Jerry Alhadeff selected for the Sam R. Buck award

The San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce awarded the annual Sam R. Buck Community Service Award to Jerry Alhadeff, owner of the Palace Theater, May 10, during the spring Luncheon. Named in honor and memory of long-time islander Sam R. Buck, the award recognizes individuals whose leadership and life-long commitment to the island community has made a significant impact on the development of local commerce and enterprise. The qualifying individual personifies the character and pioneer spirit of San Juan Island.

“Due to his 40 years of continuing to provide the Palace Theater to San Juan Island, Jerry Alhadeff well deserves to be the 2024 recipient of the San Juan Islands Chamber of Commerce Sam R. Buck Community Service Award,” Steve Buck, son of Sam R. Buck said, introducing Alhadeff.

Alhadeff thanked the Chamber and the community for the award, and support, to Arron King, the theater’s Operations Manager.

“Without Aaron, I don’t know if we could have done it,” he said. Alhadeff also assured attendees the theater would be around for a long time.

“I’m getting old, I’m 91 now,” Alhadeff said. “I hope I’m around for a while. But the theater will continue. We have made plans so the town does not have to worry.”

That Alhandeff received the award was somewhat kismet. According to Steve, Sam R. Buck and Alhadeff had met in 1970 and formed a lifelong friendship.

Alhadeff’s grandfather Nessim, aka Sam, came from Rodes Greece. He immigrated to Seattle penniless, Steve told the crowd. However, he had some friends who owned the Palace Meat Market near Pioneer Square. Those friends mentioned to him that no one was selling fish and recommended he give that a try. “He started off by carrying fish in a basket over his shoulder adn selling them to small specialty restaurants in downtown Seattle,” Steve said. “Eventually he was able to afford a horse and buggy to make deliveries, and then started his first business, Palace Fish and Oysters.”

Alhadeff remains a prominent name in Seattle to this day.

As a boy, Alhadeff grew up around the family’s fish businesses. He worked in his father’s canneries in both Washington and Alaska and began running the family’s local fish distribution company, Pacific Fish. During that time he modified the refrigerated trucks. Rather than melting ice, the trucks had holding tanks so that the fish always smelled fresh.

“Furthermore, in those days grocery stores did not carry fish because the small carried over into the meets. QFC was the first store in Seattle to start selling fish using a separate refrigerated case in order to sell more fish,” Steve explained. Alhadeff recruited other stores to do the same.

“All this helped Jerry grow Pacific Fish from a small local Seattle Business to the largest fish distribution company on the West Coast,” Steve said.

The Alhadeff and his wife Judy moved to the San Juans around the same time as Judy’s brother and sister did. According to Steve, Alhadeff, with encouragement from Brian Brown at San Juan County Bank, now Key Bank, bought the Royal Theater in 1982, later renaming it to the Palace Theater, after his family’s fish business.

“Jerry knew nothing about the movie business, but he and Judy agreed it was important to continue to provide the theater,” Steve said. “Jerry and Judy have had a lot of fun with their family and friends over the years while owning the Palace Theater, particularly during the 4th of July. But most of all they enjoy providing the Palace Theater to the community.”

Their daughter, Dina, is now overseeing the operations of the theater, and according to Steve, is committed to continuing to provide the theater to the community, and was behind the recent remodel.

Steve continued saying “Although the Palace Theater is a Business, Jerry and Judy have never taken any money out of it. Truth be told they have put money into it each year, sometimes lots of money. Jerry and Judy’s attitudes are that they feel fortunate to be able to do so.”

“It’s pretty special, in a smaller community,” Alhadeff said, “You have made us feel a part of it. Thank you.”