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  1. Remember the Alabama at Shepherd strip center in the old days? It's still there, of course, and Trader Joe's kept the old Alabama Theater marquee, so that at first glance the strip center looks almost as it used to. But do any of you remember it from the old days? Left to right (i.e., south to north on Shepherd), it was Walgreen's, A & P Supermarket, Alabama Theater, Suzanne's Cafeteria, Wacker's, and Western Auto. When I was a child and a teenager, it was my great treat to be taken (or to ride my bike) to the soda fountain at that particular Walgreen's for a big glass of chocolate milk -- or on more luxurious days, an ice cream soda. The A & P, AKA the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (just to the left of the Alabama Theater, I think) was, to my child-mind, merely a supermarket, nothing special, a place where we shopped if we happened to be in the area -- second choice after the Dunlavy Weingarten's (which had been the 1400-block-of-Richmond-Avenue Weingarten's in the earlier '50s). Next door sat the Alabama Theater, which lasted a long time, till the '80's, wasn't it? To its right (north) was Suzanne's Cafeteria, a very good cafeteria of the same species as the Cleburne, Albritton's, or Luby's, run by a genial Greek gentleman called Mr. Gus. On Thursday nights it was sort of festive, and a pretty waitress would sing. Her specialty was "Moon River." We continued to eat there even after my mother was served a well-boiled grasshopper atop her bowl of spinach one evening. And next door to Suzanne's was my childhood shopping paradise, Wacker's: a sort of mini-Woolworth's, where a child with a quarter could buy a small plastic doll with MUCH more strength of character than one of those snooty, new-fangled Barbies. Finally, on the north end, was Western Auto. My father would go there -- not to browse in dreamy joy as he did at Southland Hardware (at this writing, still sitting there, ageless, in its appointed spot at 1822 Westheimer) -- but simply to buy something for the car when the need arose. In 1969 I moved to Austin for college and for a long time didn't think much about the Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center and its various shops. I moved back to Houston in the mid-eighties. Venturing back to the Alabama Shopping Center, I encountered Butera's, Whole Earth Provision Company, Cactus Video, Bookstop, and Whole Foods . Roaming one day in Bookstop (constructed within the old theater) one day in the 1990s, I suddenly had a joyful flashback, among the bookshelves on the second floor: a sudden memory of having seen NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS there in 1958 with my parents. Now, well into the 21st century, the A & P is Whole Earth, I think; the Bookstop is Trader Joe's; and Whole Foods is Petsmart. I still enjoy driving past the new/old Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center, squinting a little. Out of the corner of my eye, I can almost see Walgreens, the A & P, the Alabama Theater, Suzanne's, Wacker's, and Western Auto. It's a good feeling.
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