The Facebook page dedicated to attracting a Trader Joe’s to Boise recently hit 4,000 “likes.” The developers of the 500,000-square-foot CenterCal project in Meridian have been promoting their development to the retailer. They say they’d be honored to have Trader Joe’s move in.
But like a shy maiden, Trader Joe’s coyly deflects direct questions. Representatives for the company, which is based in Boston and California, won’t reveal anything about Trader Joe’s take on Boise (if there is one) except to say the Treasure Valley is not in the company’s two- to three-year plan.
This hasn’t deterred Jared Buff, 35, from trying to find out more. Buff keeps the Facebook campaign strong, stoking the hopes of Treasure Valley-ites who share their Trader Joe’s stories on the page. An association manager by day, Buff hopes all the love on Facebook will kindle Trader Joe’s interest in Boise.
What is it about Trader Joe’s, anyway? Why are Boiseans practically begging for a store?
I think it’s the air of giddy delight that permeates the company’s marketing. Trader Joe’s is a large corporation with grocery stores all over the United States, but you wouldn’t know it to walk through one. Products come in creative packaging, with fun names like “reduced guilt guacamole.” Labels and guides (“for the culinarily curious”) are illustrated with lighthearted sketches bearing a Monty-Pythonesque irreverence.
The food itself exotic, imaginative, artisanal, often organic, vegan, kosher, or gluten-free.
But great artisanal food can be found in the Treasure Valley’s ever-growing collection of health food and specialty food stores, such as the Boise Coop, Rosauers, and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. As most foodies are now aware, Whole Foods is opening a store downtown this year.
What Trader Joe’s has, and those stores don’t, is a quirky air of fun. Sure, the air of fun is carefully calculated – the kind of fun that has been tested in front of focus in a corporate office, but it still makes rolling a cart through the aisles something of an adventure.
But it’s time to face the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t interested in Boise. Perhaps we just don’t have the critical mass of foodies they need – or the critical mass, period.
So forget Trader Joe’s. Someone else needs to start a quirky market that offers intelligent and humane nutritional and cooking narratives on its website. It’s time for someone else to introduce a substitute for the famed Two Buck Chuck, a perfectly respectable wine beloved by many Trader Joe’s fans. It’s time for someone else to create a food store with labels and prose that appear to have been written by humans, not an office full of corporate communicators.
And it’s time to stop talking about Trader Joe’s on Facebook and bring that talk into the real world.
Find those Trader Joe’s Facebook friends. Find out what they want that they’re not getting at the other Boise-area food stores. And then start planning your store.
Future Boise store developer, wherever you are, you know you have your critical mass. Trader Joe’s has organized that part for you.
Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of Idaho Business Review.