In which Trader Joe’s and I bury the hatchet

In the interest of full disclosure, when Trader Joe’s first came to the old home state, I was indifferent at best. And then I shopped there a few times, found it organized in a way that didn’t make sense to me, not much better price-wise than the regular grocery stores, and generally overwhelming and my indifference turned to animosity. That people who didn’t live near a Trader Joe’s would send grocery lists with friends who would be traveling past one blew my mind.

Also, when I found out one July that the chocolate truffles are seasonal and that season is winter, I almost punched a kitten in the face.

So for many years I have loathed Trader Joe’s and saw no reason to change my mind on this.

Then we moved to Virginia and the Trader Joe’s (Traders Joe’s?) abound(s?). I found myself slipping into the Old Town location now and then, for the wine, and always under duress. The place frustrated me with its big, bubbly signage that is hard to read, its constant rearranging of products, and the stupid conveyor belt-less check out lanes. Plus, the orchids are by the dog food…what? Why? What?

And so I bought our wine there and continued to hate it.

But then I noticed that flowers were a good price, a better price than our corner Safeway. And nicer looking. Target, where I do 94% of all my shopping, doesn’t carry flowers. Well, maybe I could stand to get a bunch of tulips when I come for wine.

And then I started to host one of my book clubs more often, and the cheese and cracker options at Trader Joe’s really were second to none, and decently priced and without the additives and preservatives in my standard Target choices. Well, since I’m already stopping in for wine and flowers, I may as well get cheese and crackers, too.

Soon I was buying all of our wine, flowers, cheese, and most crackers at Trader Joe’s. On a semi-weekly basis. And we eat a lot of cheese.

Then I realized that .19 cents per banana really is a deal, and those were often in our cart when we checked out. Then so was the broccoli. And then the coffee.

Still, I would have called my relationship with Trader Joe’s cordial, but not friendly. Not even the cookie butter had swung the pendulum as far as friendly.

The staff at our Trader Joe’s is kind, and each time we go in, the little oyster is greeted with smiles and pinches and happy chatter. I soon realized that these people are happy to be there and they love to see a jolly little girl roll in, applauding other shoppers and dancing along with the music that is always playing. More than once we’ve been in an aisle minding our own business and heard, “There she is!” as one employee brings another to meet “the cutest baby you’ve ever seen.”

It has certainly seemed for some time like Trader Joe’s wanted to be friends with us. But I wasn’t willing. Mostly because it’s always crowded no matter what time of day we go, they still use that stupid bubbly, colorful signage that makes my brain twitch, and the dumb cash registers! I can’t see what my kid is doing, find my ID for the wine, make pleasant conversation back at you, put the nice paper bags into my cart, and still remember to pay!

I figured that Trader Joe’s and I would always be on speaking terms, but never truly friends. We’d be those classmates who go to school together for 13 years, don’t mind working together in chem lab, but would never end up at the same lunch table, much less each other’s houses. But after months of dancing around the subject of whether or not we could really become friends, something happened today that settled the debate for good and in the affirmative.

Today I discovered that Trader Joe’s sells milk for $2.99/gallon.

You know what, Trader Joe’s? You can put your orchids and dog food wherever you want, I’m just going to help myself to a few of your $2.99 gallons of milk, move my flowers and wine and cheese in the cart to make room for them, and be on my way. Good buddy.

Floating on my cloud of new friendship with the place, the oyster and I checked out at one of the lanes quaintly named after the picturesque streets of Old Town. And suddenly the no-conveyor-belt thing didn’t annoy me so much. What’s the point, really? Who needs a conveyor belt? You just hang on to my bags on that side of the counter until after I have paid you and have room for them in my cart and we’ll be golden. No harm, no foul, no petty larceny. Ahh, my friends.

Also, our cashier today pointed out the prominent bite marks on the cheese he was ringing up and asked if they were from my shopping companion or if I would like to choose a new piece of cheese. No no, said I, we broke it, we bought it.

Also, our cashier today pointed out the prominent bite marks on the cheese he was ringing up and asked if they were from my shopping companion or if I would like to choose a new piece of cheese. No no, said I, we broke it, we bought it.


The oyster and I got our parking slip stamped (oh yeah, our Trader Joe’s and its parking lot are half-way underground because that’s the only place left to put anything around here) and waved at other departing patrons–my sisters! my brothers!–as we gamboled back to our car.

One thought about my new friend still niggled in the back of my mind. The signage. The unreadable signage. Trader Joe’s signs are like a unibrow. I know that other people find it quirky and endearing. I find it puzzling, hard to look at, and not something I’d ever go for. But what I call difficult to understand, someone else would call a style choice.  And on a friend, like my new friend Trader Joe’s, I can respect a style choice. Especially when my friend sells me milk for $2.99 a gallon.

I’m so glad we’re friends now, Trader Joe’s. Unibrow signs and all.


Let’s play a game

If you watched Sesame Street as a kid, this game will be familiar. It’s called “One of these is not like the others” and the goal is to identify which item in a set is the odd man out, the one that doesn’t belong, the one that is not like the others.

One of these is not like the others, one of these just doesn’t belong….

1. Which of the following prices is NOT one that I saw for standard 12 oz. of bacon at Giant this week?
a. 6.69
b. 5.99
c. 2.79
d. 5.29

2. Which of the following prices is NOT one that I saw for a plain old loaf of bread at Giant this week?
a. 4.99
b. 5.59
c. 4.89
d. 2.99

3. Which of the following items was on sale at Giant this week?
a. hotdogs: 5/pack of 8
b. milk: 3.79/gallon
c. strawberries: 4/quart
d. coffee: 8/12 oz. bag

OK I don’t want to play anymore because I just realized that this game is about as fun as shopping at Giant. Lots of stuff around here is expensive–and even in the old hometown there were stores and accompanying prices that made my eyes bug out–but I don’t think I blinked once while my eyes plastered themselves open at the horror of Giant’s prices.

When we first arrived in this place, we shopped at Harris Teeter. Expensive, mostly, but they had great sales, and the produce was excellent. After a few months I realized that what I couldn’t get at Target could probably be had at the Shoppers Food Warehouse next door, and sure enough, I was right. So then we started shopping at Shoppers and our debit card thanked us.

Then we moved to Alexandria, saw the Safeway around the corner, and asked someone about it. She said it’s the strangest layout you’ll ever see in a store, and to go to the Giant that was just a little further up the road. We went on Sunday evening for a few essentials and last night I went back for more long-term food, only to leave the store practically in tears (if my eyeballs hadn’t dried out from staring in terror at the prices) as what should have been, in a normal person’s world, $25 worth of groceries rang up twice that. And I used their bonus saver card and bought the off-brands.

Yesterday’s shopping trip brought on my first sense of impending doom, my first inkling of panic that being one-income in this area was going to be impossible, that we are going to starve and never have a couch. Then I remembered that God hasn’t left us hanging yet, and He won’t start now. Turns out there’s a Shoppers about two minutes down the road from the Jolly Take-Your-Green Giant, and yes, everything we need this week, from fruit to bacon, is on sale.

I also calculated my final paychecks from the new old job incorrectly, and I get one more than I thought I did. Hi couch, we’ll see you in two weeks.

Of course I’m still looking for work but I’m going to a volunteer meeting at a pregnancy center two weeks from now and who knows? Maybe they’ll need a new office manager or front desk person. I’m friendly, I can answer phones, and who wouldn’t want another pregnant lady relating to them? I ask you.

In the meantime, I’m going to contemplate putting my lovely work clothes and shoes on craigslist, make my Shoppers grocery list, and see what Target has on sale this week to fill in the gaps.

Answers: 1-c, 2-d, 3-a and c. Yes, they sell regular old bacon for almost $7/package and $4 is a “sale” on strawberries. It’s funny, now that I know I don’t have to shop there.