Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Broken Chain: Bookstar (former), Poplar Plaza, Memphis, TN

Today's post highlights Shelby County, TN, retail.

Bookstar is really a fascinating story.

I'd known about the chain for years, and always planned on doing a post on it eventually, but I figured it would be one I'd keep putting off until later, not least because there's absolutely nothing current about the topic and -- unlike most of my posts here -- I don't have any personally-captured photos of the subject at hand (the location I'll be highlighting has long been closed). I even had an entirely separate, much more humorous post I was originally planning to upload, assuming I would be able to find the time to sit down and write a second July entry at all.

But then, an innocent question asking whether anyone had heard of Bookstop refocused my attention on the research I had compiled several years ago, and led me to digging up more, and long story short, now we're here. It just happens like that sometimes, you know?

Anyway, like I was saying. Bookstar is really a fascinating story. You may not have heard of them, but you're familiar with their work, I promise. Let's get into a little history, first.


Bookstar began its life as Bookstop, founded in 1982 by entrepreneur Gary Hoover. (I'm getting ahead of myself by saying this, but for the sake of eliminating your confusion, the company used the names "Bookstop" and "Bookstar" interchangeably, based primarily on the fact that in certain markets the name "Bookstop" was already taken.) Per his own autobiographical account of the chain's history -- which I strongly encourage you take a moment to read over -- Hoover was greatly inspired by the revolutionary invention of the retail "superstore" concept, what has also been called the "category killer": a big-box store that focuses strictly on one merchandise category and, through that specialization, becomes the dominant seller of that product. Toys "R" Us is heralded as the first retail chain to have adopted this operating philosophy, and over time, many others have followed suit (think Circuit City, Home Depot, OfficeMax, etc.). Hoover wanted to create the superstore for books.

As you and I know, chain bookstores -- sadly -- are few and far between today. But at the time, there were many and they were everywhere... only, instead of being big-box stores, the majority were situated in tiny spaces within malls. Hoover envisioned a much larger environment, a store that would truly specialize in books. His dream, he describes, was a huge "Book City" in Chicago, but "the venture capitalists laughed me out of their offices. 'How could you ever compete with B. Dalton and Waldenbooks? No bookstore chain could do over a million dollars a store! Do people even read anymore?'"

Ultimately, he settled for a smaller format in what materialized as Bookstop, opening in September 1982 in Austin, Texas. He wanted 6,000 square feet, but the landlord only allowed him 4,000, "saying no bookstore could justify" any larger than that. And make no mistake, 4,000 square feet was itself plenty large for a bookstore at the time. Hoover had the difficult task of proving that a bookstore that huge could hold its own. And that it did. As Hoover writes, "Bookstop’s goal was to do $1.4 million the first year, when the average US bookstore did under $500,000. We hit $1.8 million that first year!"

Separately, in an interview with Mixergy, Hoover says, "So, we opened small with 4,500 square feet. But within two years, the landlord kicked out the tenant next door and allowed us to expand to 6,000 or 7,000 square feet and then soon our stores were 12,000, 15,000 – we may have gotten up to 18,000. A modern Barnes & Noble is like 28,000." Bookstop, clearly, was a success.

The first Bookstop store, in Austin, TX. Courtesy Hoover's World

Ad for a Bookstop grand opening. Note the strong street sign motif and the chain's slogan, "We've got your book." Courtesy Hoover's World

The chain expanded rapidly, doubling or tripling its store count every year. Hoover created his own inventory and information systems, turned the traditional bookstore distribution center model on its head, and introduced membership cards (to keep track of consumer trends as much as to offer deals to customers). He placed stores inside existing buildings, many of them adaptive, creative reuses, most winning architecture awards for the renovation work done (more on this later). Essentially, he was proving that bookstores as category killers not only was a viable concept, but a desirable one.

"In 1989," Hoover writes, "after seven years, the venture capitalists decided it was time to replace the founder (me) with a retail veteran (Steve Jobs knew what that felt like!)." Barnes & Noble wound up buying Bookstop and, from there, went on to create a superstore format of its own. Experts have said that Bookstop "pioneered the superstore concept" and that it was the Bookstop acquisition that "gave Barnes & Noble the necessary know-how and infrastructure to create what, in 1992, became the definitive bookselling superstore." Hoover himself says, "I have been delighted with how Barnes & Noble carried out our vision and improved on it with their beautiful stores and cafes."

Of course, Barnes & Noble wasn't the only one to hop on the bookstore-as-superstore bandwagon. Around that same time, Borders Books & Music stepped up its game, opening similarly large stores complete with cafes, and Bookland, Inc. opportunistically compiled excess books and fixtures from a failed acquisition to open up a superstore that it called Books-A-Million. All three concepts proved successful and the companies even became rivals as the chains grew; all born from the pioneering format of Gary Hoover's visionary start-up, Bookstop.


See? I told you that you were familiar with Bookstop's work! Essentially, the modern-day Barnes & Noble wouldn't exist were it not for Bookstop laying the groundwork, the foundation for the superstore bookseller. In what can be viewed either as an ironic twist or simply as a natural evolution, the mall-based bookstores that were so popular at the time of Bookstop's origin are now all but extinct. And for that matter, even some of the larger superstores have since bitten the dust as well, including Hastings, Davis-Kidd, and the aforementioned Borders. Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million are the only major bookstore chains remaining, and of those, the former is the only one to have a full nationwide presence.

As for Bookstop's fate post-acquisition, Hoover writes that "over time, the stores were rebranded as B&N or replaced with new B&N units." So, the Bookstop brand has been made all but extinct as well. But, since this is a Broken Chains Edition post, you'll be happy to know (and have probably already guessed) that it hasn't entirely disappeared. Barnes & Noble has kept three Bookstar-branded stores operational, all in California, and all of which I'll touch on in a tiny bit more detail at the tail end of this post.

What you might find more interesting to learn in the meantime, however, is that, after the acquisition, Barnes & Noble didn't ditch developments under the Bookstop or Bookstar brands immediately. In fact, B&N continued to open new stores under both banners. And many of these are among the erstwhile chain's most exciting locations. Backtracking just a tad and revisiting that comment from earlier about adaptive reuses and architectural awards, Gary Hoover shared the following in his 2015 Mixergy interview:

We took existing buildings. So, we restored an old 1930s movie theater in Houston. We did a roller-skating rink with beautiful wooden floors in San Antonio. We did, I think it was a cafeteria in Dallas. I may have done a bowling alley. We did more theaters. 
We’d have grand opening parties. We’d have the mayor cut the ribbon. We made sure we had all the TV stations out there. We did that by taking one store in each city and making it architecturally interesting. So, we won architecture awards wherever we went. 
Like in Houston, we restored this old movie theater and all the TV stations and newspapers come to report on that and then when I’m talking, I’m like, “By the way, we also opened two others in these locations.” You use the glow from that. 
One of our Dallas stores had neon sculptures of like 10 or 15 greatest authors. You create this presence in a market. When people see it, they’ve never seen a bookstore like this, not with this big a selection and then discount prices.

The Houston theater to which Hoover refers was formerly known as The Alabama, dating back to the 1930s, and converted into a Bookstop in 1984. That quickly became the chain's highest-performing store, selling its inventory before the chain could even pay its suppliers for it. No wonder Hoover continued to advocate for inventive reuses!

B&N must have noticed the positive response to the bookstores located in converted theaters as well, for Hoover continues, "After Barnes & Noble bought us, they continued to do some theaters. There’s one in Point Loma in San Diego. There’s one in Studio City, California. There’s one in Nashville. There’s one in Memphis. Our big one was in Houston but they’ve moved out of that. That’s now Trader Joe’s."

Former Alabama Theatre in Houston as it appeared during its time as Bookstop. Note the stop sign icon in the center of the marquee. Courtesy Houston Deco

Former Alabama Theatre in Houston as it appeared during the conversion to Trader Joe's. The interior has now been mostly wiped. Courtesy Pinterest

In other words, at least five Bookstop/Bookstar stores were located in converted former theaters, and the renovation/restoration work in all was carried out painstakingly and with a loving eye toward preservation -- both before and after the Barnes & Noble acquisition. Cool, right? In addition to the photos of The Alabama shown above, we'll see some of each of those five theaters before this post is through. But our main focus, of course, will be on the Memphis location.


Spin Street, a neighbor to Bookstar in Poplar Plaza (Bookstar can be seen in the far left background). Courtesy Mall Hall of Fame

We've discussed Poplar Plaza here on the blog before, incidentally concerning yet another media store that qualified for broken chain status, Spin Street (pictured again above, for old times' sake). But before Spin Street, there was Blockbuster Music; and before Blockbuster Music, there was Dillard's; and before Dillard's, there was Lowenstein's, which opened at the corner of Poplar and Highland in April 1949. The rest of the Poplar Plaza development followed in short order, and was lauded as a major undertaking spanning the length of six city blocks. Back then, some were afraid the shopping center was too far east to draw clientele; today, the intersection wouldn't be considered part of East Memphis at all. Located just a stone's throw from the University of Memphis campus, Poplar Plaza has enjoyed considerable, long-lasting success in its prime location.

Besides Lowenstein's, one of the first tenants that chose to test the waters at Poplar Plaza was the Cianciolo family, operators of two other local cinemas, who opened the aptly-named Plaza Theatre in May 1952. The architectural design somewhat mimicked that of the Lowenstein's in both materials and style -- as all buildings in Poplar Plaza did -- but at the same time, it was unmistakably a movie house, its mission to serve as a showpiece theater for resident Memphians.

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Above, you can see a newspaper blurb documenting the cinema's opening, and below, pictures of The Plaza in its heyday. These images come courtesy of Cinema Treasures, which is a great resource to check out if you're interested in learning more about this theater or just other vintage/former/repurposed theaters in general. The Plaza Theatre in Memphis operated for approximately 35 years following its opening in 1952; most sources place its closure in either 1987 or 1989.

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

The theater's demise was the first of many vacancies to appear in the aging Poplar Plaza. "Soon," the Mall Hall of Fame writes, "a mass exodus of tenants was underway. Dillard's pulled out February 1, 1992. Britling's Cafeteria served its last meal November 29, 1992. Walgreen Drug went dark in January 1995."

However, I noted earlier that Poplar Plaza has been resilient and has continued to enjoy success over the many decades the shopping center has been around. In times like these, what was needed was a new owner and a renovation to both reposition and "retenant the virtually vacant complex." And that's exactly what Poplar Plaza got. "The empty Dillard's was sectioned into six spaces," with Blockbuster Music taking over the prime corner spot at the Poplar/Highland intersection itself, complete with a larger-than-life gold-wearing Elvis cutout overlooking the corner. (Interestingly, Elvis himself may have had a connection to this shopping center, as it has been suggested that the Plaza Theatre was the very place where the phrase "Elvis has left the building" originated.) Another vacant space "was retenanted, as one of the first Old Navy stores, in late 1994. The empty Walgreen Drug re-opened, as a K.B. Drug, in early 1996."

Through all of this, the architectural integrity of Poplar Plaza was kept completely intact -- a renovation with an eye for preservation. (Compare to present-day, when the property owners are proposing to demolish the old Lowenstein's building in favor of a new mixed-use retail/apartment complex with the same footprint.) And perhaps nowhere was this eye for preservation more evident than in the opening of a new Bookstar store in the former Plaza Theatre in March of 1992.


Exactly in line with Gary Hoover's strategy as shared earlier, Bookstar announced its entry into the Memphis market in September 1991, with two locations proposed to open within the following six months. The first of these, located at 6270 Winchester within Hickory Ridge Commons (near the similarly-named mall), was nothing particularly special, being in a shopping center and all. It opened in November 1991.

No, the bigger draw -- the one that would capture everybody's attention, and allow Hoover to say, "By the way, we also opened in this other location" -- would be the store at 3402 Poplar, replacing the former Plaza Theatre, which had closed several years prior. Following a five-month, $1 million renovation (part of a larger revitalization for Poplar Plaza as a whole, designed to "inject new life into the aging shopping center"), the Poplar Plaza Bookstar opened its doors on Friday, March 27th, 1992.

Here's a first look at the Poplar Plaza Bookstar. Note specifically the use of the marquee in this early image. Courtesy flickr

The 10-foot-tall stainless steel Art Deco spire that once stood high atop the Plaza Theatre (where you can see the star icon, in the previous Bookstar image) was relocated to the nearby University of Memphis, where it remains. The December 1991 article announcing the transfer says it was gifted to then-Memphis State University by the owners of the Poplar Plaza shopping center, part of an effort by the college to add more in the way of outdoor sculpture to its campus. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

The above two images appear to show the Poplar Plaza Bookstar exterior heavily damaged. No context was given alongside these images, but my best guess is that the facade took a hit during "Hurricane Elvis," the July 2003 derecho that severely impacted Memphis and the surrounding area. As we'll see in later images, the marquee was not in use for the latter half of the store's existence, so perhaps it was this incident and the subsequent repairs that removed that feature. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

While the articles announcing this grand opening say that the group behind the store was Bookstop, Inc., it should be noted that Barnes & Noble already owned and was in control of the Bookstop company by this time. (Remember, B&N bought Bookstop back in 1989.) So, both of these Memphis Bookstar locations were opened completely under Barnes & Noble's ownership. At the time, Bookstop had 47 discount bookstores, and had converted five old movie theaters into Bookstar or Bookstop locations. (I think this figure includes the Memphis location, which would line up with the five theaters listed earlier in this post. Moreover, this would mean that the Memphis store was the final theater converted by either Bookstop or B&N.)

Barnes & Noble would go on to open a third Memphis Bookstar location in November 1992, this one at 7680 Poplar within Germantown Village Square, a former indoor mall turned shopping center. Then, in January 1996, the flagship of the Memphis locations -- the Poplar Plaza Bookstar -- expanded into a vacant space next door in order to add a cafe, "part of a nationwide trend of bookstores adding food service, from coffee bars to full-scale cafes, to their offerings of books and sometimes music." (Borders Books & Music had first "brought the concept to Memphis when it opened" its one and only area location the previous October.)

I don't have any images of either of the other two Memphis Bookstar stores, but plenty of the Poplar Plaza one could be found online. We'll explore both the minimally-altered exterior and amazingly-preserved-and-enhanced interior in the many images below, curated from various sources. Please enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments!

As we approach, here is the view of the property from across the street. Courtesy Yelp

In this image, note that the Old Navy -- next door, in the right-hand background -- still had its older logo signage. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

By the time this similar image was taken, Old Navy had been updated to the chain's newer logo. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

I know we're not really here to talk about Bookstar's neighbors, but it's still interesting to point them out, I think. For example, here we see Blockbuster Video -- I wonder if this coexisted with Blockbuster Music here in Poplar Plaza? Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Poplar Plaza Bookstar at night. Looking real sharp!! Love this pic, especially the reflection into the glass facade. Courtesy Yelp

Notice, as I said earlier, that sometime after this store suffered that exterior damage, the marquees wound up replaced with solid, unchangeable signs simply bearing the Bookstar logo. Courtesy flickr

By the time this LoopNet image was taken, Blockbuster had closed and been replaced by a Mattress Firm. Here we can also get a good overview of the full structure in which the former theater is located. Courtesy CityFeet

Moving closer to the entryway, and therefore the ticket booth, in this image. Be sure to take stock of the windows on the left. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

A nice, straight-on view of the building. Fitting that they would have multiple newspaper stands here. I also should point out the windows/frames in which all the movie posters used to be placed. Courtesy Chicago Textures

Angled close-up of the main Bookstar sign placed in the spot of the old marquee. Courtesy Yelp

Here's a close-up beneath the marquee as we approach the ticket booth. I love the detailing here -- the black and gold columns, the checkered tile, the ticket booth itself. All of it is great. Courtesy flickr

It looks like at one time, there would have been a secondary marquee here beneath the main one. Looks like Bookstar once had a secondary neon sign in that same spot, too. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Compare this photo, taken later on in the store's life, to the one above it, and you'll see that not only was the secondary marquee neon Bookstar sign removed, but Barnes & Noble also placed new advertisements within the ticket window, partially obstructing it. Tsk, tsk. Courtesy Chicago Textures

I'm not one to go on and on about "aesthetics" like the kids these days do, but, uh... this shot definitely is hitting that mark for me. Also, notice again on the far left that we can see into the salesfloor proper from that window. Courtesy Yelp

The entryway here seems to have been extraordinarily long. I can understand the space beneath the marquee being so big, so as to shield moviegoers from the elements as they stood in long lines to get their tickets; but that's a fairly considerable span between the ticket booth and the doors, too, at least in my opinion. Courtesy Yelp

This super close-up of the ticket booth shows us the neon that Bookstar placed inside it, as well as the unfortunate advertisements Barnes & Noble would obstruct the view with in the store's later years. From left to right, top to bottom, the neon reads: "Discount Prices," "Open Everyday," and -- if I'm not mistaken -- "Huge." Well, I guess that accurately gets Bookstar's philosophies across! Courtesy Yelp

Finally, we get to head inside the theater and see this awesome Bookstar renovation! We're looking down one of the actionways here, from the front of the space to the back. That is indeed the giant, still-intact movie screen straight ahead on that wall! Courtesy Chicago Textures

All of the detailing around the perimeter of the interior -- as well as the ceilings -- remains unchanged as well. Love it! Bookstar did have to level the floor, which likely means that that carpeting isn't original, but it still fits the theme very well. I dig the leopard print, haha! Courtesy flickr

I have absolutely no idea why this image is tilted like it is, but hey, it's still a valuable shot. Take note of the way the light fixtures were installed -- they don't appear to be suspended from the ceiling, as those items normally are -- as well as the unique aisle markers affixed to the bookcase straight ahead. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

All of the neon in here is likely Bookstar's doing, but I know I for one won't ever complain about neon being added into a place! Check out the replica of the Art Deco spire there above the corner, too. There are a couple of these inside; we'll see another in the next pic. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

As with any good bookstore, the magazine department was the focal point along the rear wall of this Bookstar, directly beneath the giant cinema screen. It was signed here as "Newsstand," complete with a neon-outlined globe behind it. So cool! Courtesy Yelp

Here's a better shot of the Newsstand signage. Although the globe is less visible in this pic, we can see better the full movie screen behind it. For what it's worth, you can also take note of the older style B&N category markers in the foreground. Courtesy Yelp

I'm not exactly sure where in relation to everything else the children's department was located in this store, but it, too, had its own custom neon signage. Sadly, the neon isn't lit up in this image, but you can still make out the design -- it's the word "CHILDREN'S" spelled out in ten little moons surrounding a Saturn-like planet. Courtesy Yelp

Just another overview of the majority of the salesfloor, in the former auditorium portion of the old theater. Here the ceiling detail should be a little more visible, as well as the unique light structures. Again, Bookstar surely installed all of those, but I'm thinking the lighting around the theater perimeter itself is all original (minus the neon, of course). Courtesy Yelp

Turning around to face from the back of the store up toward the front, we see the former projectionist's booth up on the second level. That space was converted into the store's offices. Courtesy Chicago Textures

The neon-outlined projection windows are again visible here, as well as below it, the neon sign for "Nifty Bargain Books." Looks like there's another neon sign I can't make out off to the right, too. Courtesy Yelp

Much like the store itself, the Poplar Plaza Bookstar's restrooms were seemingly famous within the community. Barnes & Noble either did not alter them at all, or only minimally altered them, meaning that their original features -- including the luxurious lounge seating and the individual dressing stations (?) -- remain. Courtesy flickr

Here's another shot from within one of the lounge areas; looks like the entrance to the restroom proper was off to the right, where that opening in the wall is. The leopard print carpeting continues in this space, so there's a chance it might be original after all... or, B&N simply redid the flooring in here, too. Courtesy flickr

While these images all appear to be of the women's restroom, those who took these pictures write that the women's restroom had an all-pink motif and the men's restroom, all-black, which is pretty cool. Both had similar lounge areas, original to the Plaza Theatre days. Courtesy flickr

One last restroom shot, this one a close-up of one of the (also likely original) light fixtures next to one of the mirrors. This store seems like it was such a cool place in literally *every* aspect. I wish I could've visited! Courtesy flickr

Stepping back out into the salesfloor, I... honestly have no clue where this shot would have been taken from. Based on the next image, though, it looks like the stairway connects you to the main salesfloor, so my guess is that this may mark the transition from the old lobby area to the theater auditorium. Not totally sure, though. Either way, I dig the curved opening! Courtesy Chicago Textures

As promised above, here's (what appears to be, at least) the view from the area that that stairway from the previous image feeds you into. Judging by the lower ceiling here, I'd guess that the photographer was standing directly beneath the upper-level projectionist's booth/offices, a theory that's supported by our view into the main auditorium/salesfloor beyond (aka, off to the right). I think it's neat how this area had its own little vibe going. Courtesy Yelp

Last but certainly not least, here's a view of the store's checkout area. I have absolutely zero clue where this was located within the store, besides the obvious guess of "somewhere near the front." Likewise, I have no idea if the interesting decor elements above the registers are original or not, but I'd like to think they are. (Perhaps this was the theater's concession stand at one time? Who knows...) Courtesy Chicago Textures


Apparently, by May 1996 Barnes & Noble must have felt comfortable with its experiments in creating a superstore format based on its knowledge gained from Bookstop, for in that month B&N announced its own entry into the Memphis market. In its article, The Commercial Appeal noted that "Memphis is already familiar with the New York-based book retailer, but under different names. Barnes & Noble also owns the three area Bookstar stores and B. Dalton Booksellers in the Mall of Memphis."

But these new Memphis stores were to be the real deal: full-blown Barnes & Noble locations. As with Bookstar's market entrance announcement, Barnes & Noble planned to enter Memphis with two stores, both superstore-formats: 25,000 square feet, with cafes. The first opened in May 1997 in front of Wolfchase Galleria, "the new mall on Germantown Parkway at Interstate 40." The second opened June 18, 1997, at 6385 Winchester, in the Hickory Ridge Pavilion shopping center.

If that second location sounds awfully close to the Bookstar at 6279 Winchester... that's because it is. Barnes & Noble's entry to the Memphis market marked the beginning of the end for Bookstar, locally. One day prior to Barnes & Noble's opening down the street, the Hickory Ridge Commons Bookstar closed its 10,000 square foot store, after fewer than six years in operation. Speaking of the new location, Bookstar's manager, Myra Kibler, said, "We'll be the same, only bigger and better." (Ironically, the new Barnes & Noble would itself go on to close at the end of December 2009.) The Germantown Village Square Bookstar was closed and retenanted by 2003.

Of the Memphis trio, only the Poplar Plaza Bookstar remained in the end, and luckily it continued to operate for several more years, long after Barnes & Noble seemingly retired the brand and decommissioned most of its stores. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end; and such was the case for the Poplar Plaza Bookstar, for on November 11th, 2010, news broke that the store's lease was expiring and would not be renewed. Bookstar would close by the end of January 2011.

Final, farewell view of the Poplar Plaza Bookstar. This image was used in the newspaper article announcing the store's closure. Courtesy The Commercial Appeal

Interior sign notifying customers of the closure. Note that the last day had been moved forward to December 31, 2010. Courtesy Yelp

Notably, in the Commercial Appeal article breaking the news, the landlord said that "Barnes & Noble had been requesting short-term renewal leases at Poplar Plaza in recent years." This would seem to indicate that Barnes & Noble had likely been considering closing the store for at least a few years beforehand; and it also helps add fuel to that fire when you consider that Barnes & Noble, around that time, had also signed on to be the anchor of a planned nearby development, with the new store proposed to serve as the official University of Memphis bookstore as well. Ultimately, that project would fall through, and B&N would spin off its college bookstore division anyway... but the Poplar Plaza Bookstar still was not spared.

Following Bookstar's closure, two major questions arose: one, what would fill the space now? And two... would the old theater be kept as lovingly preserved as Bookstar had it? As I shared with you two years ago in this post, Staples was briefly rumored to be interested in opening the space as a third Memphis store, but ultimately that didn't come to fruition. (That's probably just as well, seeing as how they only lasted two years in this market!) Instead, the former Poplar Plaza Bookstar would -- sadly -- be completely gutted and converted into a new Osaka Japanese Restaurant, which celebrated its grand opening in October 2012.

As the Memphis Business Journal shared, "The restaurant will occupy about 7,300 square feet of the 18,000-square-foot space vacated by Bookstar. The balance of the space will be filled by Gould’s Day Spa and Momentum Rehab, which are relocating from within the center. Gould’s is taking the former Starbucks Cafe section, while Osaka will be taking the front part of the former theater, including the main entrance."

Poplar Plaza Bookstar, vacant and for lease sometime in 2011 or 2012. Note the labelscar, absence of the star icon, and whitewashed marquee. Courtesy Historic Memphis

This image was used in 2012 to announce the relocation of Gould's Salon and Spa from elsewhere within Poplar Plaza to this corner spot, formerly occupied by the Bookstar in-store Starbucks. Based on the presence of the dumpster, work appears to have already begun on the Osaka conversion next door. Courtesy Memphis Business Journal

While -- as I said -- the interior sadly was completely gutted in the conversion (a necessary evil, in order both to allow the place to become a functional restaurant and to be subdivided), Osaka at least kept the exterior of the former theater largely intact, as can be seen in the images below the next paragraph. A small consolation, sure, but any way the legacy of this former theater can continue to be preserved is worth praising. No one can do it as good as Bookstar, but this is better than nothing!

Worryingly, Poplar Plaza's owners -- in tandem with the mixed-use plan I mentioned earlier -- have also proposed renovating portions of the center to a completely new, more modern design. So far, I don't believe that the building that housed the old theater is included in those plans, but should it be in the future -- I implore you, please don't ruin its facade!

Here, and in the below three images, we can see the exterior result of the Osaka conversion. As I said above, while the interior may have been gutted, it's nice to see the exterior at least mostly intact still. Courtesy Foursquare

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Note that these images were taken during Osaka's grand opening, and that the entryway was reconfigured, removing the ticket booth. Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Courtesy Cinema Treasures

The place doesn't look half-bad at night! In fact, I don't mind the black paint job for the tower at all. Courtesy Foursquare

The above two images are mine, taken on a drive down Poplar in July 2018. Here you can see both Gould's and Osaka, two of the three cohabitants of the former Bookstar space. Gould's signage looks really slick on that corner as well!


Now that we've covered the Memphis Poplar Plaza Bookstar location literally from beginning to end (cover to cover, if you will), you might think we'd be finished with it. To the contrary, I have something else up my sleeve; you might could consider it an epilogue of sorts...

In re-researching Bookstar after the chain was brought (back) to my attention last week, I stumbled across several new sources that I hadn't found in my previous research several years ago. One of those I almost totally missed; and of course, you know that that meant it was the absolute best source of all of them, where imagery is concerned! I always do like to save the best for last; so please, enjoy these looks at not just Memphis, but three other amazing Bookstar locations, straight from their lighting designers themselves...

Plaza, Memphis

On its website, ArchIllume Lighting Design, Inc., describes itself as "the leader of architectural and public lighting solutions in Austin, Texas, and across the state." Founded in 1985, the company "provide[s] lighting design services to architects, interior designers, and owners." Connecting the dots, ArchIllume must have been the lighting designer for Bookstop's many fanciful conversions -- a relationship that likely was born right in Austin, since that's where the very first Bookstop store opened, just three years prior in 1982. (Bookstop might have been one of ArchIllume's very first clients!)

As with most design portfolio websites, ArchIllume has several pages for different categories in which the company has worked -- corporate, education, residential, worship, etc. There's also a retail page, on which amazing interior photos of four Bookstop/Bookstar locations can be found, including the Memphis store that has been the focus of this post. Let's take a look!

Like I said, this website was an amazing find! It's a gold mine of Bookstar photos. The Poplar Plaza store looks nothing short of phenomenal in this image! Granted, though, I would imagine the professional lighting folks know a thing or two about taking pictures in great lighting... // Be sure to note the earlier date of this photo, based on the use of the marquee, as well as the secondary Bookstar sign beneath the marquee and some yellow posters in the old movie poster frames. (I think one of them reads something like, "...Poplar Plaza Theater in black and white.") Courtesy ArchIllume

Now THIS is a great view of the old movie screen! Looks like we're viewing it from the upper level, home to the former projection booth. You can really see that Newsstand sign come alive here. Courtesy ArchIllume

This image takes a closer look at one of the back corners of the interior, where ArchIllume installed neon lighting that runs across the entire perimeter. I'm pretty sure the lighting along the wall detail itself had been there since the theater days, just like the Art Deco spire, but I can't be 100 percent sure of that. Courtesy ArchIllume

A much better look at the Children's department sign, this time all lit up. Nice presentation with the reading bench and open book in the lower left foreground, too. Courtesy ArchIllume

Our final Memphis pic takes a straight-on look at the many projection windows. I know nothing about old theaters, so would anyone else happen to know why there were so many of these for just a one-screen theater, and why they were so staggered? Courtesy ArchIllume

Belle Meade, Nashville

The next theater on ArchIllume's website is marked simply as "Belle Meade." I could recognize the Memphis Bookstar, of course, but all of them (including Memphis's) are simply marked by the names of the former theaters (or some other name, as we'll see in the final example) as opposed to the actual city name. In addition, they're all marked as "Book Star" (two words), which is what made this source very difficult to stumble upon in the first place. I'm not sure how I was ever able to ultimately encounter it, but boy, am I grateful I did!

Anyway, to figure out where the Belle Meade Theatre was, I had to resort to Google; and from there, I discovered it was located in Nashville, making the Bookstar you're about to see the Tennessee brother to the Memphis location we've spent so much time looking at. Sadly, the Nashville Belle Meade Bookstar closed sometime prior to 2006, and the auditorium was subsequently demolished. Only the lobby, marquee, and exterior facade were preserved as the "outer shell" of a new mixed-use development on the site. More information and photos can be seen here.

Not that I was that awful familiar with the Memphis location, having never been to it, but I'm especially unfamiliar with all these other Bookstars whose photos I'm posting; so forgive me if I let the photos mostly speak for themselves from here on out. Courtesy ArchIllume

By the way, these images are all very high quality scans, so I encourage you to open them in a new tab and enlarge them so you can see everything in closer detail. Courtesy ArchIllume

Best Sellers is a sign I don't recall seeing in the Memphis location, but it's possible it just wasn't photographed anywhere. I'm positive they had this department, either way. Courtesy ArchIllume

Courtesy ArchIllume

Interesting hallway; looks like it's upstairs somewhere. Former projection area? Courtesy ArchIllume

Courtesy ArchIllume

I find it interesting how the main children's department sign was upstairs. As we saw three photos back, the department itself looks still to have been downstairs, with a separate sign; but I dig the view from here! Courtesy ArchIllume

Studio City, Studio City

Next up is the former Studio City Theatre, which thankfully wasn't that hard to locate at all given that it is located in, well, Studio City, California. ArchIllume had the most photos of the Nashville location (seven), followed by Memphis (five); these last two are tied for least amount of photos (four), but even then it's not an insignificant amount by any means.

Strangely, several of the images on ArchIllume's website seem to have scanned in backwards; if it weren't for two of the facade pics, including this one, having clearly been reversed, I'm not sure I would have caught it on the interior photos that were flipped! I've tried to fix all of them to where the orientation is correct. Courtesy ArchIllume

I like the ceiling detail around the pendant light. The shape reminds me of a cartoon action word/sound effect. Nifty little alcove below it, too. Courtesy ArchIllume

Looks like neon was added to the tips of these lighting elements, but I'd assume they're otherwise original. Courtesy ArchIllume

Pay particular attention to the sign in the background that directs you to the "CASHIER." Courtesy ArchIllume

"Sunset Ridge," San Antonio

The final Bookstar location on ArchIllume's website is, incidentally, neither a Bookstar (this one was actually branded as Bookstop) nor a theater. With that in mind, it wasn't as easy to find the city based on the arbitrary "Sunset Ridge" name given, but I'm pretty sure it's in San Antonio... especially since that's where Gary Hoover says it is on his website, which has an image of the same store. There, Hoover calls this the "Jetson's" store design, which certainly fits the futuristic vibe you'll see in the images below. I honestly have no idea whether this building was converted from something else or built new, but either way, it's cool for sure!

Jetson's, indeed. Courtesy ArchIllume

Since this one wasn't a former theater, it would seem that ArchIllume wasn't quite as limited in what they could do, lighting-wise. As a result, this store definitely looks to have a much more customized lighting treatment -- and when paired with the rest of the interior design, it definitely makes for an experience. Courtesy ArchIllume

Courtesy ArchIllume

Nice lounge-like area here. Courtesy ArchIllume


Finally, last but not least... it's a little late for a Broken Chains Edition post, but time nonetheless that I actually share with y'all where, in fact, those final three Bookstar stores are still alive and kickin'. As I said way back near the top of this post, all three of the Bookstars that Barnes & Noble has chosen to keep around are located in California; and together, much like Sam Goody to FYE, they constitute Bookstar for continued active broken chain status.

Bookstar/Studio City Theatre
12136 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA

The first of the three surviving Bookstar locations, we've already seen before -- just a moment ago, in fact, courtesy of the ArchIllume website. Indeed, the Bookstar in the former Studio City Theatre in the California city of the same name continues to remain open, at least as of the time I've published this post. For each of the three stores, I've picked out just a couple of images from Google Maps, as well as the official store image featured on Barnes & Noble's website.

Fantastic neon shot here. Love the stereotypical palm trees lining the boulevard in the background, too. Courtesy Google Maps

I picked this shot because I thought it did a good job of capturing a view we hadn't already seen from the ArchIllume images previously. Courtesy Google Maps

The official B&N website image for Store 1837. Courtesy Barnes & Noble

Bookstar/Loma Theatre
3150 Rosecrans Place
San Diego, CA

Both of the other two still-open Bookstars are located in San Diego, CA. The first one we'll look at is in the former Loma Theatre, the fifth and final theater conversion to be featured in this post. We've seen The Alabama in Houston, The Plaza in Memphis, The Belle Meade in Nashville, The Studio City in Studio City, and now finally The Loma in San Diego. As I said earlier, it's possible these are the only five theater conversions ever done by Bookstar or B&N. If anyone is aware of any more Bookstop/Bookstar theater conversions, please let me know!

I like how this one says "Bookstar by Barnes & Noble" on the marquee, as opposed to just "Barnes & Noble" like we saw at Studio City. Courtesy Google Maps

I really liked this image of the interior! I think it's cool how the funky font from the exterior signage was carried over to the interior decor. It ties in well with the red color on the ceiling detail, too. Courtesy Google Maps

The official B&N website image for Store 1822. Courtesy Barnes & Noble

Bookstar/Costa Verde
8650 Genesee Ave, Ste 230
San Diego, CA

We'll wrap up this very lengthy post with the third and final Bookstar store still in operation, also located in San Diego, what Barnes & Noble calls the "Costa Verde" Bookstar. Unlike the other two remaining locations, this one is not a converted theater, nor does it appear ever to have been anything other than a bookstore; so realistically, I'm not quite sure why B&N doesn't rebrand it -- not that I'm complaining, though!

All of the tenants of this complex, from what I can see at a brief glance, appear to share the same architectural style, so all B&N would feasibly need to do here is replace the Bookstar signage. Again, though, I certainly won't argue with them choosing to keep this location branded as Bookstar instead! Courtesy Google Maps

Since this location wasn't converted from anything, the interior is much less unique than all the others we've seen in this post; in fact, you might even call it a little dull. I would imagine that this is similar to what all the other, "regular" shopping-center Bookstars and Bookstops looked like inside. Besides the "Children's Books" sign you see in the background and one lone instance of neon (not pictured), the interior here seems totally Barnes & Noble, up to and including what appears to be their decor on the walls (i.e. the giant book cover reproductions, although the category markers on the walls amongst said covers likely do hail from Bookstar). Courtesy Google Maps

The official B&N website image for Store 1823. Courtesy Barnes & Noble


I hope you all found this post to be a good read concerning the story of Bookstop in general, the Memphis Poplar Plaza Bookstar location specifically, and the origins of the superstore bookseller, to boot! Please feel free to leave a five-star review of the post in the comments below, as well as share any details and/or photographs you may have concerning any of these chains or store locations by penning an email to our MSRB inbox, midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com

Stay tuned for the next chapter in our ongoing Rite Aid series next month, and even more publications coming to the blog in the future! Before I run out of puns, I need to flip the page and close the book on this post by saying thanks as always for reading... and until next time, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

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