Well, I wasn't one of the first in line this morning to enter the new Salem (Oregon) Trader Joe's on opening day.
But I got there early in the afternoon, which is pretty damn impressive for a retired guy like me -- especially since I indulged in a 30 minute nap just before I left, expecting that I'd need all my energy to fight the crowds cramming the aisles.
The reality was sort of like I anticipated, and sort of not. Here's photos of my Trader Joe's shopping visit, with accompanying narrative (and some comparative price analysis).
The parking lot seemed full when I drove up. I lucked out, though, when a car drove off at just the right time. Thank you, Trader Joe's goddess.
Nearing the front door, the excited Salem shoppers' energy grew more intense. At first I thought a crowd was lining up to enter the store.
But most of the people outside Trader Joe's were seniors who seemed to be waiting for a retirement home bus to pick them up.
By "seniors," of course, I mean people whose hair color was the same as mine. I just was able to drive up in a Mini Cooper S rather than a bus, for which I'm thankful (keep bringing me good health karma, Trader Joe's goddess).
My first thought upon entering the store and glancing to my left, at the checkout lanes, was "Uh-oh. Glad I'm not in a rush."
The lines were long. People seemed happy to wait, though. After all, Salem has waited a long time for this Trader Joe's to open. (See here, here, and here.) A few minutes standing in front of a checkout lane -- no big deal.
Just a few feet down the first aisle, I realized that I had entered a strange shopping land. Seeing the sign, at first I thought "Wow! Organic bananas for 29 cents a pound!" Then I noticed the arrows: that's 29 cents each.
I guess this eliminates the need for weighing produce at the check-out counter. But it makes it tough to compare prices.
When I got home I weighed an organic banana that I bought at Fred Meyer for 84 cents a pound. Our postage scale put it at about 5.25 ounces. That means at Trader Joe's I could get three bananas that size for 87 cents, making the Fred Meyer and Trader Joe's price nearly identical (three 5.25 ounce bananas are almost exactly 16 ounces, a pound).
Hmmmm. I guess nectarines cost that much each (69 cents) this time of year. But this shows how pricing produce individually, when you're used to paying by the pound, can be off-putting.
I like nectarines. Knowing that each of the little juicies would cost me 69 cents, though -- that caused me to walk on by.
I found the chips display a lot more interesting. One of the appealing things about Trader Joe's is their great store brands. I bought some unusally low fat (4 grams per ounce) TJ tortilla chips that were fried, not baked. And they taste great.
The wine department was on the final aisle, the way I shopped. The Charles Shaw bottles, a.k.a. "two buck Chuck," obviously had been popular with buyers all day long.
Knowing the nickname for Charles Shaw wines, I looked around for the exact price. And kept looking around. Couldn't see a sign anywhere. Until...
I looked up. The price was hidden in plain sight. $2.99. Wow! I bought three bottles, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. I just opened the Merlot. It's not bad. Tastes better than I'd expect a $3 bottle would.
A few years ago The New Yorker had a fascinating article about Fred Franzia and his Two Buck Chuck -- which really was $1.99 back then. I recall reading that it scored well in taste tests against much more expensive wines. Which makes me feel good, because I hardly ever pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine. Now that Trader Joe's is in town, that might become $3.
Here's the contents of my shopping cart. Taking the photo gave me something to do as I waited in line for a register. Chips, coffee, wine, and fruit. That's what I focused on during my first Trader Joe's shopping excursion.
Being a vegetarian, I wasn't interested in the store's meaty stuff. And since I had some other places to go on a fairly warm day, I didn't pay much attention to the refrigerated and frozen stuff. But I'll be back... for sure.
LifeSource Natural Foods, I still love you. You've got some competition in town, though. I'll be shopping at both Trader Joe's and LifeSource from now on. Along with Fred Meyer, which also is going to be competing, albeit to a lesser degree, with Trader Joe's.
Case in point: organic raisin bran is a big part of my life. Almost every afternoon I have a small bowl, often right before my senior citizen nap. I bought a box of Trader Joe's Organic Raisin Bran Clusters, which I'd never tried before.
Getting home, that was the first thing I opened up. Yum! I liked it quite a bit better than what Fred Meyer sells, Nature's Path Organic Flax Plus Raisin Bran. Here's the two side by side.
The Trader Joe's box (on the left) is considerably bigger, 20 ounces, while Nature's Path is 14 ounces. Cost: Trader Joe's is $4.29, Nature's Path is $3.99. That translates into 21 cents an ounce for Trader Joe's organic raisin bran, and 29 cents an ounce for Nature's Path organic raisin bran.
So Trader Joe's brand is 33% cheaper. Plus, it tastes better.
I've heard people say, "Trader Joe's is just a place where yuppies buy their overpriced snooty food." I disagree, based on my first solo shopping trip (previously I've gone with my wife a few times; she's an even bigger Trader Joe's fan than I am).
Seeing who was shopping at Trader Joe's on opening day, there was an evident eclectic mix of people. Young and old. Well to do and penny pinching. Fit/trim and barely making it down the aisle.
Trader Joe's does have a lot of healthy items, many of which are organic (which usually are pricier than non-organic). But it also has many low-priced store brands. And plenty of comfort foods that make no claim to healthiness.
Welcome to Salem, Trader Joe's.
Based on your opening day, you've going to enjoy a long and profitable stay here. Your almost entirely local staff were efficient, friendly, and appealingly casual (I liked the evident absence of a dress code).