters to advertise their products. The art, made by genius creators who work in the theater’s old mezzanine level, is brilliant and funny and so Trader Joe’s.
For example, there are these gems, playing on Planet of the Apes, The Godfather, and James Bond:
And this bit of wall art that makes my Gen X heart happy:
And one more, because it’s Indy:
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We can’t preserve every old building, so when a company takes care to save as much as they can and honor the spirit of the building as well as the facade, we should celebrate it.