The Trader Joe’s seduction

by YES! Staff


Mayor Robbie Perkins said Food Lion has bought out the lease from owner DDR Corp. to keep out a competing grocery store.

So essential is access to a decent grocery store to residents’ quality of life that both the current and former representatives of District 2 in northeast Greensboro launched their political careers attempting to court a new tenant after Winn-Dixie pulled out of the Bessemer Shopping Center nearly 15 years ago.

And still, no grocery store. How cruel, then, that a proposed development project with only rumored involvement by vaunted specialty grocer Trader Joe’s has prompted heated opposition from residents seeking to block further commercial incursions along the affluent Friendly Avenue corridor.

It would be silly to ask Trader Joe’s to locate at the Bessemer Shopping Center, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest the vacancies left in the wake of former anchor tenants Harris Teeter at Golden Gate Shopping Center and Borders at Oakwood Square.

The reasons why this will never happen hold a lesson about the lopsided advantage commercial property owners, often publicly traded companies with global reach, hold over municipalities. Most significantly, the average household income of the 75,000-plus people who live in a threemile radius of the Friendly Avenue location next door to Harris Teeter is $72,163, compared to $60,554 in the vicinity of Golden Gate and $49,308 near Oakwood Square.

Golden Gate is bracketed between affluent Irving Park and historic mill villages, while Oakwood Square is within reach of both exclusive Sedgefield and a scrappy conglomeration of low-wealth, multi-racial communities. Residents in either area would enthusiastically support the store, and Trader Joe’s choice demographic in the Friendly Avenue area would drive across town.

As it happens, Golden Gate can be crossed off the list, even if Trader Joe’s were inclined to consider it. Mayor Robbie Perkins said Food Lion has bought out the lease from owner DDR Corp. to keep out a competing grocery store. It seems an ominous move on the part of DDR, which tells investors in a brochure that it wants to derive more than 90 percent of its net profit from “market-dominant shopping centers… with strong demographic profiles.” In other words, Golden Gate looks expendable.

Perkins is absolutely right when he says that Trader Joe’s doesn’t need to come to Greensboro and if they don’t get the location they want they’ll go someplace else. But the benefits of the development are dubious. A Trader Joe’s spokesperson declined to comment about any aspect of the rumored deal, including whether the company has signed a letter of intent, how many people it employs and what wages it pays. It’s entirely conceivable that the land will be rezoned and Trader Joe’s won’t come at all. Worse yet, the new shopping center could end up cannibalizing an existing strip mall to attract an anchor tenant.

There’s no doubt that Greensboro residents genuinely and enthusiastically want Trader Joe’s.

But before we get consumed in the chase let’s remember that, at bottom, this is not about civic prestige, but indulging a company’s greed and reinforcing patterns of geographic wealth disparity. YES! Weekly chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration