Monday, September 2, 2013

Yesterday My Trader Joe's CLOSED.

Yesterday my Trader Joe’s closed. I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it. How on earth does a grocery store close? It’s such an integral part of your life in a way you completely take for granted. I’d been shopping at my Trader Joe’s for the past 12 years. It was around the corner from me, and around another corner from a Ralph’s. I would often do the one-two punch. Stop at TJ’s for veggies and meat, then to Ralph’s for toiletries and everything else TJ’s was above carrying. Like individual slices of cake. Or trashy magazines. Or your favorite national brand cereal. But I digress.

Anyway, since I’m a dude – a dude with no kids – I found myself at Trader Ming’s a lot. I mean, it was often several days a week. I always told my friends I shopped like a Frenchman. By only buying enough food so that none of it will go bad, I’d be back at the store in two days. Or less. Besides, there’s no need to plan for the week when your store is around the corner and you can be back in 20 minutes or less. Don’t want the salad you have? Go get pizza dough! You know what I mean. Or I’d find myself wandering the freezer section and stumble upon vegetarian Pad Thai. Or crab cakes. Or arctic char! I don’t know about you, but there would be no way in hell that I’d peruse any section aimlessly if it weren’t so close to home.

By being there all the time, the employees got to know me. I’d be at the check stand with frozen broccoli, mandarin chicken and quinoa and the cashier would say something like “Have you tried cooking the chicken in the oven longer than the directions tell you to?” Of course I hadn’t. “The chicken gets all crispy on the outside and it. is. sublime.” They were looking out for you. I would never have found out that the mahi mahi burgers work extremely well with BBQ sauce and cucumbers. BBQ sauce and cucumbers! Who thinks of that shit?! They did. And they told you because they knew you. They really knew you.

The store is closing because one of those ubiquitous mixed-use projects is being built on the land. You know, s few floors of apartments with retail on the first floor. The first floor will not be a Trader Joe’s, even though that would be a killer idea. This is the second time this has happened in the past year in my neighborhood: tear down a grocery store and add more residents to the area. LA city planning is brilliant! If that wasn’t bad enough, there are at least six of these huge projects being built within a half mile radius of that location – none of which have grocery stores planned. The whole things kind of makes me feel like Meg Ryan at the end of You’ve Got Mail, which is weird because I normally feel like Dave Chappelle in that movie [all aware of what is really going on], which is weird because in She Loves Me I feel like the Tom Hanks character. Ha. But at the end of the movie, Meg Ryan’s character says she’s sad about her store closing. And she knows that some writer will chalk it up to it being a testament to the city, and how it’s always changing and that’s what the city is. But she just doesn’t want her store to become something depressing, like a Jamba Juice or a GAP. If mixed-use projects were being built in the 90s, she would’ve said that. Ho hum.

Also – it deserves to be said that Trader Joe’s is not without its fair share of problems… I mean – they will discontinue an item without any fanfare or warning. And it will be something you buy every time you go grocery shopping! Back in 2006 they discontinued the Milk Chocolate candy bar with Raisins and Pecans. They kept the dark chocolate version, but never brought back the original, better version. I was shocked, shocked that they would neglect me like that. Also around 2006, they tried to discontinue the Mushroom Turnovers but that caused an absolute riot from their customers and they were forced to bring them back. They’ve been back ever since. And let’s not pretend that the checkstand experience is anything close to efficient. It’s so bad that I’m astonished when a cashier has their game on. And the parking! It’s said that no matter what Trader Joe’s you’re at, the parking lot is awful. And it’s true. Unless it’s worse. The funny thing about this TJ’s was that the parking lot was decent. Well… decent for a Trader Joe’s. But it wasn’t lot on us, and we were grateful.

I went to Trader Giotto’s twice this week. As the shelves slowly became empty, they’d take them down completely. It was eery and airy, a taste of what was to come. It eased you in. As I was at the checkstand, the cashier gave me a meaningful look and said “It’s the end of an era.” “We’re going to miss you guys,” I said. “We’re going to miss being here,” she said. “Well, good luck to you,” I said. And she looked me in the eye and she knew I meant it. “Thank you,” she said, returning the feeling.

On the final day my Trader Joe’s was open, I decided to go one last time. I didn’t even need anything. I just wanted to be there. They were giving away hot dogs at the entrance. Hot dogs. It reminded me of being a kid, growing up in the south. My grocery store would have hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill outside every Saturday. I had a hankering for pizza, so I got the fresh pizza dough (which is fantastic) and some toppings. It’s funny, that pizza dough is what made me fall in love with TJ’s in the first place. I knew I could get veggies anywhere, but excellent and fresh pizza dough? Game changer. And that led me into discovering their spaghetti sauces. And then their cheeses. And their dairy. And their bread. And their pre-packaged salads that come with a fork. And the wine, let us not forget the wine.

At the checkstand, the cashier – who has worked at that location for more than eight years – asked me what TJ’s I’d be shopping at from now on. I told him and he said, “Good, I’ll see you around then.” I sighed. As I walked out the door, there was a greeter saying hello and goodbye to everyone entering and leaving. He held his hand out for me to shake. I wasn’t surprised. “It really is the end of an era,” I said. “It really is, he said.” We had real eye contact. There was nothing more that needed to be said; everyone was feeling the change.

Seconds later I was in my car. And just like that, I was gone.

And now, something from the xx to send us on our way... ;)

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