Everybody loves Trader Joe’s. This is the upshot of what I have heard over and over in the weeks since the California-based grocer announced that it would open this year on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street in Cobble Hill.
Last Saturday, I decided to find out for myself exactly what makes the chain so alluring, so different than, well, any other grocery chain.
I went on the investigative mission with Dad, a loyalist of the store who is fond of saying that its Hawaiian-shirted clerks are the only corporate wage-earners in his life that have never done anything to make him distrust them.
We arrived at the suburban Long Island store 24 hours before a high-anxiety family barbeque. Lucky for him, the trip was easy on the nerves, and we arrived home laden with ground meat, burger buns, soda and the requisite crunchy, pseudo-healthy snack items for which Trader Joe’s is known.
The trip was a success. We got what we needed and got out, headache-less and only negligibly poorer. A clerk further enamored my father by telling him, quite randomly, that he didn’t believe that Lee Harvey Oswald had killed John F. Kennedy.
“Clearly a set-up,” the clerk said, pouring my dad a shot-sized sample of the store’s fair-trade coffee.
But I don’t think it’s only wired clerks and cheap, low-fat blue corn chips that people are falling in love with at this grocery store. I think it’s something deeper. I believe that people go to this place of Hawaiian shirts and green tea–flavored yogurt to cavort with their consumer selves without feeling bad.
People love to shop for groceries. Even children love it. I remember poring over coupons that came stuck in the Sunday newspaper, knowing that if I just found the 50-cent-off coupon for Special K, I could wrangle a brand-name breakfast out of my budget-minded mom.
Trader Joe’s summons up that feeling in me. It’s a kind of shopping that can makes you feel like you are saving money at the same time as you are spending it. Better yet, at Trader Joe’s even the hamburger buns are labeled organic.
There is also the illusion of choice. Supermarkets display myriad versions of the same product. In retrospect, it was that illusion that made those Value Shopping trips so exciting to that dependent, minor me.
The difference now is we’re the adults paying for that box of Special K, coupon or no coupon. Well, unless Dad comes along. So having a Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn is good for another thing: family bonding.
Ariella Cohen is a staff reporter at The Brooklyn Paper
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