NAPLES — Thousands of shoppers made a point to stop by Trader Joe’s in North Naples on Friday, the first day of the unique grocery chain's first store in Florida.
Hours before the store's opening, hundreds of people patiently waited in a line that snaked around the entire back of the Granada Shoppes building.
The new store completes a grocery hat trick of sorts in North Naples for area foodies intent on procuring the latest culinary items and hard-to-find products. Trader Joe’s is less than a mile away from Whole Foods, which opened in September 2008 in Mercato, and the first hybrid grocery store/cafe for Publix that opened in October 2010 in the Marketplace at Pelican Bay on the southwest corner of U.S. 41 North and Vanderbilt Beach Road.
First in line Friday morning was Mike Williams, who said he arrived at the new store about 5:30 a.m. after driving from Fort Myers. Familiar with shopping at Trader Joe’s from previously living in Seattle, Williams said he had the day off from his job at Southwest Airlines.
“Might as well come and go shopping, right?” Williams said.
Williams and Orlando resident Maria Branham, the second shopper in line, were invited to hold ends of a long, red lei, standing in for the traditional ribbon, while local store captain Bernadette Pauls cut it with scissors to open the new store about 7:55 a.m. Setting a tropical theme, the brief, informal event included steel drums entertainment.
Hundreds of shoppers — many fanatics transplanted from elsewhere in the nation — crowded into the store and were greeted by cheering, clapping “crew members” in tropical shirts who welcomed guests by putting multicolored leis around their necks. Three shopping carts full of leis were handed out within 20 minutes, and then all the shopping carts and hand baskets were gone.
Branham, who drove down from Orlando with Mandy Delacruz, is a Trader Joe’s groupie of sorts, having visited at least 10 different TJ stores in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Cleveland; Nashville, Tenn.; New York; Washington, D.C., and other cities.
“I’ve been to a lot,” she said. “and more to come.”
This is the first opening day Branham has attended of a Trader Joe’s, where she said she shops for one-of-a-kind deals.
“I like the uniqueness of the products they have here. You really can’t find them anywhere else,” she said.
The new store, which occupies about 14,000 square feet of a former Borders bookstore, has a retro look inside. The California-based company’s mom-and-pop business model is a throwback concept based on a time before supermarkets carried everything under the sun.
“We like that neighborhood feel — comfortable, casual,” Pauls said.
Hand-painted murals, reflective of the local community, surround the store’s upper walls. Pictured are the Naples Pier, a sunset with palms, a beach scene, a swamp buggy, the Everglades, a waterfront restaurant, sailfish, dolphin, alligators and a Florida panther. The dairy section features water-skiing cows overhead.
Hand-lettered signs and labels on shelves complement the old-fashioned look. One aisle end-cap labeled “Look What Washed Up” features new items, such as Joe’s O’s, a dark chocolate-covered oat cereal snack.
Prices don’t fluctuate at Trader Joe’s. Bananas are always 19 cents each. Bottles of Charles Shaw wine are always $2.99. Aisle endcap displays will regularly change to feature different items, but the store does not have specials or weekly deals.
“It’s not a sale. They’re everyday values,” Pauls said.
Kip Allen, a Bonita Springs seasonal resident who said the new store will be an asset to the area, quickly snapped up five cartons of the “Two Buck Chuck” wine Friday morning. He and his wife, Cheryl, were replenishing the wine they bought at Trader Joe’s in Cleveland, near their home in western Pennsylvania.
“It was quite timely,” Allen said. “I just opened my last bottle of Merlot last night.”
Allen’s shopping cart was loaded with full cases of wine of four different varieties and one mixed case.
“It’s a very good drinkable wine at a reasonable price,” he said. “It’s inexpensive, but not cheap.”
In the rear of the store, shoppers sampled chocolate cake in an area called the Dockside Galley. The store kiosk provides demonstrations daily, offering meal suggestions and an opportunity to taste Trader Joe’s food and beverages.
Shoppers are encouraged to discover unique products, 80 percent of which are marketed under Trader Joe’s private labels. Crew members are empowered to open any of the store’s 2,000 to 2,200 individual products if patrons want to sample something.
The store also has a money-back guarantee on any of its products.
“For any reason, you can bring it back, no matter what,” Pauls said.
On Thursday afternoon, Trader Joe’s and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement formalizing the grocer’s support of the coalition’s Fair Food Program, averting the group’s planned protest outside the store Friday.
As part of the agreement, Trader Joe’s has agreed to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, and to comply with the coalition’s Fair Food code of conduct, which is taking effect this season for 90 percent of Florida’s tomato fields to better conditions for workers.
Naples resident Steven Valdivia, who has shopped for many years at Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles and Albuquerque, N.M., because the stores offer “a little exotic world flavor,” said the company is a good neighbor in supporting the local farmworkers.
“I love ‘em. Thank you,” he said. “I feel like a soul mate with them.”
Trader Joe’s, 10600 U.S. 41 N., just south of Immokalee Road, is open daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.