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!

Retail Retell


  1. Great post, thanks for compiling all this information. It's great to see a post here at the Mid-South Retail Blog which has some information about a Houston location! The Bookstop/Trader Joe's at the Alabama Theater is a famous landmark here in Houston. I shopped at the Alabama Theater Bookstop at least once.

    Bookstop had other locations in Houston. I know one was built in the 1990s across from Willowbrook Mall in The Commons shopping center. That would have been the local store to me. If I remember correctly, that closed after a few years and I think the children's play center Discovery Zone opened up. After that, it's been various restaurants and, like the Memphis location, I believe it is now a Japanese restaurant.

    There was another Bookstop I used to shop at before the Willowbrook location opened up, but I can't remember where that would have been. My memory is failing me here, lol, but we're talking about something from the 1980s. I believe we had a Bookstop card. I may still have it somewhere, but I don't know.

    We had another bookstore chain in Houston at the same time that Bookstop was around which got more of our business than Bookstop did. It was called Crown Books and it looks like they may have preceded Bookstop. Crown Book stores, at least the so-called 'Classic Crown' stores, were quite small. They were about the size of a mall Waldenbooks or B.Dalton, but they were usually located in normal shopping centers. They had better prices than Bookstop and the Waldenbooks/B.Dalton combo. The Classic Crown location near here was located in the Champions Forest shopping center which now has a Randall's Flagship, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. The Randall's was there when the Crown was there. That Crown location relocated down the street and became a Super Crown store that was more or less the same size as a Bookstop or Barnes & Noble. That particular Super Crown was in a shopping center with Albertsons and a Sears Hardware store. The Super Crown didn't last long and all the Crown Book stores here closed in the late 1990s/very early 2000s. I think they lasted a little longer elsewhere in the US, but I suspect they don't exist anymore. Here's a photo of that shopping center from the Historic Houston Retail blog when it opened. The Super Crown is unfortunately not in the shot, but you can see the Albertsons and Sears Hardware. The Albertsons is now a 24 Hour Fitness and the Sears is a Goodwill store. Link:

    Next to that shopping center is a bookstore which still exists, Half Price Books. That is a new/used bookstore that also sells music, movies, video games, and other media. They sell stuff like VHS and audio cassettes, 8-tracks, LaserDiscs, and stuff like that.

    Another famous historic shopping center in Houston is the Rice Village Shopping Center and there was a vintage looking Half Price Books there up until early this year when unfortunately they could not afford a hike in rent. It's a shame because HPB helped make that shopping center trendy again, but now they are priced out of it. Anyway, the Historical Houston Retail blog did a good story about it a few months ago which is worth checking out:

    I've purchased a lot of new and used CDs from Half Price Books over the years. There are a few locations around town which I frequent. I had not been to the Rice Village location in about 15 years, but it's sad that it's gone. At least the locations in my part of town seem safe for now. From what I gather from Flickr, you like CDs and so I think you'd like these stores. I know HPB has locations across the country so if there isn't one in your area now, maybe there will be one soon.

    1. Thanks for the compliments, and all the Bookstop memories you shared as well! I figured you would like the Houston connection :) That's cool to hear that you're not only familiar with Bookstop but also spent time in several of its locations near you. I wasn't totally aware that Bookstop was from Texas at first; I just knew of the Memphis location, and that was my focus in my earlier research. Only later did I try to learn more about the chain as a whole, and this new research I did the other day brought me even more photos and great information from the founder himself that I think really helped flesh this story out.

      I've heard of Crown Books, but never actually seen or been inside one. In fact, there are so many bookstores I never got to experience, it's easier to list the ones that I *have* been in: Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Hastings, and Borders, probably in that exact order if we're going from most visited to least. Anyway, it's neat to hear Crown jumped on the superstore bandwagon, too, and that photo you linked is cool also, even if it doesn't have the Crown store in it.

      Ah yes, I've heard lots of good things about Half Price Books! I even saw that Houston Historic Retail post when he posted it, and could've sworn I left a comment on it (but I guess not since I don't see one there, lol). Anyway, nope, we sadly don't have that chain anywhere near here. Wait a minute -- actually, I say that, but checking their website just now, they do show a "now open" location in Nashville, in the Belle Meade area of town of all places! That's pretty cool! Not sure when the next time I'll be headed to Nashville is (was one of many plans for this year that has been totally ruined), but I'll see if I can remember to check that out... I would love one nearby, if they're still expanding (I had no idea, as I thought they were mostly closing stores as leases ran out and not opening any new ones).

    2. Bookstop is one of those retailers of the past which doesn't cross my mind very often, but they did have neat stores and so it is worth remembering them. I did know that they were from Texas, but I didn't know that they operated, and still operate in a way, as Bookstar in other parts of the country. Maybe I knew that in the past, but that's one of those long forgotten bits of information, lol. It's like remembering all the names that Payless Cashways, the former hardware/home improvement chain, operated under in different markets. Here they were called Furrow, but they had at least five other names elsewhere in the country. I suppose all the Kroger banners are hard to remember as well.

      While Bookstop was a little cheaper than paying full retail for books if you had their card (if I remember correctly), they were more expensive than Crown Books and some other places which had smaller book departments like Phar-Mor. Thus, even before the Internet, Bookstop was kind of a place to 'showroom' books you may want. If you were desperate to read it, you could buy it from them. If you were less desperate, it was worth checking to see if Crown or someone else had the book because they would probably have it for less.

      I think that if most people in Houston remember Bookstop, it's for the Alabama Theater location. Houston has had some famous retail locations over the years. Perhaps one of the most interesting ones, and one which has not gained much attention from retail bloggers that I know of, is the so-called "Indeterminate Façade" Best Products store across from Almeda Mall. Best Products was a catalog showroom like Service Merchandise and they had a handful of locations with very artful exterior designs called the SITE stores since a firm called SITE designed them. Although I don't think the Houston "Indeterminate Façade" Best was the fanciest SITE Best location, it has become the most famous of them for some reason. While not the fanciest, maybe it was the most thought-provoking design. I don't know. Anyway, Best Products went out of business a long, long time ago and the building is no longer used for retail. It's a warehouse now and the "Indeterminate Façade" was dismantled in around 2005 so it just looks like a normal building now. You can read about it and the other SITE locations here. For some reason, it says the forest location was also in Houston, but that was actually in Richmond, Virgina. Link:

      I don't think there were any SITE Best Products stores in the Mid-South, but there were a couple in Florida. Perhaps that would make for an interesting My Florida Retail post (perhaps you can drop the hint to AFB for me, lol).

      As for bookstores, I have not been to too many book store chains either. Really, not many have existed. The ones I've been to are Crown, Bookstop, B&N, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Media Play, Hastings (I'm not 100% sure that I went to a Hastings, but I think I did), Half Price Books, Borders, and Indigo/Chapters (a Canadian chain I went to in Canada, but I believe Indigo has at least one US location now). There are a few other international, college, and independent bookstores, but I think that's all I've been to.

      Books-a-Million has never been prominent in Houston. I think we've only had two BAMs and only one remains, the Katy Mills location. I may have been there, but I don't think so.

      I have not heard about Half Price Books locations closing other than the aforementioned Rice Village location in Houston, but it's certainly a possibility. HPB is a Texas chain so perhaps they are doing better here than elsewhere, but it looks like they are opening locations as well like the Nashville location you mentioned.

      As far as CDs go at B&N, all but two of Houston's B&Ns have at least some kind of CD department. Unfortunately, the two without them are the two closest to me!

    3. Yeah, there are definitely lots of minute details in the retail world. It's very easy for them to slip my mind all the time! Even big things like all the Kroger banners I often forget, simply because I only encounter one of them regularly :P

      That's interesting to hear that Bookstop wasn't the cheapest after all, contrary to what Hoover implied in his post and interview. Then again, nothing is ever as perfect as it may be at first glance. I didn't mention it in the post, but one former Bookstop employee's account of things (which, to Hoover's credit, he did actually share a link to on his website) was disgust at just how many good books they discarded over the years. The system Hoover invented tracked how well a book sold, and part of what made Bookstop unique was that books that weren't selling after three weeks were removed from the shelves. The "behind the scenes" side to that, however, is that employees had to physically rip the covers from all of those books -- in order to send them in to the publisher to get a rebate -- and physically trash the rest. Such a waste, and in my opinion, a horrible retail practice -- on both sides, since clearly the publisher was requiring the covers for a rebate. You'd think they'd be amenable to just taking the whole book back, right?! Hopefully things don't happen like that anymore... of course, there aren't nearly as many options to buy books in person anymore though, either.

      Oh yeah, I'm very familiar with the BEST store facades! Such great, innovative, artistic retail design there. Those photos have been shared countless times in places I've browsed, but yeah, we never had any around here and I was around during their time anyway. And as for the Florida BEST stores, lol -- I think AFB ought to be getting email notifications for the replies to this post, so maybe he'll see this, haha!

      Good point about there not being many bookstore chains out there, I hadn't really ever thought of it that way. And yeah, I've also been to my college bookstore many times (not my favorite place by any means, however XD ) That's a shame about BAM out your way. They're my favorite, but they're getting fewer and farther between, anymore...

      It could also be that I've simply mixed them up in my head, and Half Price Books is perfectly healthy and not closing stores at all! If they are indeed growing, I would love if they considered Memphis or Mississippi for a store; I've heard good things about them.

      Aw man! That sucks. Of the two remaining Memphis-area Barnes & Noble stores, the Collierville store at Carriage Crossing (which I don't believe I mentioned in the post) carries CDs, but the Wolfchase store does not (nor did it ever, I think).

    4. It's possible that my memories of Bookstop being more expensive than other options may come from the period after B&N took over Bookstop. Perhaps in their earliest days, they were the cheapest option. I don't remember that being the case, but it's hard to remember. I seem to remember Crown Books being the cheapest option for quite a number of years though. Well, the cheapest option was and is the public library, but I suppose we shouldn't count that, lol.

      I believe the process of ripping the covers off unsold books is called a 'stripped book' or 'book pulping'. I believe books which end up getting returned and then re-sold at discount prices are called 'remaindered books'. Stores like Half Price Books live off of remaindered books, but those are usually hardcover books and more serious paperback books. I think the supermarket checkout type paperbacks are the ones that get their covers ripped off.

      I don't think Hoover invented that process. I'm thinking it was around quite a bit before Bookstop started, but Hoover may have been more aggressive in using card data to pull books quicker than others may have. Either way, it's a shame that those books go to waste. There is a lot of waste in the retail system. My understanding is that when clothing and perhaps other goods get returned to Amazon, they simply destroy the products instead of sorting what can be resold since it's just cheaper to destroy it rather than go through it.

      It used to be that when things like LPs and CDs were taken out of record company catalogs, they would return the discs and something like a cut out or a punched hole would be made into either the record sleeve, the label of the record, or the CD case and then those LPs/CDs could be sold to discounters. They had to mark the products somehow to make sure that dishonest retailers and wholesalers did not return already returned products to the record label for a refund. A lot of record and discount stores back in the day had bins full of these marked discount records.

      I don't think they mark the CDs anymore though because almost all the new CDs for sale at places like Half Price Books aren't marked in any way. Most of the CDs I buy are classical music CDs and the odd thing about HPB is that they get some pretty awesome new, sealed CDs, most of which are less than a decade old (it's not like classical CDs get old too quickly, lol), and they sell them for the same amount or less than what they ask for used classical CDs.

      Well, hopefully AFB sees these replies so he can get the Best idea for a new post, lol. I have memories of shopping at Best Products as well so I can always contribute to that.

      If AFB is reading this, another potential blog topic here or on MFR is McDuff Electronics. The story is relevant to Florida, the Mid-South, and Texas. McDuff started in Jacksonville, FL, merged with the Scott Appliance chain out of Memphis in 1980, and was then sold to Texas-based Tandy/Radio Shack in 1985. It was one of Tandy's failed attempts to move from small-format Radio Shack stores to a big box store focused on name brand products. Incredible Universe is the most (in)famous of those attempts, but we had McDuff here in Houston and they were nice stores. McDuff is probably a rather unremarkable failed business in the grand scheme of things and I don't even know how much info there is about them, but I have good memories of them and I still have some products purchased from them. Here's a snippet of a news story about McDuff:

      Here is a press photo of the local McDuff to me being sold on ebay. There was actually another McDuff right down the street a couple of miles across from Willowbrook Mall. It's still puzzling to me why they put two stores so close together. Link:

    5. Eh, it doesn't really matter at this point, I suppose. All that's in the past. Memories sure can be a fickle thing! And lol, you are definitely right about the public library :P

      Interesting, thanks for the info and terms concerning that process! You're likely right that Hoover didn't invent it as well; he made a big point about the system he developed to track the sales, but I'm sure similar systems had already been in place beforehand. In any case, I agree, all of the waste in the retail system is such a shame. I've heard similar things to your Amazon story about places like Sephora, although I guess cosmetics make at least a little more sense to be destroying rather than reselling, maybe.

      That's interesting about the way they marked those CDs and LPs. I can't say I've seen anything like that that I'm aware of, but then again I've never paid super close attention for it. Sounds like HPB is definitely a good place to get CDs, especially if they're still brand-new and in the packaging, even!

      I can't say I'd ever heard of McDuff Electronics, either. Interesting. I'll read that article here in a moment, and maybe AFB will see this as well.

    6. I wouldn't be surprised if Hoover did invent a nice inventory tracking system for books. In the 1980s, it seemed like inventory tracking and computerized sales data was what really started to separate the retail contenders from the pretenders. I know a lot has been made about Sam Walton's computerized inventory and sales system which gave Walmart a big edge over their 1980s competitors like Kmart who were much more disorganized with their antiquated methods. Bookstop's discount card was somewhat rare in the 1980s, but it was a good idea even if it was annoying for the customer.

      Selling books is a notoriously difficult thing since items need to be updated often and old inventory needs to be sent back to the publishers. A lot of established retailers who sell books, like Kmart and Walmart, used and still use 3rd party 'rackers' or 'rack jobbers' to maintain their book inventory. They also do this for music and for some other products. I know a company named Handleman used to handle (no pun intended) the music departments for Walmart and Kmart, but Target had their own in-house department for music. I think Handleman got out of the music business a few years ago and then things got murky. It looks like Alliance Entertainment is the big music/video racker these days. Here's an article from Billboard Magazine about the situation as it was in 2016. Alliance Entertainment is a big CD/DVD wholesaler and I believe online CD purchases from places like B&N, FYE, Best Buy, and others are all fulfilled by their warehouses in Kentucky:

      If you ever do a post about obscure physical music media sales, and I'm not sure why you would, let me know and I can provide you photos of cutout, punched hole, and other bargain bin music albums from my own personal collection, lol. If you ever do a post about obscure things Walgreens, let me know and I can get you photos of my father's old records, which must be 50 years old or older now, which came from Globe and still have Globe price tags on them. Globe was Walgreens' attempt at competing with Kmart and Walmart. I don't think I have any old books with Bookstop price tags, but if I come across one, I may send it to you if you want to update your post. I'm not sure if Bookstop used price tags, but I know Crown Books did and I certainly know I have books with their price tags.

      I found another article about McDuff on the CNN website and it's really interesting (unfortunately, it's also a long article formatted without paragraphs!). From the CNN article, after Scott and McDuff merged in 1980, it looks like the company was headquartered in Memphis. Also, Tandy purchased a chain of electronics stores called VideoConcepts around the time that they bought Scott-McDuff. I remember VideoConcepts, we had some of their stores here including one in Sharpstown Mall in Houston. What I didn't know was that VideoConcepts was owned by Eckerd before Tandy bought them! Who knew Eckerd Drugs was involved in selling big screen TVs and VCRs?! I suppose this goes with the strange things Walgreens was doing. So, yeah, I know Eckerdphiles frequent the AFB/MFR blogs so that certainly might be something for AFB to check out (hopefully AFB is getting these hints, lol).

      Here is the link to the CNN article:

      Also, here are some awesome photos of a Tandy-era VideoConcepts on a neat retail blog I had never heard of before, the MallWalkers Blog. I'm not sure if you know about this blog, but they have some great vintage photos of things like Waldenbooks, Borders, and Camelot Music:

    7. See, I never would have thought that books needed so much monitoring, inventory-wise. Then again, I guess it makes sense, knowing that other media is monitored in the same way -- I know Target uses similar third-party folks for at least some, if not all, of their DVD and CD selections these days. That doesn't surprise me about there only being one major player for those two categories, either.

      Haha! Yeah, I doubt that would be in my future, but I appreciate the offer :P And thanks for the McDuff link as well (yikes, that was one big wall of text, wasn't it?). Still interesting, though. I had no idea Eckerd was involved in that stuff either! And great photos on that MallWalkers blog, also. I hadn't heard of it before; I'll need to check out some of its other stuff. I had heard of that "Stores of the Year" book series, though -- now that seems like an awesome purchase!

  2. I had never heard of Bookstop/Bookstar until your conversation the other day that reignited your interest in writing this post. That's really interesting to know how this small chain basically created the modern bookstore, and that it's still around in some form today!

    I really like how Bookstop/Bookstar took on those reuse projects, as those theater conversions are really, really cool! That's a shame the Memphis location met such an unfortunate end, as that looks like it would have been such an amazing store to visit back in the day. I like how the interior was left so much in-tact from the theater days, including preserving the screen itself! There was a lot of thought put into that store, and it's nice to see efforts to preserve the past like that, even if in the end it was all gutted out :(

    1. Like I said in the reply to Anonymous above, even though I was familiar with the Memphis Bookstar, I wasn't aware of the greater role this chain played in fueling the superstore bookseller format either, so I agree -- it's really amazing to learn just how much influence they had, and that a small handful of locations are still around today! It's even cooler that two of the three are some of those theater conversions, which definitely are cool indeed. Bookstar (and B&N, later on, which I actually found surprising!) really put a lot of care in these conversions, and they do look like they really would have been a sight to see, for sure. It's sad to know three of the five have been mostly or totally gutted, but as I always say -- a picture is the next best thing (even if I wasn't the one to have taken the pictures in this case, haha!)

    2. It's nice to know there was some documentation online of all the theater conversion stores in some form, and that the movie theater preservation crowd was proactive enough to get good documentation of the Memphis location before it closed too!

      And it also seems like there's been a lot of hint dropping for me too in the above conversation! Unless they had some more generic looking locations elsewhere in the state, the only BEST Product stores I'm aware of in Florida were down by Miami. I've yet to make it that far south to document stores, and I don't know how well time has treated any of those SITE designed buildings either (I believe there were three total, and at least one was demolished, and the Hialeah location was heavily modified after BEST liquidated). If I ever head down that way I'll keep those stores in mind. I have heard of McDuffs Electronics though (I think Cape Kennedy Retail was the one to bring that chain to my attention). We had two of those locally - one in Melbourne Square Mall (which has long since been absorbed into other mall space) and a freestanding location in Merritt Island (which is now a Goodwill). I need to get some better photos of the shopping center behind the MI McDuffs at some point, so maybe I'll throw in some coverage of that store when I do that. And I believe VideoConcepts may have been mentioned by Cape Kennedy Retail as well before, as the name sounds vaguely familiar to me. However, I'll leave the subject of that store to him, as he's MFR's resident Eckerd guru!

    3. I 100% agree!

      Ha, yes, I bet your ears were burning! If you do make it down that way, I concur that it would be interesting to see what remains of those buildings, even though it doesn't sound like there'd be much. As for McDuffs, that's unsurprising to hear Cape Kennedy Retail knew about it, haha. He would definitely be the one to dig up info on it and VideoConcepts!

    4. Lol, I was making sure the hints weren't too subtle. It looks like I succeeded in that!

      I believe there were only two SITE Best Products stores in Florida, the Cutler Ridge store which is now gone completely and the Hialeah store which is still around as an Office Depot and self-storage building. There's a blog that did a before and after of these locations some years ago and it seems the Hialeah location still has (or did as of 2013) the planters that SITE used, but of course the greenhouse aspect is long gone. Even if the building is boring looking now, it might be interesting to document just to show how a boring retail building can be turned into something spectacular (or vice versa).

      Here are those blog posts on the Cultural Ghosts blog (I don't know anything about it):

      As for McDuff and VideoConcepts, I suppose Cape Kennedy Retail needs to be informed that he's not the only one who remembers those chains, lol. I really don't know how much information there is out there about those chains. That might not be an easy post to make, but that would be awesome if Cape Kennedy Retail could pull it off.

      The two McDuff's nearest to me stayed in the Tandy family even after McDuff ceased to exist. The one in the Ebay photo a few replies ago was turned into a Radio Shack clearance store (there was a regular Radio Shack just a few yards away in the same shopping center). That only lasted a short period of time, but the store was awesome. They had so many obscure electronics and parts that couldn't make it at a regular Radio Shack. The store was then quickly turned into a Computer City Express. More on Computer City in a bit.

      In that same shopping center around the same period of time (1993-1995), there was a crafts store called Crafts, Etc. in a former Eagle (Lucky) grocery store location. Crafts, Etc. totally invested in the pog craze of ~1994. It seemed like the store went from a legit crafts store like Michael's to being full of pogs almost overnight. They even had a trailer in the parking lot full of even more pogs. When the pog craze died down, it seemed like Crafts, Etc. went with it. Oh well, I'm sure those of you who remember pogs enjoyed this quick aside. Retail Retell probably has no idea what I'm talking about, but that's okay, lol.

      The other McDuff sat vacant for a while. This location was across from Willowbrook Mall in The Commons shopping center. At around the same time that Bookstop opened up in The Commons, Tandy decided to close the aforementioned Computer City Express location mentioned earlier and moved them into the other ex-McDuff location at The Commons where it became a full Computer City Superstore. Computer City was like a CompUSA. In fact, I think CompUSA bought them out eventually because that location became a CompUSA.

      The neat thing about Computer City is that if you had their free Kroger Plus type card, all you had to do was show your card at the checkout and they'd let you have a free floppy diskette. That may not seem like anything remarkable now, but back then an individual disk cost about $1/each and there was always a need for more disks. I still have some of those free disks which have Computer City's logo on them. If Cape Kennedy Retail ever does a post including information about Computer City, that should certainly be included!

      That would be neat to see the Merritt Island McDuff which has turned into a thrift store. When I do go to thrifts, which isn't as much as I used to, I usually go to look for electronics and music. Thus, thrifts in old electronics stores are especially interesting to me.

  3. Wow, this is super cool! I know Borders and Barnes & Noble have/had some pretty nice stores, but nothing on this level. I wonder if there were any of these stores around here... I certainly don't remember seeing any, but if they were once here, it's entirely possible that they were just gone before my time, or not in any of the (relatively few) city/suburban areas that I spent much time growing up.

    Anyways, I have to wonder how much of Barnes & Noble's reason for keeping the last few Bookstars is for trademark reasons. If so, you'd think they would have wanted to keep at least one Bookstop, and possibly have more geographic diversity, but who knows.

    1. For sure! I'm so glad all these photos were online, documenting such neat conversions. This would have been a store I'd have loved to visit, and even though I highly doubt I'll ever find myself in California, I would totally want to check out those remaining theater Bookstars as well!

      I don't think there were any theater Bookstars out your way, based on the list Hoover mentioned (assuming it's comprehensive)... but as for other stores in the chain, I'm not sure either way. I know the core states were mentioned as Texas, Florida, and California, but that doesn't necessarily mean they didn't operate elsewhere. Still, I guess Washington does seem like a bit of a stretch distance-wise, but you never know!

      I bet you're right that trademark reasons play a role (possibly a very big one) in keeping those last three Bookstars open, and on that note I agree that it's odd that they would also have dropped the Bookstop name entirely (but I guess those things are bound to happen, at one time or another). You bring up a good point about the geographic diversity as well -- I've never been totally sure how all these trademark arguments work, besides knowing that in general, otherwise-defunct brands are kept minimally alive in order to prevent others from using them. Referencing the Standard stations we discussed recently, I don't know that Chevron operates one in every state anymore, which brings into question whether someone could argue they've abandoned it in those areas. I also know that geographic distance was a big factor in the Barnhill's lawsuit I shared details about earlier this year, and that distance was between two cities in the same state, no less! So yeah, it does seem very plausible that someone could successfully argue that Barnes & Noble has abandoned the rights to Bookstar outside of California... if anyone actually cared that much, of course :P (It might actually be interesting to see if any of their membership or gift cards still bear the Bookstar logo! I know BAM's millionaire's club card has both the Bookland and Books & Co. logos on it -- potential subjects of a future post, lol -- and AsiimovRetailer on flickr once posted a pic of an FYE gift card featuring the logos of all of their so-called "indie" brands... perhaps that might count as continued nationwide usage, then?)

    2. The Bookstop name is probably of limited use to Barnes & Noble if they don't have national rights to use it anyway. I believe that is why Bookstop started using the Bookstar name based on what Retail Retell reported, but I have no idea if the other non-B&N Bookstops still exist.

      Back when Payless Cashways was still alive, they printed the names of all of the many banners they operated under on the back of their bags. The front had the name of the banner they were using in the market where the bag came from. Back in the times before the Internet, it was totally confusing as to why Payless Cashways had so many banners for the same type of stores. Why would they call their stores Hugh M. Woods in certain places, for example? Then again, I suppose one could ask why they wouldn't use the name Hugh M. Woods in some markets, lol.

      On the topic of BAM, 2nd & Charles, which is a bit like Half Price Books, has a couple of stores in the outermost parts of Houston. One is in Conroe and one is in Beaumont (I wouldn't consider Beaumont part of Houston, but it's not far). I believe 2nd & Charles is part of BAM. I've never been there, but je says good things about them. They seem somewhat similar to a Half Price Books, but I don't know if they sell new stuff as well like HPB does. Maybe you'll get one in your part of the world if you don't have one already.

    3. Fair point there also. I did indeed encounter several non-B&N affiliated Bookstop stores while Googling stuff for this post.

      Another nice example of the multiple banners! We discussed all of Kroger's banners recently as well; there are several applications that show all the logos together, although they're not always plainly visible if you're not looking for them.

      I love 2nd & Charles! As usual, we don't have any nearby, but I've been to the one in town where my relatives live in SC, and have photos coming to flickr eventually. It's a really cool place, and I think you'd like it also if you went to check it out. They have great sales, too (like buy 5, get 5 free). 2nd & Charles is indeed part of BAM, but I don't know if any new ones are being opened still. Not sure they sell new books or CDs or anything, but I think they *might* get new collectibles. Not 100% sure on that, however.

      Oh, and lol at the other comment -- yep, you're right, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about concerning pogs XD

  4. Great post! I loved Bookstar on Poplar. Don't think I ever visited the other locations. And thanks for the memory of David and Kidd. When I was a, uh, Kidd, my father would always visit there when we were in Memphis.

    I remember it being in the Laurelwood shopping center, I think? And then it moved nearby and got even larger. Those were great days of retail.

    1. Thank you, I appreciate it! Glad to bring up Davis-Kidd memories as well. Yep, it's in Laurelwood! And still is, as a matter of fact. Nowadays they've downsized a bit and call it "novel.", with the all-lowercase and period included. But it's still going strong.

    2. Thanks for the update. I will have to make a visit next time I'm in MEM.

  5. I just read the April 1988 edition of the Texas Monthly magazine, which is freely available to read at Google Books, and it has so many bits of interesting information related to the link between the Mid-South and a Texas retail giant and so much more! The magazine has three retail stores of interest. One is a lengthy article about the history of HEB, another article is about upscale Houston grocery stores, and another is a brief article discussing the supermarket wars in various parts of Texas.

    Most of the relevant information comes from the excellent article about HEB. It's such a long article that it's actually split up into several different parts of the magazine so you'll have to do a lot of page flipping to read the whole thing. Anyway, the first point of interest is that the founder of what would end up becoming HEB, Florence Thornton Butt, is actually from Mississippi! The article mentions that she moved from Memphis, TN to Texas for the sake of her husband's health, but I did some more research after reading that since the article mentioned something about the Butt family giving free groceries to people from Mississippi. That made me think that perhaps they were from Mississippi. Indeed they are! Florence Butt was originally from Buena Vista, MS. It seems, oddly enough, that Buena Vista is near Houston, MS. From there, they moved to Memphis and then Texas. Maybe if things had worked out a little differently, maybe HEB would have been based in the Mid-South!

    The article goes in-depth about how HEB fought off Kroger's entrance into the San Antonio market. That kind of in-depth business analysis is always quite interesting.

    On Page 160, the article mentions that HEB bought a 30% share of Bookstop in 1985. The article mentions that dropped to about 25% by the time the article ran because venture capitalists funded Bookstop's entrance into Florida. I had no idea HEB had such a large investment, or any kind of investment for that matter, in Bookstop!

    The Randall's article is interesting because it mentions the FM 1960 & Champions Forest store which is now my local Randall's. Sadly, the balcony cafe has been closed for many years now, but I do remember it. That location used to be a Handy Andy's. That chain is discussed in the HEB article.

    So, yeah, maybe you'll enjoy reading these articles. If nothing else, the Mid-South had a stronger link to Bookstop than I'm sure you initially thought! The articles start on page 102, but I'm sure you'll enjoy the vintage department store ads before that, lol. Link:

    1. Thanks for that link -- boy, those articles were pretty lengthy indeed, but they were all good reads! You're right, lots of very interesting information in there. Good catch on the Memphis connection in the HEB article, and the subsequent research to find out that Florence Butt was originally from Mississippi. That's pretty cool! Yeah, who knows what would have happened if things worked out differently...

      The Bookstop connection is definitely interesting and unexpected, too. It sounds like Charles Butt was trying to profit off of the trends of the time, what with the video stores he opened as well. Funny how neither type of store is popular anymore...

      I had to Google Jamail's after reading that part of the article. Sounds like it wound up closing the very same year the magazine was published. Given the troubles the article describes, that's not surprising, but still unfortunate.

      Finally, I saw the word "yuppie" mentioned a lot, lol. Not a common one (although maybe it was at the time?). I'm only familiar with it from this song...

    2. We'll have to put the hypothetical example of Florence Butt and family staying in Memphis or Mississippi and starting their retail empire there instead of in Texas in the great book of retail what-ifs! Maybe instead of Kroger, your Flickr channel would have been full of HEB photos, lol.

      Jamail's is a famous name in Houston retail, especially with those who have been in Houston for a long time, but they unfortunately did not make it. Rice Epicurean was mentioned in that article. Rice Epicurean is still around, but now only with one location in an old Safeway location in a ritzy part of town. The store itself is not that impressive looking as it does look somewhat like a 1980s supermarket, but the service is presumably exquisite. It's been a while since I've been to a Rice Epicurean, but I do remember their service and product quality to be very good. The prices? Well, not so much, lol. Rice Epicurean had a handful of locations about a decade ago, but they sold all but the remaining location to The Fresh Market. The Fresh Market disaster didn't last long as I'm sure you've heard.

      The Texas Monthly article mentioned Houston as being a retail graveyard and that is still quite true even 30+ years later. Of course, a big reason for that is that everyone wants a crack at the Houston market, but few have what it takes to survive against all that competition.

      I am aware of the HEB video rental chain, but I never did visit one of their locations. Back in the day, as you probably know, it was common for supermarkets and some other retailers to have a full video rental department. Phar-Mor, Randall's, and Albertsons, probably in that order, had the best video rental departments that I saw and we rented from all of those three. Phar-Mor had low prices on rentals and a video rental room full of neon and mirrored walls. It was quite something. I wish good photos existed of that, but I have not seen any. Kroger's video rental department was, in comparison, quite lackluster and I don't remember us ever renting from them. Anyway, the Houston Historic Retail blog has a short article about the HEB video rental stores if you want to read that:

      'Yuppie' was indeed a very popular word in the 1980s. It was usually meant to describe a 'young urban professional' who drove a BMW and who had few constraints to their large lifestyle. DINKs (dual income, no kids) are the closely related cousins to the yuppies. Anyway, you can probably see why grocers wanted to appeal to the yuppies and DINKs even if most individuals wanted nothing to do with them!

    3. Yep! Some crazy alternate universe stuff there :P

      Ha, yeah, when service and product quality are high, prices tend to be as well! At least Rice Epicurean still has one store left, unlike Jamail's. I've heard of The Fresh Market's troubles in general so further troubles in Houston (*especially* in Houston, given that retail graveyard bit!) don't surprise me.

      Yep, although I never got to experience one, I've heard or seen plenty of bits and pieces here and there. Thanks for that link to the Houston Historic Retail post.

      Ah, thanks for the explanation on yuppies and DINKs as well!

  6. I figured there was surely a video about Bookstop somewhere on the Texas History website, but I really wasn't finding anything. I worked on the keywords and...yes!...I found a video from inside an early Bookstop! Not only that, but the video also contains a short interview with Gary Hoover.

    That 1985 Bookstop certainly did not have the fancy decor that some of the stores in your blog post had, but they were nicer than your average shopping center store though with that red carpet and parquet flooring. It looks a bit like a department store. Check out those very simple price tags on the shelves as well! Maybe I saw those at the Bookstops I shopped at years ago, but it certainly doesn't come to mind.

    Anyway, I thought I'd post that video here for the sake of completeness in case anyone visits this page looking for information about Bookstop.

    Oh, while I'm leaking some video links to you that will be in my next blog post, how would you like to see some video from inside a Kroger Superstore? Yeah, I know, that's a rhetorical question, lol. Watch the video until the very end, there's a little image of the decor at the very end of the video to go along with the stuff earlier in the video clip:

    I've found some more Kroger Superstore stuff, but I suppose you'll have to wait for the blog post to see it.

    1. That's great! Yeah, not as fancy inside as the later stores, but still cool to see, haha. The wood-look flooring (I guess that's parquet?) on the actionways reminds me of older Books-a-Million stores as well. Thanks for sharing!

      That Kroger video is great also! Always love seeing old décor like that. Looking forward to the post!


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