Later, Trader Joe
February 29, 2020 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Joe Coulombe, founder of the Trader Joe’s chain of grocery stores, dies at age 89. “[H]e found a new way to offer products like a then-exotic snack food called granola and California-produced wines that compared with anything from France. And he tried to make shopping for them fun.”

Coulombe sold Trader Joe’s to Aldi in 1979 but remained the company’s chief executive until 1988. He lived to watch the company expand to over 500 locations. “Trader Joe’s has one of the most generous compensation plans in retail, with medical, dental, vision and retirement plans and annual salary increases the company says range from 7 to 10 percent.”

He and his wife of 67 years, Alice, raised two daughters, Madeleine and Charlotte, and a son, also named Joe.
posted by sallybrown (87 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you, you beautiful man.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:54 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by Foosnark at 6:55 PM on February 29, 2020

posted by Thorzdad at 7:07 PM on February 29, 2020

posted by Faint of Butt at 7:11 PM on February 29, 2020

. for a real innovator in an industry where innovation is hard to come by.

Trader Joe's has been a quiet grocery store revolution, where brands weren't really a thing and yet (with a couple notable exceptions) quality was high, prices were reasonable, and treatment of their employees was well above the norm for the industry.

Plus, they explored and developed entirely new and previously believed theoretically impossible levels of parking irrationality and madness.
posted by tclark at 7:13 PM on February 29, 2020 [58 favorites]

😢 I miss the person who directly or indirectly brought us the best snacks and frozen foods that this nation has ever seen. And Two-buck Chuck. Also a large selection of jerky and the ability to buy individual beers.

RIP Trader Jose
posted by bendy at 7:20 PM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I remember when TJs was just a “health food” store. Mostly known for nut mixes and trail mix.

They started getting known for more and more stuff. Candy, breads, salsas, snacks, frozen foods, cheese. And wine. Thank you for 2 buck chuck, once again $1.99, my daily drink.
posted by 90s_username04 at 7:24 PM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

An NPR show last week discussed how Trader Joe's had 10% of the number of options of a typical supermarket, but that consumers were more liable to buy stuff with fewer choices. This despite the fact that Trader Joe's products were often sourced from the same wholesalers on the shelf in the supermarkets.

Still, a loyal following of Trader Joe's rely on the "snacks and frozen foods" mentioned in a previous post for their daily bread, so to speak.
posted by kozad at 7:26 PM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


Thanks for not confusing “inexpensive” with “cheap”, and for treating the employees well. More business owners should follow suit.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:27 PM on February 29, 2020 [23 favorites]

*rings bell*
posted by Lyn Never at 7:33 PM on February 29, 2020 [41 favorites]


Never knew that Joe was a real person.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 PM on February 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

My love for TJ’s is so big that I didn’t skip a weekend shopping there even after getting food poisoning from the fresh salsa. I don’t go as much anymore because the snacks are just TOO tempting (and the produce not my fave), but I have so many memories involving TJ’s food. The tortilla strips, pepper salami, Greek salad, spicy lime cashews, lemon-marinated chicken, fresh mozzarella sticks, frozen garlic naan, Brussels sprouts salad packs, little dried tortellini...
posted by sallybrown at 7:35 PM on February 29, 2020


They finally built one near me last year. Glad to hear that they do really treat their employees relatively well.
posted by XMLicious at 7:58 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by gauche at 8:25 PM on February 29, 2020

I live between 3 TJ's. I'm there at least once a week and I drive by the original location every workday that I don't telecommute.

I love them. I love the investment in workers (which feels second only to Costco). Hate their treatment of beer, but love just about everything else.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:46 PM on February 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

An NPR show last week discussed how Trader Joe's had 10% of the number of options of a typical supermarket

They never looked in the peanut butter section.
posted by delfin at 8:53 PM on February 29, 2020 [12 favorites]

I’d like to pour one out for Joe. One of what, I’m not entirely sure, I’ve only got about 2 bucks here...

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:53 PM on February 29, 2020 [14 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:57 PM on February 29, 2020

Lol, everyone fucking loves a German grocery congolmerate that gives you fewer choices. Long live two buck chuck
posted by GuyZero at 9:10 PM on February 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

Just went there tonight. Some of the usual staples, but I also have a four day hiking trip coming up and I need food for that and I don’t think I can choke down any more Clif bars on the trail, so I got some good stuff.

I remember when I took my mom to TJs for the first time. She had finally kicked her alcoholism a few years prior. As we left, she said “Where was THIS store when I was a lush?!?”
posted by azpenguin at 9:10 PM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

What higher praise can I give for a retail operation than to say that living within driving distance of one is non-negotiable?

Whole Foods, Costco, Winco have their useful products that fill in my needs, but TJ's is my weekly go-to!
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:12 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Favorite reliable TJ deals: water crackers, sardines, salsa, coffee, some cheeses, frozen flatbreads. I’ve had some great wines from TJ but they never last (RIP Flying Heart).
posted by curious nu at 9:23 PM on February 29, 2020

This Freakonomics episode on Trader Joe's is really great. Apparently their main secret is that they have less products than other grocery stores (like an incredibly small selection in comparison), but they have just enough that people feel inclined to try out and purchase new things that they feel like they "discovered" while walking the aisles. You keep waiting for the moment when they talk about the evil thing that TJ's is doing to be so successful, but so far nobody seems to know what that is (please don't tell me).

However, the company run "Inside Trader Joe's" podcast is a bit too much TJs for me to handle, and the intense positivity made me sure I would never fit in as an employee there.
posted by Corduroy at 9:26 PM on February 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

This ad for Trader Joe's has always spoken to me and I sometimes hum it while walking the aisles. The parking lot chaos, the products they don't make anymore, chili lime cashews, and it was filmed on a TREO for crying out loud.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:44 PM on February 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

You keep waiting for the moment when they talk about the evil thing that TJ's is doing to be so successful

RIP alone, for fun candy for adults. But I would never buy produce from TJs (or expect it to last more than a day or two).
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:48 PM on February 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Love TJ's. I was one of the crazy people who emailed them at least twice a month asking when they would come to New York City -- and when they finally did, at Union Square, started emailing them once a month asking them to come to the Upper West Side. No idea if those tiny efforts in any way helped make it happen, but I do secretly feel a tiny bit smugly personally responsible.

It's also one of the few national chains where a huge percentage of the foods on sale are kosher -- so much so that when I do come onto a product that isn't under supervision, I feel personally violated. Like, standing in the aisle internally yelling at the cookie butter for letting me down.

anyways 🌴🍷🍌. for Joe
posted by Mchelly at 9:49 PM on February 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I remember when I took my mom to TJs for the first time. She had finally kicked her alcoholism a few years prior. As we left, she said “Where was THIS store when I was a lush?!?”

Ha! Yeah, maybe it's best that there wasn't one around here.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:49 PM on February 29, 2020

Also apparently it's a real thing that they make the parking lots too small to make it look more crowded than it is.
posted by Mchelly at 9:51 PM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:00 PM on February 29, 2020

When I first moved to California it was 1987 and I was in Highland Park just across the arroyo from South Pasadena. Very early on I stumbled into what I now know was the first Trader Joes, and being overly fond of nuts, found myself in paradise. Such variety -- and so cheap! No longer in LA, but I visit my local branch at least once a week, also for milk and chocolate. And not every time, but don't their free samples just keep getting bigger and more elaborate?

Thank you, Joe.
posted by Rash at 10:16 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

What with globalization it seems like there are only a few chain stores in the US that don’t exist in Canada, but Trader Joe’s is one of them. My friend (who lives near the Canada-US border and is thus more TJ savvy) took me to one when we travelled to San Francisco together and I was in awe. Good thing I can’t access TJ on a regular basis or I’d eat an unhealthy amount of snack food. Really, really excellent snack food.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:26 PM on February 29, 2020

Small stores with limited selection was such a brilliant move in the era of the supermarket.

My record time at TJ’s for a full week’s grocery shopping trip is 13 minutes. I rarely spend more than 25 minutes in there. I can often get in and out with what I need in fewer than 10. It’s a breeze.

Thanks, Joe.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:28 PM on February 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I went to the first Trader Joe's in Manhattan within the first day or two after it opened. People literally stopped me on the streets as I was walking home when they saw the bags.

The limited selection bothers me less because (a) I don't generally buy produce there, as it's subpar and therefore (b) there's no chance it's ever going to be my monopoly grocer. For me, it's about stocking up on cheap yet reasonably tasty frozen entrees, some shelf-stable items like grains and dried fruit, and the occasional snack.

*offers a hekatomb of pork dumplings*
posted by praemunire at 10:42 PM on February 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

My theory about the parking, apart from making it seem busy, is it's owned by Germans, and almost all of them are near transit stops. I've started to take the bus there sometimes and it's great to waltz in without dealing with some of the worst parking lot drivers/parkers in Los Angeles.
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:22 PM on February 29, 2020

Try as I might, I can't remember where we used to buy dried fruit, nuts, tortellini, and other staples like that before TJ's.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:51 PM on February 29, 2020

...aaand now I'm hungry.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:57 PM on February 29, 2020

I used to live two blocks from a Trader Joe's so never had to deal with parking. That provided a compelling reason to go as often as possible, particularly in association with their practice of putting limited-time, non own-brand imports of this and that out on the floor, the proposition being that "Joe has just bartered a one-off consignment of these nice artichokes in a jar", or whatever, so at any time your local Trader Joe's could be the best of all possible Trader Joe's.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 1:04 AM on March 1, 2020

I love them but I'll never forgive them for dropping the Greek feta/olive mini pizza 😡

Just kidding, I'd probably be malnourished if you deleted all of the Trader Joe's salads and frozen foods from my diet.
posted by scose at 1:12 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is the same thing with the two main German supermarkets with a presence in the UK, Aldi and Lidl (and I understand Trader Joes is owned by Aldi). Their shops are much smaller than what we still call the "major" supermarkets (even though Aldi and Lidl are just as, if not more, popular now) and they don't have, say, 12 completely unnecessary brands of toilet roll. They have other efficiencies going on - stock mostly goes straight from the pallet to the shelf and doesn't get unpacked and shelved, and shoppers pack their shopping on their own time at a shelf at the front of the store rather than very... slowly... at the checkout with a queue behind them, which means more customers can be served in a shorter time by fewer staff.

I bring out this fact in roughly every Trader Joe's thread, but there are actually two Aldi's--Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd (there were brothers who had a row and split the company, IIRC). One owns Trader Joe's. The other is busily exporting the ultra-efficient, but kind of crap, cheap German supermarket around the world. The contrast endlessly amuses me. Cashiers at Aldi in the US get to sit down, though, which is basically unheard of here.

(US Aldi tends to be very cheap, but dire, though some are better than others.)
posted by hoyland at 4:13 AM on March 1, 2020 [14 favorites]

My Trader Joe's is in the basement of a building on Boylston and is so small that when it's busy (so basically most of the time) you get in line as soon as you enter the store, and the line snakes through all the aisles until checkout so you can pick up everything as you advance. It claims to be the smallest TJs in the world, and there are definitely some things it doesn't have, but it pretty much does the trick!
posted by ChuraChura at 4:27 AM on March 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


I live in a part of L.A. that has both Aldi and TJ's and I love them both.

The Aldi nearest me does seem to get better food (more of the "Finds," reliably better deli and produce) than some of the other locations I've been to, but less other stuff. It's cheap, but I think part of the "dire" feeling comes from the cost-cutting efforts like putting product on the shelves in shipping boxes, not offering much choice, not having store music, etc, more than any issues with the products which tend to be surprisingly good.

Some TJs locations are way better than others too. The thing with TJs is that it's hard to do all your shopping there.

For regular shopping, I tend to go to Smart & Final for as much of the basic stuff I can, then either Sprouts or TJs for the rest (I like TJs better but Sprouts is closer), plus I have some Latin and Asian market options.

Aldi is its own thing, I go roughly twice a month to restock on the stuff of theirs I like.

After all of that, I find I hardly go to one of the regular supermarkets (Vons, Ralphs).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:27 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


my family's local tj's was the one near fashion square in sherman oaks; not sure if it opened before the aldi takeover. I loved to read the fearless flyers when they came in the mail. just wish they had the cracked wheat sourdough east of the Pacific time zone.
posted by brujita at 5:37 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love Trader Joe's and am glad to know of and honor this inspiring entrepreneur who started it.

In ~2003 my partner and I were at a Trader Joe's and saw some fliers for new flavors of Tom's of Maine mouthwash. We were near the manager's station and they weren't consumer-oriented fliers; they were fliers meant for the store personnel. And my partner saw that there was a new ginger flavor, and thought "Ginger-flavored mouthwash, that's an interesting --" and then saw the bullet point
  • Ginger flavor appeals to cultural creatives.
Yup it did!

Here's the New York Times obituary:
He envisioned the stores as being “for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists,” as he put it in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 2011....

“What you want is a coherent group of customers,” he told Investor’s Business Daily in 1998, “and you shape yourself around it.”....

Mr. Coulombe prided himself on paying his employees well and on an ever-changing display, one of the things that set him apart from supermarkets.

“We deliberately pursued a policy of discontinuity, as opposed to, say, Coca-Cola, which is in infinite supply,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2011. “For example, we had the only vintage-dated, field-specific canned corn in existence, and it was the best damned canned corn there was. But there was only so much produced every year, and when you’re out, you’re out.”
posted by brainwane at 6:15 AM on March 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

Are we sure he is gone and not just seasonal?
posted by srboisvert at 6:18 AM on March 1, 2020 [52 favorites]

What with globalization it seems like there are only a few chain stores in the US that don’t exist in Canada, but Trader Joe’s is one of them. My friend (who lives near the Canada-US border and is thus more TJ savvy) took me to one when we travelled to San Francisco together and I was in awe. Good thing I can’t access TJ on a regular basis or I’d eat an unhealthy amount of snack food. Really, really excellent snack food.

The weird thing is that that Trader Joe's is essentially just a hipper and trendier Marks & Spencer and Marks and Spenser as a food store died out in Canada. I think Canadian consumer markets are pretty tough to crack (see also Target).
posted by srboisvert at 6:24 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by filtergik at 6:34 AM on March 1, 2020

I don’t do my main grocery shopping there, but I do go regularly to pick up my favorites.

The frozen green/red/yellow chopped peppers are a staple for me. I use them ALL THE TIME and get nervous when I’m down to my last bag.

Other favorites—brownie mix, caramelized onion dip, cheese enchiladas, chocolate candy, frozen individual portions of French onion soup, frozen Kung Pao chicken mix... I know there’s more. I love Trader Joe’s.
posted by bookmammal at 6:59 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Frozen Indian food, frozen pizzas, nuts, hummus, WATER CRACKERS ($2 a pack for identical crackers that are $4 a pack anywhere else!), etc.

I used to work very near a TJ's and I'd often stock up on certain basics, then pile into a cab and head home. I found (IMO) about 3/4ths of TJ's (or more) is of no use to me. But there's certain stuff that's just amazing.

posted by SoberHighland at 7:43 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I try to go about once a month but god is it a chore in New York. I might spend 20 minutes shopping and then 10 minutes in line - still incredibly impressive because the line probably has 50 people in it, snaking halfway around the store. And on a bad day, double all those numbers.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2020

Almond butter is cheap and really good at TJ's. Gotta make sure you get the salted kind. They used to sell a version of kick-ass Cracker Jack (some baseball name) with a variety of nuts... best caramel corn I've ever had, but it hasn't been in stock lately. Avoid TJ's ice cream, it's low quality with artificial vanilla. Weirdly, they make an amazing frozen oatmeal! Not just mush, fully-formed oat kernels! It's sweetened, but very lightly sweetened. If you buy any of their cookies made with 100% butter, they're great too.

You really have to shop around, but F-yeah, Trader Joes!
posted by SoberHighland at 8:40 AM on March 1, 2020

My rule for TJs here in NYC is never ever ever go on a weekend. If I’m taking the train home from work I’ll go to 72nd Street and pick up a bunch of staples (frozen tamales, trail mix, big tub of vanilla whole milk yogurt). I miss their wasabi peas and instant miso soup.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:41 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Interesting to me, the parking complaints. I recall visiting a rather cramped location in Chevy Chase but are there stores this small in California? Not that I recall. Anyway,

10% of the number of options of a typical supermarket

I ask my ESL students where they do their grocery shopping, which supermarket, and when someone mentions TJs (or what an East Coast chum insists on calling "The Traders") I'm quick to correct them -- Trader Joe's is not a supermarket, it's a specialty food store, a very good one. As noted above, don't use them as your source for produce (although there are exceptions, like those Persian Cucumbers). May be okay, even really good -- but like their fresh meat, too expensive.
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on March 1, 2020

Also I should mention here my father's reaction, upon visiting a Trader Joe's for the first (and maybe only) time -- "I've never seen so many happy people shopping in a grocery store!"
posted by Rash at 9:07 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have only witnessed the glory of a Trader Joe's with alcohol one time, on a visit to some relatives in Massachusetts. (PA and DE TJs don't carry booze.) It was December 30th, so such items were obviously in high demand.

Across the highway from the TJs in question was some kind of beverage store. I do not know offhand if it was beer + wine or hard liquor as well; I don't know if they're segregated in that state or not. As I watched, I saw a slow drip of customers enter and exit, one or two at a time.

Trader Joe's, on the other hand, looked like a war zone. Every register was packed. Every customer looked enthusiastic. People were using dollies to wheel cases of Three Buck Chuck out the front door.
posted by delfin at 9:23 AM on March 1, 2020

I grew up with “Joe’s” and had major withdrawals when went to college out of state. Two-buck chuck was fairly unknown the year I got married and we catered the wedding with it!
I wonder if the produce quality issue is a supply chain thing? In So Cal the produce is great and always fresh and lots of organic choices.
RIP Joe, I’m glad you had a long life.
posted by gryphonlover at 9:28 AM on March 1, 2020

Might be regional. TJ has pretty respectable produce. Hell, even the tiniest 99 Cents Only store I've ever seen, just a couple blocks away, has decent produce. This isn't uncommon here in So CA.

I've been blessed in many aspects of my life. The cherry on top is that I've lived around the block from TJ for 20 years. It's a small blessing, but with much impact. Thanks, Joe.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:41 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ahh, the Joes: it seemed so truly grown-up, sophisticated, to be able to buy fancy imported chocolates AND wine AND coffee AND nuts & snacks, as if every meal was a cocktail party. I remember trying to explain why it existed to my mother, why my 20-something friends and I had such a need for exotic cheese and interesting frozen snacks.
Nowadays I mostly only buy coffee beans, green salsa, flowers, mayonnaise. But thank you so much Mr Joe, giving me a taste of a bigger flavorful world, and that is was perfectly fine to take such pleasure in food.
Oh, the green curry sauce. It's gone away at times, and is milder now, but boy oh boy did it blow my mind.
posted by winesong at 9:49 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I really don't get the parking comments. My local store devotes so much of their property to the parking lot that it's impossible for two people carrying bags to walk past each other on the two foot wide, half-assed pedestrian entrance. This is a location half a block from three trains, twenty busses, and some of the densest housing in the US. If there's one thing I'd change about the store (aside from reliably stocking cabbage), it would be a call for less parking.

When I was a kid, I thought of the store as the chocolate & candied orange peel store. As a poor young adult, I thought of it as the luxury store where you only bought fancy snacks for special occasions. As a rich adult, I buy my soap and toilet paper there 'cause it's on the way home and it's worth the cost not to travel to another store five blocks away.

Every trip to the conventional supermarket leaves me stupified. There are 14 brands and 8 varieties each of indistinguishable cans of black beans? What? Why?

posted by eotvos at 10:03 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I might spend 20 minutes shopping and then 10 minutes in line - still incredibly impressive because the line probably has 50 people in it, snaking halfway around the store.

Depending on where you're located, and how you weigh travel time against irritating-stand-in-line time, the Lower East Side TJ's (Clinton and Grand) is the biggest TJ's on the East Coast and rarely has an eye-popping line. Now don't go telling all your friends and cousins and ruining it for me.
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Let me tell you about Pirate Joe's. We don't have Trader Joe's here in Vancouver, Canada. For a few years we did have a storefront business that would smuggle Trader Joe's products across the border and sell them at a markup. Coulombe built a business so well liked that it could sustain a cross-border gray market.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:23 AM on March 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

posted by Gelatin at 10:24 AM on March 1, 2020

posted by allthinky at 10:52 AM on March 1, 2020

Ah, Joe. A . for you, as I am forever grateful for your Everything but the Bagel Seasoning, Onion Salt, and Umami in a bottle... my avocado toast is transcendent thanks to you.

Affordable yogurts, an astonishing cheese selection, and those marvelous sea salt and dark chocolate caramels... I don’t get to go to TJs too often but it certainly is one of my favorite sources of wonderful little affordable things that make life that bit nicer.

Also those s’more bars they have in summertime, BLESS.
posted by angeline at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2020

When I was going through a bad time a few years ago, it was nice to be able to buy some pre-marinated meat and some frozen pre-sauced pasta and some bagged salad so I could have a proper meal without stressing myself out over food prep. Thanks Joe!

(the "cylindrical salmon" in the trader joes song is back, but it's in a box rather than the cylinder. yay!)
posted by vespabelle at 11:35 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

The weird thing is that that Trader Joe's is essentially just a hipper and trendier Marks & Spencer and Marks and Spenser as a food store died out in Canada. I think Canadian consumer markets are pretty tough to crack (see also Target).

I don't know that the Target comparison is fair because M&S closed down in Canada 20 years ago due to competition from big-box stores (I think Walmart entered Canada around this time). Target, which left Canada about 5 years ago, had a bunch of supply-chain issues.

I've said this a million times, but Americans are eternally baffled by my effusive love for TJ's. Every time someone I know goes to America I ask if they can bring me back some of those dark chocolate peanut butter cups. My friends and I swap tips about what the best snacks are, what's worth bringing back to Canada, and what's not. The border agents don't bat an eye when we tell them our car is loaded with snacks from Trader Joe's. They also have the best prices for Ritter Sports.

I'm not sure what's behind Trader Joe's refusal to enter the Canadian market (yes, Pirate Joe's was a real thing and did okay), but it's not a lack of demand from Canadian consumers.

. for the OG Trader Joe.
posted by invokeuse at 11:58 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

TJs is our main grocery store. We have a fairly picky kid and a busy life during the work week, so our dinner menus do not vary a whole lot most of the time. There's very few things that I can't get at TJs that we really need. Where I live is absolutely lousy with grocery stores and markets, so we visit the food co-op, Japanese, Chinese and Indian grocers, and the wholesale district when needed, but TJs is the every-week necessity. The produce is not great but I don't find it to be terrible. I do avoid at all costs the regular supermarket, though. At this point it's just overwhelming to me, too huge, too many (actually identical if you read the labels) choices, takes too long to get from my car to the dairy section, I hate it. They also treat their workers shittier, and that shows.

You had a good idea there, Joe. Thanks!
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:09 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


When we moved from the Twin Cities, one of the things we missed the most was easy access to Trader Joe's. On our rare trips back we have been able to stock up on some favorites (though toting anything frozen 600 miles is impossible). Like Costco, I have never met an unhappy Trader Joe's employee. That is a true rarity in this world.

We are finally getting a Costco that's going to be three hours away. I am holding out hope that some day I can say the same about Trader Joe's.
posted by Ber at 12:39 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another anecdote: my brother lives in Charlottesville, which now has a Trader Joe's. But they didn't, for the longest time. A group of C-ville fans wrote letters requesting they open a local branch. They received a haughty letter back from corporate thanking them for their interest, but TJs doesn't open stores just because you locals want one in your town.
posted by Rash at 1:36 PM on March 1, 2020

At this point TJ's is definitely my go-to place for my nutritional needs. (The only times I break down and go to Safeway is when I need something that TJ's doesn't carry (e.g. tomato-roasted Triscuits) or if I can't get a parking spot when I have to go there on a Sunday or Monday). The only negative I can think of (besides the too-small parking ltos) are fave products suddenly disappearing (see also: Costco), but that's a pretty minor grip compared to what'd you face at, say, Whole Foods.

RIP Joe and thanks for everything.
posted by gtrwolf at 3:05 PM on March 1, 2020

> Let me tell you about Pirate Joe's. We don't have Trader Joe's here in Vancouver, Canada.

Previously on MetaFilter.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:06 PM on March 1, 2020

posted by Standard Orange at 3:10 PM on March 1, 2020

30 years ago, I discovered Trader Joes in Campbell, CA and was wowed. Then I got on with life as one does, and they showed up in Boston. Miracle of miracles, my son got a job there and not only did I have THREE magnificent purveyors of all delicious frozen and/or gluten free goodness nearby but I got a discount!!

Last year I moved to southern Vermont where the closest store is 3 hours away, and you can be damned sure that one of the very important reasons I'm leaving to move to Asheville, NC is that I can not live like these heathens.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:23 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

The parking is bad because Trader Joe's doesn't build stores - they take over existing empty retail buildings. I appreciate that they are next to train stops in Chicago.
posted by tiny frying pan at 3:30 PM on March 1, 2020

There was a time in my life when I was both really broke AND extremely time-strapped. My one bit of free time was my lunch break, which I would use to go pick up a boxed salad and a few groceries at Trader Joe’s. Life was stressful and unhappy, but I always felt good going to TJ’s because the cashiers were nice to me and the prices I could still afford a few nice things.

I don’t normally get sentimental about brands, so there’s a good lesson about brand-building here because, as evidenced by this thread, LOTS of people have strong feelings about them, and probably similar stories, too.
posted by the_blizz at 4:20 PM on March 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

The parking is bad because Trader Joe's doesn't build stores - they take over existing empty retail buildings.

The TJs near me was purpose-built, as are the few I’ve gone to in the Minneapolis suburbs. I’m sure it’s a matter of availability of land and where they’re trying to reach customers.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 4:57 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


I credit Trader Joe's with some of the minimal success of my youthful radio career over 40 years ago. At the time, their primary advertising was on local L.A. radio, in the form of live commercials read by the air personalities, and the scripts were often 'a challenge', containing tongue-twisters and puns that required a certain kind of delivery to keep a straight face. I acquired copies of a couple of those infamous scripts and included my own readings in all of the audition tapes I recorded. Then again, the stations that appreciated my 'TraderJoe-isms' probably led my career into a dead-end.

Still, I have been a frequent shopper ever since, it being the place where I discovered I like Muenster cheese 200% more than Swiss, and where their "19 cents each" pricing for bananas supported by banana addiction for years.

And the only Joes stores that had adequate parking that I ever found were in mini-malls with much less popular other occupants.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

The one near me is purpose-built too, with adequate parking.
posted by XMLicious at 5:02 PM on March 1, 2020

After it became known that Trader Joe's was looking to open in Greensboro NC, I guess land/property owners went nuts trying to woo them. They opened there a while ago but there is still a big vacant lot near my parents' place with a 'this land available' billboard that literally says "GREAT FOR TRADER JOE'S!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:06 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Can' believe that no one has mentioned the 19 cent bananas. Haven't raised the price since I don't know when. TJ's got to be losing money on them by now, but they keep me coming back so I guess that's the trick.

RIP Joe, let's hope your tradition lives on.
posted by charlesminus at 6:08 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah- My mom has UC and eats like two bananas a day as her one and only good fruit (besides blueberries) and their banana prices alone make me a fan. But also- when they opened up a TJ's at stonestown mall I was SO STOKED because parking! Bus access from my house! GOOD CHEAP WINE. Also- two buck chuck? FEH. (I'm joking it's pretty good) What you want are the cheap Italian and French imports. There's a 6.99 beaujolais that will knock your socks off- not to mention a double bottle of straw-bottom Chianti for 9.99 (1.5 l!!!) Besides the Persian cukes, I like that I can just get a little bit of good ginger without having to buy three gigantic knobs in a bag like at my local Chinese market. Also their Salmon is wonderful. All their meats really, back when I could eat the occasional beef it was always TJ's. Now that I can't- their extra firm tofu is really really good for frying. Actually as I type I'm eating some chocolate animal crackers from TJ's (they're dairy free!) My favorite part though is that they have the seedless challah which is better for mom (see UC) and on Friday's after work I can swing by before I hop on the M home and bring home the bread for Shabbat. I don't keep kosher but since a lot of kosher things are parve in order to you know- be kosher, the high level of kosher stuff at TJ's is wonderful for my 5 alarm dairy intolerance. And like some above, I am not a brand fan- but Tj's man...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:31 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've only been to TJ's twice in my life because the nearest location is ridiculously inconvenient but my experience--as a graphic designer who does a lot of package design--has been sensory overload. I want to buy one of everything just to keep for reference.

Likewise, it took me forever to shop because all the packaging was unfamiliar and I couldn't just grab a familiar yellow box or blue bag, no, I had to stop and specifically read the labels.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:18 PM on March 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm grateful for TJs, although I'm also cranky because the two closest to me changed their hours: they now close at 9PM instead of 10PM. I used to be able to stop by on a weeknight after going to the gym, but now I don't have time. Makes it harder, because the last thing I want to do is go to TJs on a weekend day!

Also, I keep having to relearn the same lesson: do not buy wrapped cheese at TJs unless you intend to use it the next day. I've wasted so much money on their moldy cheese. (Also their bread.) Something about their supply chain, I guess.
posted by suelac at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2020

posted by koucha at 9:28 AM on March 2, 2020

posted by oceanjesse at 11:27 AM on March 2, 2020

posted by The Devil's Grandmother at 11:36 AM on March 2, 2020

I briefly worked at a Trader Joe's while in between dot com jobs. Somehow in the interview they decided I'd be a good demonstrator, so they hired me specifically to do that. On the mornings I opened I'd be the one picking the coffees for the day and making at least the first couple batches. During the day we'd sample whatever food items we could manage with an electric skillet or a microwave (we were not technically allowed to cook, only heat precooked items or combine ingredients that didn't need cooking). I learned what things-in-jars combined well with other things (jarred bruschetta topping into roasted tomato soup FTW). I learned on the fly how to build a cheese board (the store I was in had no problem with cheese freshness). And one day I noticed out of the corner of my eye that we had Gerolsteiner Sprudel, which I hadn't seen since my year in Germany in college, so I'd occasionally treat myself to a bottle.

Probably the most educational thing for me was when we'd sample beer and/or wine. At the time I was mostly a beer drinker and didn't know much about wine, and they had somebody who "knew a lot about wine" so I mostly did the beer sampling and she mostly did the wine sampling. Every now and then somebody would ask me about a particular bottle of wine, though, so I'd open it up on the spot and do an impromptu wine tasting. You learn a lot about wine when you open up so many bottles of it, and the other thing I learned was that the woman who "knew a lot about wine" liked name dropping and origin stories, but she didn't actually have good taste.

It was a good temporary job. I liked those people. Once I got my next dot com job I gave notice instead of trying to work a minimal number of shifts just to keep a discount, but I don't think of it as a bad place to work.

posted by fedward at 2:30 PM on March 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

posted by detachd at 8:28 PM on March 2, 2020

« Older Quarantine Cooking   |   Oh, say, can you see? Legally? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments