This is an article written for the Sun Sentinel by Lindsey’s roommate and my sports buddy, Marisa Gottesman. Lindsey brings her unique perspective to the article with some spot-on quotes. I’m proud of them both.
Is it the workers clad in Hawaiian shirts? Free coffee samples? Must-have Joe-Joe’s cookies or “Two-Buck Chucks”?
It’s hard to put your finger on the mystique surrounding gourmet grocery chain Trader Joe’s. But few other stores elicit such strong opinions from local shoppers. The latest debate came as Trader Joe’s announced it will be opening in Boca Raton in 2014, not Delray Beach, which was rumored to be the first south Palm Beach County destination for the chain.
“Shopping at Trader Joe’s is definitely an experience,” said Lindsey Sandhouse, 21, a Coral Springs resident who became hooked on the store as a student at the University of Florida. “Just walking into the store puts me in a better mood. It’s hard to describe exactly, but there’s just something about the atmosphere that makes grocery shopping not seem like a chore.”
There are only three Trader Joe’s right now in all of Florida — in Gainesville, Naples and Sarasota. In addition to Boca Raton, the California-based chain has announced plans to open stores in Palm Beach Gardens, Pinecrest in Miami-Dade County and Winter Park in Central Florida.
Now, Sandhouse won’t have to schlep to Gainesville for her cookie butter fix — her favorite Trader Joe’s product.
“I don’t have the leisure of going to Trader Joe’s whenever I want, but soon I will,” Sandhouse said.
It isn’t just people creating a frenzy over the grocery store. Sometimes, it’s entire cities.
West Palm Beach has been after Trader Joe’s for more than a year and the city’s Downtown Development Authority launched a whimsical campaign to lure the company.
They caused a social media commotion on Facebook by asking people “What Would You Trade for Trader Joe’s in Downtown WPB?” The agency even created a YouTube video with local business owners and city officials saying what they would trade.
Even though the store isn’t opening in their city, the Palm Beach Gardens location will be accessible to the city’s shoppers, as will the one in Boca Raton.
When Becky Clarkson moved to South Florida from Virginia, she was surprised Trader Joe’s wasn’t already here.
“They have a lot of good options for convenience,” Clarkson said.
She likes their affordable snacks and frozen foods, which aren’t available at other stores because they have the Trader Joe’s label.
Looking for Oreos? You will find Joe-Joe’s instead. They taste the same, but like most Trader Joe’s products, the cookies lack preservatives and artificial flavors. Another bonus, they usually cost less than the brand name at $2.99 a box, according to the company’s website.
Private labeling helps the company succeed, says David Diamond, an independent consultant to the grocery industry for the past 30 years.
“You are getting great quality at a super cheap price,” Diamond said. “That is what people love about it.”
He said people feel like they are getting the cheaper Walmart prices, but with Whole Foods quality.
But not everyone is sold on the chain. Darrel Ambrosini for one — and convenience is an issue for him.
“As much as I like some of Trader Joe’s unique frozen foods, I can’t get everything I need there,” said Ambrosini, 23, of Coral Springs.
The law school student is often pressed for time between classes and he prefers a one-stop grocery store like Publix.
Sheri Lukas disagrees. She has been shopping at Trader Joe’s since 1982, and said it has always been her go-to grocer.
“It is a foodie’s dream to go to Trader Joe’s,” Lukas said. “I can shop there and get everything I need.”
When she moved to Florida from Utah, she said she went through withdrawals from the store. Hearing that the store is opening close to her Ocean Ridge home was welcome. She can’t wait to enjoy their chocolate, especially the Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds.
“I have seen how they have grown, negotiated products and kept their prices low and standardized in stores,” she said. “They have developed their whole product based off what people like.”