Tonawanda News

October 17, 2013

KEPPELER: What's the fuss over Trader Joe's?

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I told myself I was going to wait a week. At least. Maybe more like a month. At least until all the hubbub calmed down and the traffic wasn’t a pain.

So I told myself.

Instead, there I was. Standing outside the shiny new edifice on Niagara Falls Boulevard, watching person after person emerge with laden bags and carts stuffed to the brim, and wondering just what the fuss was with this Trader Joe’s place, anyway.

Friends and family from previously TJ’s-blessed locations of the country sang its praises. The organic and vegetarian options! The quirky finds! The cheap wine! Although the last of those wasn’t yet to be in the Amherst location due to state “blue” laws, I was just too curious not to check it out. 

The traffic wasn’t bad. Which doesn’t mean I want to set foot near the place once the holidays roll around, but that’s a long-standing conviction for me about Niagara Falls Boulevard. Neither was the parking lot. And there I was. On the verge of the promised land.

We would see.

Like so many other people in the area, I had to smile a little when the Kenmore Village Improvement Society started its campaign to bring the store to the village. I admired the enthusiasm, I liked the goal; I just didn’t find it very likely. Now, I can sort of see it. I had a mental vision of Trader Joe’s as a behemoth of stores, a monster among food purveyors. It must have been its reputation.

The store on Niagara Falls Boulevard? In reality it’s tiny by today’s grocery store standards. Smaller than Tops, smaller than Wegmans, smaller than Budwey’s or the grocery store in my hometown where I worked as a teenager. Add that to the still new-store congestion and it felt even smaller. Shiny and new and colorful (the murals referencing local sites are a nice touch), but small.

I couldn’t get near the produce. Regretfully, I circled over to the cereal and drifted on from there.

This almost-vegetarian was intrigued by the many vegetarian and vegan options — and even more by the sheer difference of the fare. Apple cinnamon goat cheese? Check! Coconut cashews? Check! Pumpkin croissants (indeed, pumpkin everything)? Check! 

I felt like I had to read every label, to keep looking for the next quirky thing. With that congestion, that was tough. It was like a treasure hunt.

I walked out with some granola, some chicken stock (which I’m told is fabulous), some artichoke ravioli, some ginger mints (which I haven’t been able to find for years) and a few other items. And as I sit here at my desk eating Trader Joe’s coconut cashews, I can see the appeal.

I can’t see doing the weekly Keppeler family grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, not with two small bottomless pits to feed. We already have a store we’re quite faithful to, and we’ll stick with it, thanks. 

But as a treat every once in a while? Oh, yes. That, I can see.

KVIS has taken some flack for how its years-long campaign to bring the store to Kenmore instead ended in Amherst, and how its joyful announcement that a store was, indeed, coming to Western New York wound up being construed by some as claiming credit for a store in the village. (Which, actually, was never the case.) And that they’re still celebrating a victory as the store opened in another municipality.

But, frankly, I say, good for them. We talk all the time about how Western New York needs to think in a more regional manner. It’s not like Lockport residents never visit Niagara Falls, after all, or North Tonawandans never drive into Orchard Park for a Bills game — or the denizens of Kenmore never drive to Amherst.

I don’t know that KVIS brought Trader Joe’s to Amherst. I do believe they definitely got its attention. And if the results weren’t quite as hoped, they were still good for Western New York as a whole. And who knows what other companies might sit up and take notice?

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler.