Checkout Challenge

I hope that every super- market executive in the country sees these pictures. What they show is the checkout line at the Trader Joe's grocery ...
by | November 1, 2006

Trader_joes_3 I hope that every super- market executive in the country sees these pictures. What they show is the checkout line at the Trader Joe's grocery that recently opened in my D.C neighborhood. What they also show is how starved urban neighborhoods--even well-to-do ones like mine--are for high-quality, reasonably priced grocery store options. Note to CEOs: There's gold in them thar cities!

The dearth of urban grocery stores is one of the most frustrating aspects of American city life. Grocery chains seem to believe that dense urban neighborhoods are more trouble than they're worth--or at least more trouble than plopping down cookie-cutter stores onto suburban parking lots. Safe, formulaic thinking drives these decisions. Still, I've never understood why CEOs of grocery chains have been so willing to ingore so much pent-up demand in the cities. Crack the code to big-city retail and big profits will follow.

Trader_joes_2_1 Our new neighborhood grocer seems to get this. I know: Trader Joe's has a cultis h yuppie following. But this particular store understands city retailing like no other I've seen.

The space, in the first floor of a new condo building, is relatively small. So we use compact double-decker shopping carts rather than mongo suburban-style SUV carts. There's parking in the building for those who choose to drive. But there's also a phone by the exit for calling taxis.

And the checkout clerks don't shoot funny stares at people like me who stuff most goods in a backpack for the walk home.

Of course, waiting in a long checkout line like this one is a drag. Which is why I'd like to see some other grocery chains give Trader Joe's a run for its money. Get on with it, free market. Do what you're supposed to do.

UPDATE: Downtown Seattle gets its first supermarket in generations. (Seattle Times)

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