For years, Trader Joe's- deprived Coloradans wondered when this retail shopping mecca would bless our state. This week we learned that we would soon have an embarrassment of riches: The metro area will soon have not three but four stores, all slated to open some time in 2014. That still gives customers time to anticipate the wonders ahead -- and the developers an opportunity to fix a few of the problems you find at just about every Trader Joe's. Yes, even I, one of the
worst most loyal, brain-glazed Trader Joe's cult members, can find fault with the mother church.
Here are five things I really don't like about Trader Joe's -- an embarrassment of bitches. The endless samples of asparagus risotto and Dixie cups of chai latte make up for a lot, but not everything.
5. Part-timer employee health care going...going...gone
Trader Joe's offering affordable health-care coverage to its part-time employees was one of the major things that set TJ's apart from other food retailers with less exalted reputations, but according to a leaked staff memo dated August 30, 2013, Trader Joe's will no longer be providing health care for workers employed under 30 hours a week. According to the memo, Trader Joe's CEO Dan Bane says the company will cut part-timers a check for $500 in January 2014, and help guide them toward finding a new plan under the Affordable Care Act. TJ's will continue to offer health benefits to employees who work 30 hours a week or more, but the rest of the lot are shit outta luck.
Congratulations, Trader Joe's: The $500 check is nice and all, but what would be much nicer for your workers is to not cave in to Wal-Mart-style worker disregard and keep them in health insurance.
4. There is never, ever a big enough parking lot.
For those of you who have never had to navigate a Trader Joe's parking lot, here's a free tip: If you think the lot at Whole Foods is a demilitarized zone, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Yoga moms and soccer dads turn feral the second they hit the lot, and their fuel-efficient hybrid cars are set to kill -- not stun. You could be beaten about the head and neck with a fake Gucci handbag over the last shopping cart, or have a half-empty water bottle full of Crystal Light hurled at you for daring to scope a parking spot someone is already casing. And watching someone try to park a Chevy Trailblazer into the crevice between the store wall and the bicycle rack is almost as much fun as trying to do it yourself.
If you are smart and pack a rolling cart on the bus to travel there and back, then crack open an organic cane-sugar-sweetened soda, sit back and watch the madness with the Benny Hill song on your iPod.
3. It does rather reek of smug inside TJ's.
If the parking lot at Trader Joe's whiffs of suburban anarchy, then the inside of the store gives off the unmistakable odor of smugness -- not the everyday, recognizable smug of folks who brought their own biodegradable shopping bags, but the ripe, putrid stench of smug that is normally reserved for wine drinkers and PTA members. If you've never had a conversation by the cheese island about how public school lunches and why over-privileged tots deserve goat cheese medallions, prickly pear juice and 27-grain artisan crackers, then the pleasure will truly be all yours.
And if you value your version of reality, try not to spend too much time chatting with other shoppers in the beauty and hygiene aisle. The smug alert is usually at higher levels over the health benefits of using the 27-grain toilet paper.
2. The stores aren't charming so much as cramped. The Trader Joe's stores are diminutive compared to other retail grocery spaces -- around 10,000 square feet -- and you can't get through an aisle without smacking into at least three other people. The tiny shelves and end caps are stacked with boxes, bags and cans in unstable pyramids just begging to be toppled, and may the devil help you if you stop for a nanosecond to look at something, because on a good day you will be cart-nudged, and on a bad one asked less-than-politely to move your dried-apricot-loving ass out of the way. Trader Joe's doesn't use mini-spaces to be charming -- it wants to get you in and out (leaving your wallet contents) faster than married sex, because this makes the company more money.
When it comes to basic shopper comfort, Trader Joe's is way closer to Scrooge McDick than Santa Claus.
1. There is no Joe.
Sadly enough, there really isn't a "Joe" at Trader Joe's, and hasn't been for years. In 1979 TJ's founder Joe Coulombe sold the company to German supermarket bigwig Theo Albrecht -- whose family is akin to the Waltons of Germany. The Albrecht family also owns a gem of a bargain-basement grocery chain called Aldi, and if the business models for both companies look similar, that's probably because they are (with the exception that you don't have to pop a quarter into the shopping carts at TJ's...yet). Cheap -- and non-transparent -- product sourcing, small spaces and a big-box chain marketed to an eager public as your friendly, neighborhood specialty grocer makes up the fractured fairy tale that is Trader Joe's.
The only Joe here is the average Joe Blow who craves the mango-infused granolas and microwave cheese fondue cups that Trader Joe's cleverly markets, and so long as every Joe keeps blowing at least a hunny on every trip to TJ"s, there is no need for change.
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I'll take my five sample cups of soy chai now, please.