TAMPA — It doesn’t take much to get a conga line of cars started outside the entrance to South Tampa’s new Trader Joe’s grocery store.
Even at midday Friday, cars stacked up repeatedly trying to get into and out of the store’s crowded parking lot off Swann Avenue. Just inside the lot, store workers wearing bright orange vests worked traffic control, using red and green paddles to direct new arrivals to spaces moments after they freed up.
The scene was similar Saturday — but with even more traffic. Two months after Trader Joe’s opened at Swann and South Dale Mabry Highway, the iconic grocery store continues to create traffic tie-ups among shoppers flocking to it. Afternoons and weekends, the backups reach the half-block to Dale Mabry and beyond.
It might not seem like it to anyone navigating the claustrophobic lot, but Trader Joe’s 70 parking slots are well beyond what the store needs under Tampa’s building code, said city planning director Cathy Coyle.
City code requires commercial properties like grocery stores to provide four parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of floor space. By that math, the 13,000-square-foot store needed just 52 spaces. “They are way overparked,” Coyle said.
In addition, a Trader Joe’s representative emailed the Tribune, “We have contracted offsite parking for our crew.”
But even all this doesn’t meet the demand of the Trader Joe’s faithful.
Lucky for them, there are more parking spaces across Swann at the Einstein Bros. Bagels shop.
While the tanning salon next to Trader Joe’s has large signs promising to tow trespassers, Einstein Bros. has parking to share — 24 spaces in the back lot, to be precise.
“We don’t do any towing,” said store manager Lucito Cesar.
It helps that the bagel shop is busiest in the morning, when Trader Joe’s traffic usually is light.
Cesar said Trader Joe’s traffic has lightened up since the days immediately following the long-anticipated store’s opening.
“In the beginning, it was a big issue,” Cesar said. “But now it’s better.”
Except for the carts.
Customers tend to leave Trader Joe’s shopping carts in the Einstein Bros. lot, which means someone has to take them back, Cesar said.
Although the parking lot is marked only for Einstein Bros. and Burger King next door, some Trader Joe’s shoppers have no qualms about parking there and walking across the street.
Ayele Hunt of St. Petersburg was one of those hot-footing it across the street for a Trader Joe’s fix.
Hunt saw the traffic problems in simple terms:
“Everywhere I go in Tampa, there’s a parking issue,” she said.