“Did you hear… it’s finally coming!” said a giddy faced friend of mine last winter. What are you talking about? “Trader Joe’s is finally coming!” I thought really, it’s coming here?! I had been hearing about Trader Joe’s since I guess my mid twenties. I had seen it on TV shows, and on food sites. I even heard about it in hushed tones from friends and strangers, and now… it was coming here.
This place seemed more mythical than the fake ID I was supposed to be able to buy from “some guy” for twenty bucks in the combat zone of Boston in the early eighties. So when I heard it was coming to Portsmouth NH I was dubious to say the least. Surely someone had mistaken Trader Joe’s for Michaels or Home Goods or some other such place that Portsmouth already has one of and in my opinion, one too many.
What we need is Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s or at the very least a store that sells twenty dollar fake ID’s. This is so sixteen year old kids don’t have to go wandering the hard scrabble streets of Boston only to be harassed by undercover cops from the local vice squad, and poking around my business of trying to drink one year earlier than the state of Vermont thinks I should.
But since that’s probably never gonna fly, I’m over twenty one now and kids won’t lift their heads from texting long enough to drink anyway… just give me a place that sells frozen gorgonzola gnocchi and three and a half dollar two buck chuck.
In fairness of full disclosure I had been to Trader Joe’s once on a whim in Peabody Massachusetts or Saugus. Or whatever strip mall ridden section of hell that was that I like to call route one between the thirty Sleepy’s mattress stores, and the most confusing misnamed store on the planet Burlington Coat Factory.
I went in and looked around and saw what appeared to be a miniature version of what I imagined a Trader Joe’s should be. I was sure this was an express version of the real thing, as there was little produce and even less meat. I left thinking someday I’d like to see a real one.
The big day was finally here…September 7th. A day that will no doubt go down in the history of Portsmouth as the day Trader Joe’s opened and then there was light…and the light was good. At least that’s what you would think with the amount of press and the number of mentions it was getting on social media.
I wouldn’t go on Friday the opening day as I imagined everybody from grammar school field trips to nursing home activities groups were to be descending upon this place in swarms. I would go on Sunday, when it would be quiet…
I arrived at about 3:30 Sunday afternoon after church, ok after a leisurely brunch and smack talking with a chef friend of mine about the evils of the food industry over crepes and a bloody mary. Something they won’t serve at church… or at least that’s what they said when I asked them. I stepped out of my truck to what looked like the opening of a beehive.
People were standing by the front door waiting for grocery carts for themselves and grocery carts for their kids?! People think McDonald’s was smart for marketing to kids with toys, but Trader Joe’s approach is even more genius. It’s like giving kids the keys to Toy’s R Us and then handing them your credit card! Any parent who’s ever brought their kid down the cereal aisle will know this.
I knew stepping in the door of this place I wouldn’t need a shopping cart as I saw that every single register was fifteen deep with people waiting like sheep to check out, and hoping to be the first in their neighborhood to say “I went to Trader Joe’s.” But why?!
The one I had been to in Massachusetts was just about this same size although this one appeared to have a bit more meat and produce. Meat and produce are the litmus test for my grocery stores of choice…and this place was short on both in comparison.
I wandered the aisles looking at all the processed and frozen foods they had to offer but I didn’t recognize any brands. It was like being in Europe wanting a candy bar and trying to figure out what the hell is the American equivalent of a Lion Bar? Then it hit me… that was the draw.
The things they had were like nothing you could buy elsewhere, otherwise why would you go? Take something simple like tapenade, people in cities take this for granted but in the five grocery stores I regularly frequent I can’t find one blessed jar of this stuff. Yes I can make it, but the convenience factor is what these people are paying for the privilege of.
In the end I walked out knowing I won’t be doing my day to day shopping here. I will be going here for a few interesting snacks to have on hand in the event someone pops in for an unannounced visit, or for when I’m feeling particularly self-indulgent and too lazy to make dark chocolate covered raspberry sticks. Lucky for me I drink Jameson and not vodka tonics. But if I did drink vodka tonics and I needed a few limes plus cookie butter… I know just the store I’d go to.