A Trader Joe’s in the Alabama Theater?

A TRADER JOE’S IN THE ALABAMA THEATER? 3 months ago, Trader Joe’s announced plans to build 10 stores in Texas. But where? A little bird tells Nancy Sarnoff that the California-born grocer is exploring the possibility of taking the vacant Bookstop space in the former Alabama Theater on South Shepherd Dr. No official comment from Weingarten Realty or Trader Joe’s, but Sarnoff notes the theater space’s listed 14,000-or-so sq. ft. is right in the target range for a Trader Joe’s store. The space has been vacant for almost 2 years. [Prime Property; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Chris Adams

47 Comment

  • The parking there used to be terrible when it was Bookstop, I’m leery of how crowded it would be with hordes of foodies, Trader Joe’s should find something with better parking for the hundreds of Prii and SUVs that will swarm it in Houston.

  • Awesome! We definitely need a decent grocery store in the area.

  • Little piece of Awesome right there,

  • Perfect! Except for the traffic and parking, of course.

  • Just park in the back. Plenty of spaces there.

  • Imagine the traffic, and the parking, and the left turns, oh my!

  • If true that strip center comes full circle – next door was Houston’s first Whole Foods (now the PetSmart).

  • I loved TJ’s when I lived in los Angeles. Hope they do lease the Alabama. We obviously have a grocery store war going on; the new HEB over on the old Wilshire Village site, and the Montrose Kroger’s is being nicely renovated – to look like an HEB, actually.

  • Too much traffic. The Heights seems like a better bet to me since that area of town already has so many market options (WF, CM, RE, etc.)

  • Imaginary discussion between Trader Joe’s and Weingarten:

    TJ: Hi. We are very interested in something inside the loop with @10-15k sq ft for our first store in Houston.

    W: Great. We have space available in the Heights where there is a local grocer that is leaving when their lease is up.

    TJ: Hmmm. Good location, but too big for us. What else?

    W: The only thing we have inside the loop that fits your dimensions is the old Alabama Theater. I am sorry that we couldn’t help you wi–

    TJ: Oh, wait. That looks like a great location.

    W: Yes. It is a very busy street, but the building . . .

    TJ: What’s wrong with the building?

    W: It’s an old theater. But we can level it and build whatever you want.

    TJ: Why level it? What a waste.

    W: You’re right. It would be easier to just take the facade down and replace it with some stucco and fake slate trim.

    TJ: What? That would be terrible. The old art deco theater facade matches the rest of the development so well.

    W: Ok. I heard that you guys play hard ball. That is fine. We will take down the facade and replace it for free.

    TJ: Umm. We do not want to take down the facade.

    W: Dang it. You people are tough. We will take down the facade for the entire strip mall and take down the cactus sign.

    TJ: No, no, no. You don’t understand. We want the old facade. Don’t change it.

    W: Ok. This is brutal. Last offer: entire facade torn down and replaced, cactus sign gone AND we will wrecking ball the River Oaks Theater.

    TJ: Is there someone else there we could speak with?

  • A little piece of heaven is finally making it to Houston. So excited! Have missed TJs ever since I moved away from SoCal. Forget the Heights, bring it to the Museum District/Almeda. We need a decent grocery store nearby.

  • Hey, over here on the up and coming East End.

  • Build it there and I’ll visit monthly. Build it where parking > traffic and I’ll stop by twice a week. Best of both worlds would be if it ended up between Heights and TC Jester bike trails.

  • ROFL @ Old school!

  • Plenty of parking in the back. It was never an issue when Whole Foods and Bookstop AND cactus were there.

  • Agree with Fernando that Museum District is a food/grocery desert. The first decent sandwich shop in that area will crush.

  • Bill
    It soooo was an issue. We quit going cuz we didn’t like the fight for parking.

  • If Ruchi’s, Demeris and Little Papa’s spill over into TJ’s lot then where is TJ’s traffic going to spill over into?

    The back lot just isn’t going to be enough.

    And when Admiral Linen is running? Game over. The entire four block radius will just self destruct. There will be no way to drive anywhere.

  • I’ve never seen anyone whine more about parking than Houston residents, despite the fact that this city is generally up to its gills in unneeded parking spaces.

    I’m sure the Trader Joe’s people, who have shown they can run a successful business, are considering the parking angle in looking at the lease.

  • Good news! There’s plenty of parking in the back. Once the newness wears off, traffic won’t be overwhelming. TJ’s are more of a specialty food store with a wine department, nothing near the line of groceries in a Whole Foods or others.

  • build it and they will come

  • This location has more parking than any Trader Joe’s I’ve ever been to. Parking is less of a concern for a company like TJ than overall location. This is the PERFECT location for a TJs… right in the heart of no-man’s land between River Oaks, Upper Kirby, Montrose, and Southampton/Museum District. It’s a location that people are used to driving to whether they live in Tanglewood or the Heights. This location will make BANK for Trader Joe’s. There honestly isn’t a better location in the entire metro for their first store to debut.

  • Why? Is there really a market for 5 different hipster grocery stores in Montrose?

  • @Zippy, Generalizations are always wrong.

    Triple digit temps all week – are you volunteering to walk blocks to each of your daily destinations?

  • I don’t get the people threatening seppuku in front of the non-Heights walmart because of walmart’s horrible employment and business practices, but salivating at the chance to support the same employment and business practices by a “faux-crunchy” company.

  • #10- HILARIOUS!

  • I don’t remember parking being all that bad when Whole Foods was there along with Cactus and Bookstop and Whole Earth. Huh.

    As sad as I am that Bookstop left, I think its a great use of the space if Weingartens doesn’t want it to be a theater. (I’ve been told that there was interest to restore the theater, but Weingartens said no, they wanted retail or restaurant.)

    I thought that the old Blockbuster or Ekerds at Westheimer and Montrose would have been a good Trader Joe’s spot, but this may work better.

  • I remember parking being a NIGHTMARE when the Whole Foods was there. But, I do think it would be a good place for a Trader Joes, or rather that Trader Joes would be a good tenant for that space. More in keeping with the history of the area than, say, a Staples. (I realize few retailers care about such things, I’m just saying.)

    OK, you’re right its just more hipster than a Staples, but still…

  • Trader Joe’s Parking Solutions
    1) Drive-through in the front off Shepard
    2) Valet in the back (those little residential streets are fair game)

  • This space is larger than any Trader Joes I’ve ever shopped in. Don’t count your chickens. And Mel, you are dead wrong on it’s staffing policies. I know numerous people employed by Traders Joes, and you won’t find a more generous, progressive employer in the sector. Do some research before you spout off.

  • Hats off to Old School– too good!

  • Yeah, #10 was great.

  • HDtex, in your defense of TJs employment practices, you forgot to defend their far more egregious business practices. Before you spout off in blind defense of your two buck chuck and processed frozen meals of unknown provenance, why don’t you research just how TJs keeps its prices soooo low. You might not care if TJs is just as bad as Walmart, but if that is the case, my post wasn’t directed at you. My post, again, is directed to the Walmart haters salivating at the thought of a TJs.

  • Ok, I’ll bite. Not because I am all that excited about TJ (with the new Phoenecia downtown being a short walk from my office, I won’t have much motivation to frequent TJ), but because putting Walmart on the same level as TJ is just preposterous.
    First, the premise that people against Walmart think that TJs is some Utopian non-profit coop that is out to save the world is wrong. We know that TJs is a for profit business that is owned by a pretty slimey family that is behind the monsterous Aldi markets in Europe. We know that a lot of TJ’s stuff is made by distant subsidiaries of big conglomerates. We know that TJs doesn’t want unions any more than Whole Foods or Walmart does. But, that doesn’t mean that Walmart and TJs are on equal footing.
    Walmart pays new hires a smidge above minimum wage and doesn’t offer health care or other benefits to new hires. Walmart employees are heavily dependant on government aid to pay the bills and get health care. New hires at TJ get double minimum wage up to $40k a year for full timers with health insurance for both part and full time workers and a maxed out employer funded 401k account.
    TJ offers niche food items in a small store that fits in easily in just about any commercial development. Walmart builds massive supercenters that are at least ten times larger than a TJs, create impossible traffic and are havens for crime due to the unmanageable size of the store and parking lot.
    TJs and Walmart both get suppliers to make cheaper versions of their goods. But, TJs doesn’t insist that suppliers shift production to China or dictate pricing. And suppliers are jumping at the chance to do business with TJs because TJs limits the number of brands they sell, doesn’t play games with charging for shelf placement and achieves profitablity through eliminating middle men instead of strong arming prices with suppliers.
    Lastly, Walmart is a massive recipient of direct government handouts. Walmart routinely gets tax abatements and got 6 mil in free infrastructure upgrades for the Heights development. TJs does not sink their hand into tax payer’s pockets.

  • Great location (IMO), as someone that would love a TJ’s close to me. I also like that its near my properties as I love seeing the area improved.
    However, seems a tough go with CM, HEB, and WF being sooo close?

  • Old School, I am going to disagree with you. While you and I might “know” TJ, the global “we” don’t know TJ. People on the anti-walmart facebook page have openly wished TJs would open in that spot instead. Why? Because the name is adorable, the employees wear hawaiian shirts and the customers believe the $2 wine is vegan, fair trade and organic. Gimme a brak. I don’t shop at Walmart for all the reasons I won’t shop at TJs. I’ll get my organic dried fruit and frozen vegan burritos at WFs.

  • LOVE IT. Do it now, Trader Joe!! Folks around here have been waiting for y’all for so long that it doesn’t really matter where you plunk down, you’re going to do well. But admittedly, I love the idea of a TJ’s in that adorable old theater. (Of course I also love the idea of an Alamo Drafthouse in that space, but I’ll take what I can get. If TJ is ready to look at signing leases, I say let ’em have it. It’s been sad & empty for too long now.)

  • Within a 10 block radius of the West Alabama Icehouse: Randalls at Shepherd and Westheimer, Whole Foods at Kirby and Alabama, Fiesta and soon to be HEB, at Dunlavy and Alabama and possibly Trader Joe’s at Shepherd and Alabama. Got to love my neighborhood.

  • Great use for the old Alabama Theatre. But I still recommend the Near Northside. There’s an old 2-story building that used to house a corner grocer. Pretty big space, though. It’s right near North Main and Quitman, right at one of the LRT stations being built! Local customer base would be Near Northside, Woodland Heights, even the north end of Downtown (UHD). There is also a planned mixed use development for the old Hardy Yards. The building and others nearby desperately need some adaptive re-use. TJ’s would be a perfect fit.

  • I love TJs but last thing I want is another grocery store within a 2-3 mile radius of my home in Montrose.

    Kroger @ West Gray
    Kroger @ Montrose
    Fiesta @ Dunlavy
    HEB @ Dunlavy
    Whole Foods @ Kirby
    Whole Foods @ W.Gray
    Rice Epi @ Westhimer/Weslayan
    Central Market @ Westhimer/Weslayan
    Randalls @ Westhimer/Shepherd
    did I miss anyone?

    Let’s put it somewhere were it is needed like in the Heights. I would gladly drive there to shop at TJs!

  • Interesting. When Staples considered taking over the Alabama for a store, they were the devil incarnate for causing the ruin of a historically important building. Now that TJ’s wants to do the same, it’s the Second Coming. Apparently pretension trumps outrage.

  • A) I for one welcome our new grocery overlords. This would be an awesome location. I’ll be there 2-3x per month.

    B) The TJ store at Overland in L.A. has terrible parking, but people flock there anyhow.

    C) Double minimum wage plus benefits is more than fair for working in a grocery store. That’s a living wage in Houston.

  • Wow, a couple of years ago I actually went on Trader Joe’s website and suggested this very space! You can all thank me or damn me, ha ha.

    Seriously, how much worse are they than anything else?

    How much worse is the parking going to be than anywhere else?

    Trader Joe’s is about a million times better than losing the beloved Alabama to the wrecking ball.

    I’m in, and I will shop there.

    Trader Joe’s is fun to shop for some things, but not everything, so the parking may not be the nightmare that some expect. People will still shop HEB and Kroger and (gasp) Wal-Mart for most of their groceries.

  • @Mel: “I’ll get my organic dried fruit and frozen vegan burritos at WFs.”

    And you’ll pay 2-3x as much for them!

  • Etherist, that’s fine. You get what you pay for. Obviously my original post was not directed at you, either. My original post was directed at the effete liberals in the Heights (of which I am a proud member) who are tying themselves to stakes in front of the non-Heights Heights Walmart to prevent its construction, but (without any irony) hope and pray that TJ’s will be built in that very location.

  • I could have sworn I made this comment once before but before imagining that TJ’s would in some way want to move into a converted theater please google images of TJ’s stores and tell me what fraction of them are reused older buildings and what fraction are new build retail buildings designed in exactly the same style as any other grocery store. If they build in Houston they will want purpose built just the same as anyone else. Thinking otherwise is just evidence of having suckled too much on their PR Koolaid I’m afraid.

  • Most retailers are very good at their due diligence these days, but I can tell you from experience that grocery stores are the best at it. Occasionally they make a mistake, but they look for demographics (money), density and traffic patterns for their expected customers. Most/all of the other suggestions for places on this comment section have an issue with one or more of this criteria, including the Heights (traffic patterns … Heights people will come south for retailers, but fewer people who don’t live there will go to the Heights for retailers … just a fact, not a condemnation of the Heights where I used to call home), so TJ’s will want to give it their best shot for their first Houston location.

    TJ’s will kill it at this site, if true. I’m not familiar with how close they put their stores together in saturated urban markets, but I suspect if successful that they will be looking for additional locations quickly for economies of scale, so the Heights people may yet get their own someday.