At its grand opening on Oct. 18, there was instant gridlock as hysterical shoppers tried to shoehorn into a totally inadequate parking lot outside an unusually small, boutiquish grocery store that serves up bizarre products such as Aged Goat Gouda and Spicy Seaweed Ramen.
Desperate cultists and newcomers alike parked everywhere, including along South Dixie Highway, abandoning their cars to race inside to worship at the free coffee bar or purchase Spelt Risotto. More than 50 vehicles were towed.
This shocked unprepared Pinecrest officials and nearby merchants, all of whom reacted as if they’d been smacked in the face with a Trader Joe’s pumpkin pie.
“There’s no way we could have anticipated this,” a police supervisor said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” complained a store manager who battled Trader Joe’s customers over parking spaces in front of his establishment next door.
Are you kidding me? If our elected leaders, police, Village zoning and planning gurus had done an ounce of easy research about the inevitable impact of an iconic establishment instead of burying their noses in archaic zoning codes (no doubt shivering with excitement knowing they’d soon be able to savor Trader Joe’s Creamy Toscano Cheese Soaked in Syrah), they would have figured out what was going to happen. Why? Because it is well documented publicly that the same thing happens every time Trader Joe’s swoops into a community.
Everywhere! A simple Google search that my eight year old grandson could have done in five minutes reveals a pattern of this planned chaos all over the nation, which is Trader Joe’s corporate strategy:
LOS ANGELES — In a story headlined “The Five Worst Trader Joe’s Parking Lots in LA”, the popular “LA Blogging” website rips the stores’ tiny parking lots that create “traffic jams from hell.”
FOREST HILLS, NY—A local newspaper reports that after a year the parking nightmare continues: “Be prepared to fight for a parking space in the miniscule lot with surly drivers who have blood in their eye.”
DENVER — The Denver Post reveals that Trader Joe’s was offered a prime location with tons of parking, but rejected it for one that had fewer parking spaces. A columnist writes that going to Trader Joe’s is like “entering a war zone where drivers use their cars as weapons and will fight to the death if someone tries to take a space about to be vacated that they want.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Trader Joe’s cancelled plans to build a store in the city’s Castro District, a trendy area if there ever was one, when outraged residents and merchants, who’d done their homework, charged the chain’s proclivity for creating gridlock and inadequate parking was not acceptable.
HUFFINGTON POST — A columnist muses, “Years ago, I made peace with the notion that I will likely meet my demise in a Trader Joe’s parking lot.”
The quest for low cost, yuppie-friendly staples such as organic blue agave sweetener and exotic, affordable luxuries — Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai limeand- chili cashews — apparently knows no bounds for those willing to beat themselves with chains and suffer indignities just so they can be the first on their block to buy Reduced Guilt Spinach & Kale Greek Yogurt Dip (made by Stonyfield Farms in New Jersey, by the way).
Don’t get me wrong. Trader Joe’s is a charming, eclectic store with great prices staffed by pleasant employees. I am thrilled it is here and have already shopped there. But why the draconian corporate strategy of ghoulish traffic jams and cramped parking lots that make people upset before they’ve even had a chance to buy a Trader Joe’s Turkey Meatloaf Muffin?
“Even though Trader Joe’s is a billion dollar corporation,” says Mark Mallinger, a Pepperdine University professor who has done research for the company, “They try to pop. A lack of parking is part of it.”
In some of the 344 locations in 25 states where there are Trader Joe’s, neighboring businesses have been hurt economically because former customers now avoid the area due to the parking debacles that never seem to end.
A business owner in Albany, NY next door to Trader Joe’s suffers in purgatory every day of his business life. He must feel as if he’s under a constant barrage of Trader Joe’s Star Spangled Lemon Tarts.
“The only thing worse than Trader Joe’s next door,” he laments, “would be a football stadium, Disney World or an Apple store.”
In late 2012, Pinecrest jumped on the Trader Joe’s comestible bandwagon by approving the 13,800-square-foot facility, incredibly small for what is, after all, just a grocery store. Formerly occupied by Borders Books, parking was inadequate there too, as it is next door in Dadeland Plaza.
Village planners, noses buried deep in musty codes without a clue of what is happening in the real world, concluded that such a boutique emporium only needs 56 parking spaces and Trader Joe’s would have 89.
“You don’t require extra parking based on popularity,” said Mayor Cindy Lerner. “That’s not in the zoning code.”
No bureaucrat could have said it better, revealing total ignorance about the traffic hurricane that was about to hit Pinecrest. Trader Joe’s executives knew exactly what was coming. They planned it. They got precisely what they wanted.
I don’t fault the Mayor or the Council as much as I do their support staffs. They are supposed to factor in all intangibles along with zoning laws. Clearly, that did not happen and the Council apparently never asked for an impact analysis of a business with a now routine and well known (everywhere but Pinecrest, apparently) scheme to create free-for-all bedlam to boost profits. Nothing wrong with that, but our leaders should have known what a mess they were fomenting and stop making excuses now that it is a fait accompli.
Come to think of it, why didn’t the Mayor and the Council do a Google search themselves? Just askin’.
For what it’s worth, five days after Trader Joe’s opened in Pinecrest, I screwed up my waning courage to venture into the war zone at 4 in the afternoon. It wasn’t so bad. I only had to wait 15 minutes for a parking space. Civil order prevailed thanks to two Pinecrest police officers directing traffic, three Trader Joe’s security guards controlling the parking spaces and tough looking guys hired by surrounding businesses to guard their parking lots. No one threatened to kill me when I got out of my car and the employees couldn’t have been nicer.
But if the Pinecrest police hadn’t been there… Ike Seamans is a 28-year resident of Pinecrest and a retired NBC News correspondent. He is a frequent contributor to the Tribune.