At long last, the Triad gets a Trader Joe’s

by Brian Clarey

Icouldn’t help myself.

Like everyone else in a 50-mile radius, the opening of the new Winston -Salem Trader Joe’s — the first in the Triad — lured me in with the promise of dark chocolates, gluten-free pizzas, raw nuts, exotic TV dinners and fair-trade coffee.

Where else are you gonna be on a Friday afternoon, when the answer to thousands of collective prayers opens its doors for the first time, when the Triad finally gets its outpost of the civilized grocery experience in a world that looks more each day like one giant Wal-mart?

SUVs jammed the parking lot, and a line for entry crept out the door: youngs and olds, working moms and pregos, hipsters and frat boys, lunch ladies and 60-minute clockwatchers, looky-loos and serious foodies alike, the frumpy, the tanned and toned, the dazed and the intensely focused. Nobody is immune to the allure of trader Joe’s Most of us have been hearing about it for years from our friends in better-appointed cities: the high-end cereals, the Cadillac store-brand merch, the freezer that could fuel an international food court, the Margaritaville vibe.

Trader Joe’s is not a store. It’s a lifestyle exemplified by a wall of cheese and Brussels sprouts still on the stalk. Before I went to Trader Joe’s, I didn’t even know Brussels sprouts grew on a stalk.

I came for coffee, a simple enough errand, but Trader Joe’s has 37 kinds of coffee, arrayed across half an aisle: ground and whole bean, fair trade and house brands, organic and decaf and flavored, roasted across every stripe of the spectrum.

For me it’s a canister of organic, fair-trade French roast, but before I enter the 10-deep queue at the registers, I felt the need to fill my basket.

From a wall of dried fruit and nuts, I selected a bag of raw, unsalted cashews — a great price, and much healthier than the roasted kind. They’re alkaline don’t you know? I also need some chocolate — dark, naturally, with all the salubrious, antioxidant properties my body craves. I select a couple bars from more than 30: one with caramel and sea salt, the other with toasted walnuts.

I also choose between two varieties of peanut-butterfilled pretzels and dozens of organic juices. I went with orange, by the way.

Trader Joe’s touts the twin virtues of variety and affordability. Inside the massive cheese wall sit five distinct varieties of feta. The wall of wine boasts every manner of vintage — the Charles Shaw label, known colloquially as “Two-buck Chuck,” moved at an astounding pace. A long beer shelf holds a similar number of styles.

Quality plays a role here, too. The fresh bread in the bakery exceeds the standards of most grocery chains.

And the selection of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lowsodium, fat-free and kosher items attests to the chain’s commitment to healthy diets.

And I believe I could do some serious damage to the family checking account in a store like this — but not on this day.

Standing in the check-out line with my meager basket, I rein in my desire to spend another $50 on impulse items: honey-sesame cashews, salt-and-pepper chocolates, breath mints that don’t look like breath mints.

The staff, in their island wear, are stressed but still smiling. Occasionally one would ring a brass bell set near each register; its peals would echo throughout the crowded store. I asked about the significance.

“It’s just a fun way for us to communicate with each other,” the staffer tells me. “If someone needs help or someone buys a case of wine.”

My small basket didn’t inspire the ringing of the bell.

Perhaps next time.


Trader Joe’s; 252 S. Stratford Road, Winston-Salem; 336.721.1744;