Trader Joe's occupies it's own niche in the world of grocers. There's a focus on specialty and unusual items packaged and priced to make them attractive and accessible to as many consumers as possible. And Trader Joe's most famous line, $2.99 Charles Shaw wines, Three Buck Chuck, brings folk to the store just by itself. Trader Joe's sells liquor in the same building as groceries by having a separate entrance and checkout for the liquor department.
Not everyone is pleased to see Trader Joe's arrive in St. Paul's Highland Park. Nearby independent grocery store Korte's Market gathered signatures to oppose the store while the development was being planned, and is now waiting to see what the effect on their business is before they take any action to deal with the competition.
Traffic, a problem plaguing the St. Louis Park location in particular, has been a concern with the latest Trader Joe's, which has an even larger catchment area of shoppers. Most people from Minneapolis, St. Paul or the south metro area who wants to visit Trader Joe's will be coming to the St. Paul location. So far the traffic has been hectic but manageable at peak shopping times.
Union representatives have been picketing the new store this week, carrying signs urging shoppers to boycott Trader Joe's for not employing union workers. Trader Joe's average wages are higher than the average union employee, and the company benefits and retirement plans are available to employees working over 20 hours a week. And it seems that the staff are happier, when the checkout clerks hand me my receipt with the standard "Have a nice day!" they seem to be a little more sincere at Trader Joe's than other chain grocery stores.
Trader Joe's isn't content with four Twin Cities stores. A store is rumored to be planned for Hopkins, and another store on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis is definitely in the planning stage but faces opposition from a store one block north - the Wedge Coop. Trader Joes and the Wedge have a lot of overlap in their target markets and while Trader Joe's doesn't sell co-op staples like bulk produce and carries very few local Minnesota foods, Trader Joe's purchasing power will undercut the Wedge for many natural and organic foods and as a result, the Wedge's business is likely to suffer.
The Wedge is objecting specifically to Trader Joe's application for a liquor license. Liquor is such a significant part of Trader Joe's business that they won't build the store unless they can sell beer and wine in it. Minneapolis has legislation mandating business who hold liquor licenses to be at least 2000 feet apart. Hum's Liquor, across the street from the Wedge, would usually prevent either the Wedge or the proposed Trader Joe's having a liquor license too, but Trader Joe's has applied for an exemption and received the support of Minneapolis City Council in April. If the state and local residents agree, then Trader Joe's will be permitted to sell Three Buck Chuck on the site and the store will likely be built.
It's only been three years since the first Trader Joe's opened in Minnesota, and it is certainly taking the Twin Cities by storm. But are their organic goods for the massses and cheap wine a welcome addition, or unfair competition to independent markets and co-ops?