Volume 75, Number 40 | February 22 -28 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

The Trader Joe’s supermarket and wine store on E. 14th St. are opening soon.

Grandma, Trader Joe’s and good ol’ ‘two-buck Chuck’

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

My grandma called me again last night. “Kara, did you hear?” she asked. “There is a Trader Joe’s opening in Manhattan. And it is going to sell wine, they have whatever you want there.”

“Yeah, that sure is exciting,” I play along, although this is the third time she has told me, a fact which has less to do with her age than with her passion for her favorite grocery store.

My grandma is very excited about a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, even though she has one near her house in Long Island and takes me there whenever I visit. For my part, I wouldn’t mind having the self-described “Unique Grocery” closer, but it is less appealing for me than my occasional Long Island visits due to the fact that my grandma always pays. Still, the food is good, the selections good, the frozen-food selection is great, the prices cheap and, by all accounts, the wine will be very cheap.

They are famous for the Charles Shaw wine, which sells for $1.99 in California and is known as the “two-buck Chuck.” Although the price is a little higher outside of California, it is always under $5.

Trader Joe’s is scheduled to open sometime in the next two months in the New York University-owned Palladium residence hall near Third Ave. at 142 E. 14 St., and the wine store will be next door at 138 E. 14 St. in order to comply with wine-license regulations. Trader Joe’s will join what is rapidly becoming a grocery-shopping destination in the area around Union Square. According to Trader Joe’s spokesperson Alison Mochizuki, they are very excited to come to Union Square.

Trader Joe’s began in 1958 as a chain of convenience stores in Southern California. Then, in 1967, owner Joe Coulombe decided to expand the store’s offerings to include gourmet and health-food items and to give the chain a unique feel. He decked the store out in a nautical, pirate-theme (hence the name), labeled the store manager “captain,” assistant manager “first mate” and salespeople “crew members,” and made a Hawaiian shirt the official store uniform. Although Coulombe has since sold the chain, the store retains his trademark sense of whimsy.

Trader Joe’s has been the subject of books and studies because of its distinctive business approach, but the store is known for keeping a close guard on information about itself. The chain produces its own brand of food, but rather than simply make generic versions of popular products, they make exclusive products that cannot be found anywhere else. By doing this, they create brand loyalty while at the same time selling the products for the price of generics.

They also cling to their sense of humor. For example, their line of Mexican food is called Trader Jose’s, the Italian, Trader Giotto and so on. The chain also puts a premium on having friendly, well-paid employees.

All in all, the store makes everyone feel special and saves people money.

Trader Joe’s now has 250 locations in 19 states. The 14th St. stores will mark the first New York City location.

The other weekend, as I was laden with Trader Joe’s bags on the way home from a visit to Long Island, a woman approached me as I was getting off the subway while transferring in Brooklyn.

“Is there a Trader Joe’s near here?” she asked, barely able to contain her excitement.

“Soon,” I told her. “Soon, indeed.”

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