Miss Wendy and I had finished our Sunday walk – a grueling 6 mile jaunt along the river to celebrate our and the nation’s independence – and were dashing by a local grocery to pick up a few odds and ends. The minute I walked into the store I could see that something was up.
Off to the left in what market aficionados would call, well, aisle 1, there was a huge crowd, cheering and taking photos, everyone in high spirits. Grocery shopping can sometimes be fun, but buying a quart of milk and a loaf of bread brings with it only so much joy.
It took a little jostling and maneuvering to find a slight break in the pack of people, but I managed to peek over and between a gaggle of arms and shoulders and spotted a dozen or so kids around a large table. The youngsters were eyeing huge slices of pie topped with mounds of whipped cream.
The tension in the air was palpable as a guy sporting a flower lei around his neck raised his hand, counted to three, then blew a whistle. Without hesitation or encouragement, the kids dipped their heads and commenced to lap up the gooey mess with gusto.
And, as they say, the crowd went wild. Welcome to Trader Joe’s!
It’s not every supermarket that would take over a corner of one of its busiest aisles for a little fun and games. But that’s what this place is all about. I’m never disappointed when I visit.
The place is filled with the usual sort of stuff – that quart of milk I mentioned earlier and bread. But it’s also got fried rice laced with mushrooms and risotto in its frozen section, exotic brands of coffee and store brand cookies that are delicate and tasty. Trader Joe’s also has a small kosher section, its steaks and brisket – and this certainly is a subjective call, but I’m the one doing the writing here – of better quality than that offered by specialty shops and other nearby chains.
It also features an assortment of ethnic goodies under private labels that are whimsically named – Trader Jose’s (Mexican), Trader Ming’s (Chinese), Arabian Joe’s (Middle Eastern) – bought directly from local and international small-time vendors.
I imagine that if you spend time at the store and work behind the scenes, Trader Joe’s is possibly filled with the same corporate and bureaucratic nonsense that you’d find at other large enterprises. But the employees either manage to hide their angst or actually enjoy working at the place.
They run around the store, casually dressed in jeans and sports shirts, smiling and greeting customers, ringing bells and often giving out special prizes – congratulations, you’re customer 72 today, here’s a bar of chocolate!
On Sunday, the vibe was upbeat and fun. About the only person around who seemed at all irritated by the holiday festivities was me. I wanted to join the youngsters as they licked their plates clean. When it comes to pie, I don’t mind a little public humiliation.