Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Chanchow Shops: Trader Joe's


People in LA sure do love Trader Joe's. It's unlike any other grocery shopping experience. Imagine Whole Foods, but smaller, cheaper, less bourgeois. Trader Joe's carries a variety of organic and low processed foods, often under its own label. Noticeably absent are brands like Coca-Cola, Tropicana, Kraft.

Trader Joe's began as a convenience store in Pasadena called Pronto Market in 1958. It was a real mom and pop operation, run by Joe and Alice Coulombe. Joe had been a corporate cog until, he says, he realized that the "corporate world was poison to me." After a few years, Pronto was put out of business by the local 7-11. Undeterred, Joe and Alice revamped their store by giving it an island trading post flair and naming it "Trader Joe's." (Alice had suggested "Trader Mom's," but she lost.)

Trader Joe's has since grown to over 200 stores, most of them in California. Their target clientele is the "overeducated and underpaid." That description is spot on, as evidenced by the extraordinary concentration of hipsters I encountered at my local TJ's last week. The ratio of hipsters to normal people must've been 10:1, possibly even 25:1.

Shopping at Trader Joe's is great, as long as it isn't too crowded. The clerks are friendly (they are among the highest paid in retail) and the store is always well-stocked and clean. The beer and wine aisle is especially noteworthy, in part because Trader Joe's began as a wine and cheese store. Joe has since retired, but maintains his own wine blog called Wine Joe.

9 comments:

cshinpark@hotmail.com said...

how GREAT is it to pull up to the grocery store...with your car, load up (more than two groceries bags at a time--limit for grocery shopping in the city!). that grocery delivery thing is still too weird for me. experienced trader joes in chicago and loved it, but settle for whole foods here in nyc.

cshinpark@hotmail.com said...

how GREAT is it to pull up to the grocery store...with your car, load up (more than two groceries bags at a time--limit for grocery shopping in the city!). that grocery delivery thing is still too weird for me. experienced trader joes in chicago and loved it, but settle for whole foods here in nyc.

chanchow said...

yes, the grocery store experience here is great! we get to push real shopping carts (not the mini versions) thru wide aisles, throw 8 grocery bags into the trunk, park the car in the driveway and bring it all inside painlessly. no more stopping at the street corner to rest and switch arms, like in NY. i'm with you on the freshdirect thing-- i never tried it either-- i still like to see & pick my own food.

Octopus Grigori said...

Except that the parking lot at the local Trader Joe's in Glendale is like something out of Hieronymus Bosch.

Anonymous said...

There's a Trader Joe's in MD and a lot in S.F. so whenever I am on vacation there from NYC I get a couple of bags of dried fruit and a tea there. I wonder if it's too expensive to open in NYC. It's basically a yuppie store...

chanchow said...

TJs is definitely upmarket (despite targeting the overeducated and underpaid), but I think it's comparable to Garden of Eden or the Amish Market in NYC. I'm inclined to think that TJs would be popular in Manhattan if they were able to find a decent location.

HH said...

yes, when i moved from sf to here, it was definitely a perk to know that i could buy as much as i wanted at a grocery store and not worry about my arms falling off (plus you can buy a big thing of tp too!). and yes, it is a tight squeeze in the parking lot, though NOTHING compared to the ones in sf where basically you are in a bad mood as soon as you enter the lot. the only complaint i have about tj's is that they practically need traffic lights in the aisles...since it gets so crowded and there are many "jams," which is why i often park my cart at an end cap and pile up stuff in my arms per aisle. but other than that, tj's is awesome and carries all the best treats. though anything from the trader ming's line (stay away from the sweet & sour soup) isn't so great. the trader jose's stuff that i've tried has been ok i think...
OH...and they have the friendliest staff ever! frenchie's friend works there and says that if you make it to the managerial level, you basically get some insane retirement...like a million bucks or something, not mention full health care & dental for all employees!

ivanomartin said...

I have heard a rumor of a Trader Joe's opening in Manhattan near Union Sq. (next to the old Palladium).

dn

chanchow said...

I think it will be a hit in Union Square. If TJs were to go public, I would want in on that IPO. They know what they're doing.