Well, it seems I’ve opened up a can of worms. For the sake of this blog post, the worms would probably be Thai Lime Basil worms, or Trader Jose’s cha-cha chili worms.
My love affair with Trader Joe’s, the California-based small-scale gourmet supermarket, started nearly 16 years ago. A newcomer to the San Francisco Bay area, my roomate got me hooked on Trader Joe’s quirky products. I didn’t have a car. No one doesn’t have a car in California. But that didn’t stop me. To get to a Trader Joe’s, I would take two lines on the BART, with a small cooler in tow, to get there, where I would purchase delicacies such as frozen tri-colored butternut squash ravioli and mahi-mahi filets.
Later in life, when we moved back to New Jersey and had a car (because you *really* need a car to get around in NJ), I loved shopping at the Trader Joe’s in Westfield, N.J.
Now, I live in Rochester. We have Wegman’s, headquarters to the mother of all amazing supermarkets, where my own mother, on her first trip into the cavernous Marketplace section, with its patisserie, brick-oven artisan bakery and 20-foot long Mediterranean olive bar, described Wegmans as “where food goes when it goes to heaven.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Wegman’s.
But it’s not Trader Joe’s.
One of my most recent columns was about how and with what to fill the vacant retail spaces around Brighton. Lately, as I drive the stretch of Monroe Ave. between Brighton and Pittsford, I get an empty feeling. Whether the properties are older; like the former Steve’s restaurant in Brighton, or brand new; such as the Oak Hill Commons in Pittsford, I can’t help but wonder what the holdup is for filling these properties: is it the economy, or local politics?
The most glaring of these vacancies is the 11,348 sq.-ft. site of the former Rite Aid in Brighton Commons. To get some opinions on this for my column, I took a very informal poll of my Facebook friends asking them what they would like to see in this place. One friend wrote: Trader Joes! And then another and another in complete agreement.
I would love to see this place in the center of Brighton become the nation’s newest Trader Joe’s. It would be great to walk or bike to a store like this to pick up items ranging from organically grown lettuce, cage-free eggs, a box of gluten-free granola, or even mahi-mahi burgers for the grill.
Trader Joe’s was featured on the Sept. 13 cover of Fortune magazine, and described it as one of the nation’s fastest growing retailers. I make a pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s in Long Island whenever I can and ask the manager about the possibility of an opening in Rochester. But the answer is always the same: this privately-held company, which boasts 344 stores in 25 states, fears competition from a certain large-scale supermarket further up Monroe Ave. bearing the name that starts with a W. But one can always hope.
I got an enormous number of responses from my column, both via email and others who told me that “yeah! I want Trader Joe’s too!” at the gym, or — lo and behold — in the middle of the produce section at Wegmans! They even asked me how they could help me convince them to come here – like I have an inside track or something.
So you see, TJ’s – Brighton, NY folks are educated, earthy and slightly crunchy. See why we would need you and support you here?
One reader wrote in an accused me of starting a crusade of trying to bring yet another chain into town while running the little guy mom and pop markets out of business and told me to stick to writing and stay out of the business development business. Other readers wrote in and shared their Trader Joe’s love stories, and still others wrote to me with links of articles explaining the complexities of chosing a site for new grocery stores in urban areas.
So, Trader Joe’s, if you are reading, in spite of Rochester being home to the world’s greatest supermarket chain, there is still room in our hearts for you. So come on up!