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.