Today: The Rat Race That is Shopping at Trader Joe’s


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."
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7 Responses to Today: The Rat Race That is Shopping at Trader Joe’s

  1. Hollister says:

    The one in Leawood is less crowded and larger in size. We’re driving in from Cass County anyway so we just go to that one.

  2. HARLEY says:

    shallow idiots
    oh my god…some old lady can’t block out the shopping lane looking for pickled tomatoes…what a shame you shallow people,.
    Have you nothing better to do in life than to worry about shopping in a miniscule store…come on you idiots who cares…its
    a store…you act like its a broadway play or a opera. Is this what you live for…to go shoppoing for shit at trader joes and when
    you find other people with the same lack of life you harp about the experience.
    Get to the store…get your crap….check it out…then get the fuck back home to waste more time.
    You people are pathetic…its the experience!!!!!!!!! How is shopping an experience….
    Hernia…did you make this shit up? Noone would really talk about shopping like this would they?

  3. JayhawkTony says:

    Hollister’s Comment
    The one in Leawood is less crowded for one reason—it can’t sell wine.

  4. Where is my mind says:

    Frank Black is the shit!
    That is all

  5. Hearne Christopher says:

    That’s right, but we swooped thru Leawood yesterday afternoon and it was the same cluster fuck as Ward Parkway.

    You can’t stand still for more than maybe two seconds before another shopper is jockeying to get past or to where you exactly are. The aisles were constantly clogged. I took a half step back from the coffee sample table at the back and practically wiped out a senior citizen that was “following too closely.”

    Look, I go to standing room only concerts all the time and never give it a second thought.

    But it’s distracting (in a lame way) to be trapped in a constant state of annoying alert while engaging in something as mundane as grocery shopping.

  6. Markus Aurelius says:

    someone please remind me why you all actually bother going
    there if it’s so crowded and stressful. I can go to Price Chopper or Hy-Vee with absolutely no stress at 10pm at night and get good, healthy, fair-priced food in relative peace.

    Having the Trader Joe’s logo on food doesn’t make the food taste any better. Reminds me of 7th grade when some believed a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt was better at covering their upper body than the equivalent Knights of the Round Table polo shirt.

  7. Hearne Christopher says:

    Well, for a lot of people it’s the combination of cachet (marketing) and additive free ingredients (allegedly).

    However, the shoppers I interviewed in Tucson last year thot that Trader Joe’s was a poor man’s Whole Foods and a haven for posers.

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