Not far away from us, down on Route 1 in Foxboro, right next door to the Patriot's football stadium, is Trader Joe's. We remember our first time visiting a Trader Joe's in California. Back then, there weren't many Trader Joe's around and it was a real novelty-type store. Today there are close to 500 stores … and it's still a novelty and fun to shop there.
It's a grocery store, so how novel can you get? How much fun can it be? It's just not your usual grocery store, that's all. It's down-to-earth, gourmet, and affordable … even for parsimonious sailors like us. The moment you walk into the bright and airy store, there's an energy and a fun atmosphere. From their funky little newsletter to the murals on the walls and all their unusual products on offer, there's lots to take in. We head straight to the samples of hot coffee and graze on from there. Depending on the day and the season, there might be tastings of cheese, wine, crackers... whatever. It's always good.
Trader Joe offers lots of private labeled stuff which appears to be specific to the region, like Pilgrim Joe's Clam Chowder for the New England market, for example. Their cheeses are wonderful. Chocolate, maple syrup, nuts and frozen foods are usually an especially good bargain. Our favorite offering though is Charles Shaw wines, affectionately known as “3 Buck Chuck”. Yup, a bottle of very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon (or Merlot or Chardonnay) for $2.99. Really? This alone makes the trip worthwhile. Wine connoisseurs hate it, but that's just them. We find it perfectly adequate. The bottles even have corks (though that's a debatable attribute and a discussion for another time).
Employees wear Hawaiian shirts and plastic leis around their necks and seem genuinely happy to be working at Trader Joes. They smile. No one's ever too busy to stop and answer a question or point you in the right direction. It makes customers happy to be shopping and spending their money there. Customers talk and joke amongst themselves. It's a friendly kind of place and brings out the best in people. We compared TJ's employees recently to employees working at the local WalMart who appeared sullen, aloof and generally unhappy. What does that tell you?
There was an article in Business Week about TJ's that stated “the chain quintupled the store numbers and increased its profits by ten times between 1990 and 2001.” Pretty impressive. Incidentally, they're owned by a German trust, the same people who own Aldi's, another interesting, not-your-usual-type grocery store that we really enjoy and that we've visited worldwide from Wisconsin to Argentina to Australia.
Guess if we ever have to get part time jobs, this might be a possibility. Not sure how we'd look in Hawaiian shirts though.