April 30, 2007
Money talks, but only if you can hear it

Lisa Gray uses her new column space to make a plea for saving the River Oaks Theater, River Oaks Shopping Center, and Alabama Bookstop.

Yes, it's a long shot -- but it's not too late for one of those "win-win" outcomes that the City Council likes to tout. It's not too late for Barnes & Noble and Weingarten to emerge from this debacle as heroes, saviors of the city's heritage.

But first, we need to get their attention. And to do it Houston-style.

This week, let's stage a buy-in.

Sometime between now and next Sunday, let's all visit the Alabama Bookstop. And let's all purchase something: a book, a magazine, a birthday card, a Mother's Day gift. Let's drink lattes in the coffee bar. Do our Christmas shopping. Whatever.

The point is to show that we care enough about the city's historical buildings to make a point of spending our money in them. We'll show that we're paying attention and that we'll reward preservation of the places that make Houston special.

We won't have to make threats. We won't have to hint what we'll do if the first domino falls, or scream that we'll remember who destroyed Houston's landmarks.

Our dollars will say that for us, and they'll say it in the language that Weingarten and Barnes & Noble understand.

When money talks, Houston listens.

This is an expansion on a theme she explored as a features writer last September, which I blogged about here. I should also note that the petition to save the Alabama Bookstop specifically mentions not patronizing the new Barnes and Nobles if Weingarten goes ahead with its plan to destroy the Bookstop.

Which, as I said before, I'm totally down with. I'll make a point of buying something at the Bookstop this week in solidarity. What I think is more important, however, is to make sure that people keep buying stuff at the Bookstop after the new B&N has become reality. Shopping there now, while nice, isn't going to affect Weingarten or B&N in any way. Hell, they may not even notice the effort. Having a no-customer grand opening for the B&N, along with a publicity campaign saying that will continue until we get some guarantees, now that they'll pay attention to.

I realize that my plan assume the River Oaks Shopping Center is already a lost cause. That's a damn shame, but I'll take a shot at saving two out of the three if I can. My concern is that however good we all may feel after a week of Bookstopping, we may feel equally depressed after the bulldozers arrive at West Gray and Shepherd for part one of the Weingarten project. Really, there's no reason people can't shop the Bookstop now and stay away from the B&N later. I just hope everyone keeps their eyes on the prize when the first setback occurs.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 30, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

When I first came to Houston the Alabama Bookstop was actually a theater. I think it specialized in musicals. Just to the south was i think a food store, which later became Cactus Records. I probably spent more dollars there than anywhere else. At the far south was a drugstore with a lunch counter and leatherette booths, which evolved into a health food store.
The north end is a little hazier. Seems like there was a cocktail lounge next to the theater and then something else, maybe professional offices, and then a 5 and dime, which became the site of Whole Foods.
Throughout the years the building use evolved to fit with the changes in the neighborhood. Even going so far as to make a movie theater into a bookstore. You have to wonder why they cannot continue to do that.

Posted by: bill on April 30, 2007 10:19 AM

Although it's far far away from my neighborhood, I went to the Alabama Bookstop once a long time ago and enjoyed walking around it. I looked and looked and left with nothing but a feeling that what I examined was slow moving inventory.

If a historical landmark should be saved, poor business practice should not be subsidized within its walls. That practice will not win converts to preservation.

If the Chronic wants to allocate its scarce newsprint on saving historical landmarks, it should be do so with that which it played a key role in making surplus, like the Astrodome.

This is not to say that the Alabama Theater should not be preserved. It's just that a convincing argument has yet to be made for me to fire up the buggy and allocate a day this weekend in traffic.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on April 30, 2007 4:26 PM

I've always loved the Alabama bookstop. It is a favorite place to buy children's books for my nephews, and books I don't need - but gotta have for me.
I'm glad Lisa Gray at the Chron made the suggestion. I want to do something about River Oaks and Alabama Center, but don't know what works. Even if it doesn't create a shift in Weingarten's plans, it will be something I enjoy and makes me feel better about "doing something" for presevation besides a GHPA petition.

Posted by: Larissa Lindsay on April 30, 2007 9:55 PM