October 30, 2010

Trader Joe's opens in Portland

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Trader Joe's fans in Maine finally got their wish Friday when the popular grocery chain opened a new store on Marginal Way.

click image to enlarge

Clad in Hawain shirts, Emily Hickey of Gorham, right, holds her son Clayton, 10 months and talks with her friend Liz Hornor while waiting in the checkout line at Trader Joe's in Portland on Friday morning. The long-awaited store opened on Friday morning and drew a large crowd of shoppers.

Portland Press Herald photo by Gregory Rec

Customers started lining up well before 7 a.m. to get into the store, which opened at 8 with a lei cutting, clapping and cheering. By mid-morning, customers were parking blocks away and causing major traffic backups on Marginal Way.

Marsha Marley of Portland arrived at the new store at 6 a.m. with hot chocolate and a book. She said she was there for bargains, and "to get a look at the store."

When Luke Hitchcock of Portland arrived at 7:15, there were still plenty of spaces in the parking lot.

Hitchcock started shopping at Trader Joe's 15 years ago, when she visited her daughter in Philadelphia. In recent years she has gone to the store in Cambridge, Mass., to stock up on Trader Joe's brand products.

"I don't even know if I'll buy today," she said. "I just wanted to check the layout."

As the clock ticked down to opening time, the line grew longer. By 7:40 a.m., about 85 people were standing out in the cold and drivers were starting to circle the parking lot, looking for spaces.

By a few minutes before 8, the line of people curved around the parking lot and had grown to hundreds. People were parking at least a couple of blocks away and walking to the store.

Dan Furst of Scarborough, who runs a designated driver service, had just gotten off work and "would normally be asleep" at 8 a.m.

Furst, who is from California, said he has missed shopping at Trader Joe's since he moved to Portland about 10 years ago. He likes the store's gourmet microwave meals and other products that are not part of his supermarket routine.

"It's the variety of stuff they have here," he said, explaining the store's appeal. "They have things that the normal supermarket wouldn't have."

Peggy Williams, who drove to Portland from Richmond, called herself "a huge Trader Joe's fan."

Before it decided to come to Portland, Williams regularly e-mailed the chain, asking it to open a store here, sent comments to the Federal Trade Commission in support of the Portland store, and joined a Facebook petition to bring a Trader Joe's to Maine.

When Whole Foods Market bought the Wild Oats grocery chain, the FTC's approval of the deal included a requirement that Whole Foods sell off the Wild Oats stores it was closing, preferably to other food retailers that would provide competition.

The Trader Joe's in Portland, just down Marginal Way from Whole Foods Market, used to be a Wild Oats store. Hundreds of Mainers wrote to the FTC asking that it approve the transfer of the site to Trader Joe's. The process took months, and fans of Trader Joe's wondered whether the store would ever make it to Maine.

"I didn't think they were opening until after the holidays," Williams said, "so I actually stocked up on our last trip to New Jersey."

Williams said she was looking for frozen brown rice, low-sugar jellies, cornbread mix, meat and cheeses, and the Trader Joe's brand high-fiber cereal. She said she likes "the fact that I don't have to pay through the nose for good food."

"I have a 4-year-old goddaughter, and we're trying to raise her without high-fructose corn syrup," she said. "Trader Joe's makes it easy."

Robin Buczkowski of Woolwich said she would buy some "soyaki," a soy and teriyaki sauce, as well as cereal, bread and wine. She also brought along a friend's shopping list.

A band played upbeat tunes as a Trader Joe's employee emerged from the store carrying a tray of pastries for the crowd. "Good morning, Portland!" he yelled. "We've got cookies, pastries, muffins, scones."

(Continued on page 2)

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