There’s only ONE Trader Joe’s in the City!?!?

21 Oct

According to Wikipedia, 1.6 million people live in Manhattan proper.  It is the most densely populated area in the United States, with roughly 71,000 people per square mile.  I last lived in Orange County, CA, which is about 34 times larger than Manhattan.  In 2008, there were 3,800 people per square mile living there.  71,000 people v. 3,800 people.  You do the math; that’s a lot of effing people.

Which is why I find it so insanely ridiculous that there is only ONE Trader Joe’s in the entire city.  I know, I know.  I’m showing my foodie/label whore tendencies, but let’s face it, Trader Joe’s is just so much more pleasant to shop at than your regular, run-of-the-mill grocery store.  Everyone’s in Hawaiian shirts, enjoying their day, restocking or cashiering or answering questions in the wine aisle, with joy in their hearts and a spring in their step.  I could be cynical and wonder what’s in the corporate Kool-Aid (or doobie), but I don’t.  I just enjoy knowing that I can shop at TJ’s and count on a pleasant experience.  I might even flirt with a cute tatooed boy or two.

So imagine my horror when I learned that there’s only one TJ’s in Manhattan.  And it’s fifty blocks downtown.  In the basement of an NYU building.  So it’s guaranteed to be crawling with unwashed, hairy hipster types.

I tried my local options first.  Food Emporium is the closest one, which Cityboy prefers for stocking up on basic necessities like bread and eggs.  It is also staffed by the surliest, most unhelpful people ever assembled by mankind.  On my first visit, I almost got into a knock-down, drag-out bitch fight with the cashier.  All because I put my basket of groceries directly on the conveyor belt, instead of taking each item out of the basket and putting it on the belt for her to scan.  Was there a sign specifying this process?  No.  Did she tell me courteously about this process?  No.  What she did instead was raise her eyebrow at me, as if I was some sort of slack-jawed yokel, mutter “You’re supposed to take ’em out of the basket” in an annoyed undertone, and then wait, arms crossed, while I transferred my goods. I almost jumped the conveyor belt to kill her (and I would have enjoyed it).

At Grace’s, also within 2 blocks of our apartment, the food is beautifully arranged, polished and stacked and plumped to show off its best features.  They have over 20 different kinds of olive oil.  All their vegetables are organic.  Their prepared food aisles would make you cry and beat your chest at their loveliness.  Of course, this kind of devotion to food porn comes at a cost.  A very high one.  I spent most of my visit there exclaiming at the prices (in my head because I didn’t want to look like a crazy).  I needed jumbo shrimp for dinner and was shocked to learn that they were almost $28 per pound. I’m pretty sure I could buy two deliciously prepared shrimp dishes in an Orange County restaurant for the same amount.

So I trekked to Trader Joe’s.

trader joes ext

The first interesting thing about this Trader Joe’s is that it is actually two stores:  Trader Joe’s the grocery store and Trader Joe’s the Wine Store.

trader joes wine

This is due to New York’s restrictions on how alcohol is sold.  You can find beer at most grocery stores, but wine and liquor have to be sold at a liquor-only store.  This is totally bizarre to me, since you can buy the strongest, “I have cirrhosis of the liver and I don’t give a crap” stuff almost anywhere in California.  However, this restriction does at least have the positive effect of separating out the boozehounds during your quest for Sunday dinner ingredients.

Beyond this quirk, the Manhattan Trader Joe’s is like any other Trader Joe’s you might encounter…with the one major exception that there are more people shopping this TJ’s than all the other TJ’s nationwide, put together.  You might think I’m exaggerating, but trust me, I am not.

The lines to check out (one for 12 items or less and another for as much shite as you can carry) wrap around the store, as long as 50 to 100 people deep, I’m told.  It makes shopping an obstacle course, as you scramble around and between other shoppers for that last package of fontina cheese or frozen salmon.  And by last package, I mean the…last package.  The first time I was there they were completely out of greek yogurt, with a three foot space of empty shelving to denote where greek yogurt usually lives.  (Luckily I was in line so long that they had time to restock the dairy shelves before I made it to checkout.)

CityBoy and I stopped by one night after a normal day’s shopping.  As you can tell, there was a run on frozen fish.

tj's empty 2

tj's empty

To combat overcrowding, this TJ’s has the largest bank of cash registers I’ve ever seen in a grocery store.  There are at least 15 registers.

tj's checkout

And while the shoppers routinely become cranky after spending so much time fighting for their beloved gourmet pita chips and marinated flank steak, the employees maintain an almost supernatural cheerfulness, chatting about the weather and talking up the chicken taquitos at the tasting counter.

So, despite the hour round-trip commute and the ninja master moves I’ll need to get my fat-free greek yogurt before the next guy, I’m heading to Trader Joe’s.  They had me at hello.

Hoping you have experienced the loving goodness of your local Trader Joe’s,



3 Responses to “There’s only ONE Trader Joe’s in the City!?!?”

  1. Liz October 24, 2009 at 2:39 am #

    I love this. Your writing makes me feel like I am in a familiar place. I don’t mean NY. I mean your writing.

  2. Melissa January 17, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Amazing. You have captured the experience exactly. I just moved from VA, where the TJ’s was a vast open space that you could meander through. Not so with NYC’s TJ’s—it’s one of the most hectic shopping experiences you can have. Yet their selection and prices are worth it, and obviously other people agree. It’s a crime that there’s only one in the entire concrete island.

    • jhointhecity January 18, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

      Thanks, Melissa! I was at TJ’s again on Friday afternoon – the worst time ever to go there, according to the TJ’s staff. There was a line out the door (!!) just to get inside. I could not believe it. Luckily, I was shopping with CityBoy and we were able to hit TJ’s wine store beforehand and squeeze into the store afterward. If you can tag-team shop, it’s actually not the worst experience ever. And everyone is so ridiculously nice, it makes getting bumped by carts, baskets and just plain pushy people not so bad.

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