Come here. Closer. Closer. OK, too close. That’s better. I’m going to tell you a secret.
I don’t get the appeal of Trader Joe’s.
Pardon me while I recoil in shock over the sound of scream of horror and disbelief echoing through the blog-o-verse.
I know. I KNOW. Trader Joe’s is all that and a bag of store-brand chips. They make the best frozen lunches in the world. They sell great cheap wine (well, in normal states they do. In my state, Maryland, with its weird liquor laws, they do not.). Trader Joe’s is grocery Mecca!
Really? Is it? What part of it? What should I be looking for? Because I have no idea what I’m supposed to buy when I walk in there.
Let me give you a little grocery background that might illuminate my apathy. I come from Rochester, New York which is the hometown of a grocery chain called Wegman’s (people in areas with Wegman’s locations are now hearing the sound of Heavenly Hosts singing to them as beams of light shine down). Wegman’s is…oh, how do I describe it? OK, you know how you might need to plan a big event, like a wedding? You can get everything you need for a wedding, including possibly a groom, inside Wegman’s. They have flowers, catering, gourmet bakery, party supplies, bulk food for buying Jordan almonds for favor bags, a sushi bar, homemade pasta, and gorgeous produce, all on site. They sell everything. This is not a joke. Just look at the map of their flagship store.
And no. I am not, nor have I ever been on Wegman’s payroll, which was actually pretty unusual in my home town. Everyone worked for Wegman’s because they had great scholarship programs for their employees.
Anywho, Wegman’s is my baseline for all things grocery. The bar? Is high.
But, admittedly, Wegman’s can be overwhelming and you don’t always want that much of an experience when trying to grocery shop. And also, the nearest Wegman’s is a two hour drive from my house so you see the problem. Enter recommendations for Trader Joe’s. It’s supposed to have all the charm of a little mom-and-pop store with tons of fun gourmet prepared foods and the convenience of being absolutely everywhere.
So, about once a year I get the itch to check out Trader Joe’s and join the love-fest. And every time I do it? I am left baffled. Every Trader Joe’s I have been in is kind of small, crowded and hard for me to navigate. They’re not laid out for browsing and I end up jogging through the aisles dodging Trader Joe’s veterans who are elbowing their way in to get to their favorite stuff while I squint in the generally direction of the labels and try to figure out if what I’m seeing between the other enthusiastic shoppers is a the Item That Will Fulfill My Dinner Desires For All Time or if it’s just a bag of frozen vegetables, nearly identical to the ones I could be buying at Giant only with a funkier bag.
I made another one of these annual treks this past weekend and the same thing happened only with the addition of a woman who had apparently come to Trader Joe’s to lean on a shopping cart and talk on her freakin’ phone while standing in the middle of the aisle where she was most definitely NOT SHOPPING, but rather was taking up valuable space. The icing on the Rude Phone Lady cake was the evil looks she kept giving me whenever I had the audacity to try and reach around her to pick up an item off a shelf.
I did successfully purchase some frozen food that has been making appearances on my dinner table this week. And it’s tasty. And it wasn’t too expensive. But I’m not overwhelmed. And I really hated trying to shop in a store where everyone is so excited to be there that they feel at home enough to use it as their personal call-center. So this coming weekend you’ll probably find me in the freezer section of Costco instead of Trader Joe’s.
But I’ll be dreaming of Wegman’s the whole time.