What’s the matter with Trader Joe’s?
Obviously, not everything. It’s doubtful the company that owns and operates equally cult-like, cut rate grocer Aldi would expand into the Kansas City market if things weren’t going pretty well. Yet while much has been said about Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck wine ( still selling for $1.99 in Tucson but a buck more in KC) and its generous return policy, little has been written or reported about the actual Trader Joe’s shopping experience.
"It’s hell," says 30-something Topeka mom Kimberly Gerlach, recruited to check out KC’s twin TJ’s. "It’s just hard to shop there."
Put another way, the shopping experience at both Trader Joe’s here is a cluster fuck.
Gerlach’s bottom line after back-to-back visits:
"I’d go there again for wine and produce, but that’s about it. I hate it, I hate the shopping experience. And I hate that bell they’re constantly ringing at the checkouts up front because they add to the chaos."
The primary problem: the constant bustle and kinetic shopping pace that pervades both stores.
"It’s noisy–it’s really noisy – irritating, actually," Gerlach says. "I don’t want to be in here very long. I want to get in and I want to get out. I mean, it’s nice to see things like chocolate-covered potato chips but…"
Wheeling a cart through Trader Joe’s at Ward Parkway is like playing adult bumper cars. The store’s are small compared to most supermarkets, and even with mid-level traffic, there’s simply no standing still and pondering your selections. Too many other shoppers are anxiuously whizzing by, anxious to jam into to the exact space you are occupying.
It’s uncanny, actually…
"It’s the most anonymous grocery shopping experience I’ve ever had," Gerlach says. "I mean, you’re so busy looking out for other people that you don’t even see people as fellow shoppers. You see them as obstacles. And I myself feel like an obstacle to others in their shopping experience.
"I go to grocery stores all the time and it isn’t this loud and I don’t feel like I’m in a race to the finish. Here, I feel like if I don’t laser in and scoop something off the shelf, I’m done for. I can’t stop to think about what I want to buy. I don’t like the atmosphere – it’s too hectic."
How hectic is? So much so that even a Trader Joe’s manager racing a massive dolly loaded to the gills and followed by another cart carrying TJ staffer barrels through a crowd of wary shoppers with the warning: "Gotta go, quick!"
"I don’t get to enjoy looking and shopping for food because I’m always in the way of someone else," Gerlach says. "And someone else is always in the way of me. I think even people who like the store will agree it’s a shitty shopping experience."
The wildest thing to go down at Trader Joe’s Ward Parkway to date?
"Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies was in," says TJ checkout dude Shawn. "He was at Knuckleheads one night and was just out shopping."