Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hype and Hysteria at Trader Joe's

Are people in Bend crazy? It's hard to draw any other conclusion from the spectacle of more than 100 of them standing outside in the

Posted By on Thu, Apr 3, 2008 at 11:31 AM

Are people in Bend crazy? It's hard to draw any other conclusion from the spectacle of more than 100 of them standing outside in the cold and rain last week waiting for the grand opening of Trader Joe's.

According to news accounts, some loonies actually spent the night in cars in the parking lot so as to be first inside when the doors opened.

Trader Joe's, whose arrival in Bend has been anticipated by the public and covered by the local media with an enthusiasm and exhaustiveness that would be appropriate to the Second Coming, is, basically, a supermarket.

According to its entry in Wikipedia, Trader Joe's is descended from a chain of 7-Eleven-type convenience stores established in Southern California in the 1950s. The founder, Joe Coulombe, decided he needed to distinguish his stores from others of its ilk; hence the name change, the move to stock the shelves with more unusual items and gimmicks like having the employees wear Hawaiian shirts.

The formula worked: Today there are almost 300 Trader Joe's stores in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and they racked up total sales of $6.5 billion in 2007. In 1979 the chain was sold to the German billionaire Theo Albrecht.

Trader Joe's own website has a glowing description of the store's wonders:  "Just what is this thing we call Trader Joe's? Well, we're a grocery store, sure, but really so much more. Our shelves are stocked full of delicious foods and beverages from the basics like milk, bread and butter to more exotic fare like imported cheeses, organic produce and hand-tossed pizza from Italy."

But The Wandering Eye visited a Trader Joe's in Portland a couple of times and was not exactly bowled over. It just seemed like a cluttered, rather grungy little market with a vast selection of cheap wine from makers we had never heard of.

To try to find out what the big hubbub was about, The Eye ventured forth to the Bend Trader Joe's on Saturday. We didn't stay too long because the crowds inside induced feelings of claustrophobia, but the overall impression was the same as we had in Portland - a cluttered little market with lots of cheap wine. (The Bend store isn't grimy, but then it's barely been open for a week.)

The Eye's verdict: Trader Joe's is a nice addition to the local retail grocery scene, and giving consumers more choices is always a good thing.

But does it deserve all the hype and hysteria that preceded it? Hardly. Either our local media are unusually gullible or the people on Trader Joe's PR and marketing team are world-class geniuses.

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