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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Eager crowd flocks to Trader Joe’s Tampa opening

Enthusiastic customers crowded around the doors of the new Trader Joe’s in South Tampa, eager to shop at the quirky grocer’s first location in the Tampa area the moment it opened at 8 a.m. today.

Last week, Sue Gerig told the manager at Sam’s Club that this was the last week he’d see her. This morning at 7:30 a.m., she was in line at Trader Joe’s, waiting for the grand opening.

“Everywhere we travel, I go to Trader Joe’s,” she said, sipping some of the coffee the store employees were handing out. “I’m 69, but I’m strong as an ox and play tennis four or five times a week, and it’s from healthy cooking and healthy foods. And Trader Joe’s helps me do this.”

Her daughter, Adriane Jacobsen, stood next to her in line, shivering a bit because she left the house so quickly she forgot a coat

“Every time people found out I was going to Sarasota, they’d ask me to pick up things from the Trader Joe’s there,” she said. “I became a Sherpa.”

By 7 a.m., there were 60 people in line. By 7:45, the line totaled 110 and the parking lot with 70 spaces was full and police closed it off.

Jennifer May, perhaps customer No. 3, picked out lettuce. “Isn’t that boring?” she says. “Maybe I’ll get wine next.”

“Whole Foods and Fresh Market are so expensive.” she said, ”but this is so much less and so healthy.”

Tycie Watkins drove from Valrico before work and among other things, she picked up 13 jars of “cookie butter” called “Speculoos.”

“But this is not just peanut butter,” she said. It’s a mixture that the label says is “A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits.” As Watkins says, “Oh my, it’s good.”

Trader Joe’s stores tend to be much smaller than other major grocery chains, spanning roughly the size of a Walgreen’s drug store. Yet they attract near fanatical loyalty among customers. The California-based chain makes many of its own foods, ranging from frozen dinners to exotic sauces and even paper towels.

The site in Tampa at 3808 W. Swann Avenue places the store in the heart of one of the area’s more affluent neighborhoods.

As for prices at the store, here’s one comparison. A gallon of whole milk is $4.19 at Publix, $4.08 at Walmart and $3.69 at Trader Joe’s. A dozen eggs are $1.09 at Publix, $1.98 at Walmart and $1.79 at Trader Joe’s.

Casey Hewins lives directly across the street from the Trader Joe’s parking lot and she received 11 text messages from friends, asking to park in her front yard Friday for the opening.

“I’m a pretty open person,” she said. “If they ask, sure, they can park here.” She strolled over to see the opening event on Friday, and took home the free reusable shopping bag the store was handing out to neighbors. “I may wait for the buzz to fade, but I’m definitely going to be a shopper, at least for those nights when I don’t feel like cooking dinner.”

Rachel Smith manages the Star Gate Academy day care center across Swann Avenue from Trader Joe’s, and was grateful the Tampa police were directing traffic away from their parking lot. “It seems fine today,” she said. “But we’ll see how it goes when the police aren’t there. Hopefully it all dies down a bit.”

Marissa Manchin manages the South Beach Tan salon that opened in December, directly adjacent to Trader Joe’s, and said her store has enough parking for their customers — but not more. “We’ll have 170 or more people a day come through,” she said. “So far, it’s not too bad. Some days we can get pretty crowded, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Trader Joe’s has opened in Sarasota already, and plans other stores in the region, including one on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg.

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