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FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 – TJ’s Explained

April 5, 2011

The response to day one of the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 was very exciting. Today I want to step back a little bit, explain a bit what I’m trying to do here, and answer your questions and concerns about the first two items of the ballot.

There are a lot of reasons I write the FUSSYlittleBLOG. Despite all my griping about the area, it is my sincere wish to improve the quality of life in the region. Personally, I think improving a city’s food does more than just satisfy people’s palates. I can save the soapbox talk for later. Maybe All Over Albany will even let me borrow theirs.

This poll plays a role in that effort by attempting to expose people to some of the places that are truly the best in the region. Case in point, chezjake who says he’s a regular reader of Table Hoping (the major food blog in the region) says he had not even heard of three or four of the restaurants on the slate. That’s a problem.

Having a Trader Joe’s open in the region is consistent with the larger goal of the blog. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people who live around here stock up on their favorite TJ’s staples whenever they are returning from a more civilized city. It is disheartening that we do not have one, and perpetuates the perception that Albany is a Podunk town.

But that is just for starters.

In the first FUSSYlittleBALLOT I also urged people to write in an out of state business for best grocery. Last year it was Wegmans. What follows was my rationale then as for now, why it makes sense to tinker around with the Best Local Grocery Store category:

One might argue that only stores that actually have locations within the Capital Region should be receiving votes in this poll.  And it is a very valid point.  The vast majority of the ballot is for local businesses.  But in Albany, there are only two major grocery chains and Walmart.  Traditionally it has been a horse race between Price Chopper and Hannaford.  Yawn.

People’s grocery shopping habits are pretty fixed.  If your favorite local supermarket gets robbed of the 2010 Times Union seal of approval, absolutely nothing is going to happen.  There is a lot more at stake for other smaller categories.  So if there is any place to take a stand about change, it is here.  If a grassroots effort landed a third grocery chain that has no presence in the market on the Times Union’s list, it would send a strong message.

I reject KB @ Home-Baked Happiness’ notion that campaigning for a business I would like to open in the region is “bitter whining.” There is little tolerance for whining in the Fussy household. What I’m doing is quite the opposite of whining. I’m actively engaged in trying to make it happen.

I also reject the notion that Hannaford, Price Chopper, Honest Weight Food Co-op, Pioneer Market, or The Fresh Market are top-notch grocery stores. Yes, each has its strengths. But they also all have significant weaknesses. Frankly I wouldn’t even put HWFC in a grocery store category, but I was more than happy to include them under Best Health-Food Store. They will win that category handily, and be able to enjoy the next year touting their 2011 Best of the Region medallion.

Now here’s the part about the wine. Yes, New York State law forbids selling wine in grocery stores. So how can a reasonable person vote for Trader Joe’s in the category of Best Wine Store?

Easy. You can either look at BJ’s locally or Trader Joe’s in New York City to see how it’s done. Essentially you create a store within a store that just sells the wine. It has a separate register and a separate entrance, but it can be housed within the same building.

Much like the grocery category the wine category is pretty stable. Empire has a strong track record of taking the number one spot, followed by Exit 9. While both of them have large selections and good prices, I personally would rather buy my wine at All Star Wine.

But this ballot is not about my own personal preferences, and I can’t state that enough.

Best teacher, media personalities and otherwise non-reviewed categories were for the most part assembled looking at the results of the past three years of reader’s choice poll results. In those instances where this historical information could be cross-referenced with online reviews or the actual writing of bona fide journalists, it was.

Hopefully today’s post has explained the decision to include Trader Joe’s on the ballot twice and has given you a bit of comfort in supporting the more quixotic part of an idealistic campaign. Despite what Bill said, it is not painfully obvious to me that TJ’s does not want to come here. I believe they ultimately will, and it’s just a matter of time.

Doubling down by including TJ’s in two categories is just a smart way to try and achieve a secondary goal of this effort. Getting them to crack the top three of either category in the Times Union poll this year would be huuuuuge.

Thank you for your consideration. And don’t forget the Tour de Soft Serve is coming. Mark your calendar for Saturday, April 9 at noon. We’ll meet at the Snowman. More details to come later this week.

And finally, for those who concern themselves with such things, you have just finished reading my 600th post. The next big milestone is less than a month away on May 1, when the FUSSYlittleBLOG turns two years old. They grow up so fast.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2011 9:16 am

    I agree with your rationale for TJ’s as a grocery store, and I like it better than Wegman’s. I’m far more likely to go to TJ’s in Hadley on occasion to get staples, and then get my perishables at the Co-Op and Cardona’s. (It doesn’t hurt, either, that my in-laws live one town over from the Commack TJ’s, and we visit them once every couple months or so). I was on the fence, but you sold me. I still disagree about the wine shop, though, by your rationale for the grocery stores. Unlike in the grocery store category, we DO have some top notch wine shops in the Capital District.

    • April 5, 2011 9:18 am

      That is, I like the movement better than putting down Wegman’s, as it is closer to being “local” than Wegman’s and is certainly easier for people to make trips to “stock up.”

  2. April 5, 2011 9:20 am

    The other provision in New York State’s wine law is that you can’t own more than one wine and liquor store. No chains. As far as I know, the Trader Joe’s wine store on 14th Street at Union Square in NYC is the only one in the state. And unless TJ’s or BJ’s has found some sort of loophole where they get a third party to own the store-within-a-store (I’m not sure whether an arrangement like that would be legal… I think they wouldn’t be allowed to use the name), the impression I’ve got is that little ol’ Albany might actually have the only BJ’s Wine & Liquor store in the state.

    I voted for The Fresh Market. Sorry. I sided with the ballot on most food votes. I know The Fresh Market’s not perfect–TJ’s is certainly better priced–but I would rather award the company that’s decided to invest here. We can stick our tongue out at Trader Joe’s corporate office and tell them that we’ll spend way too much money at their competitor, because they’re not willing to bring their wares here. Their loss. Good for The Fresh Market.

  3. April 5, 2011 11:34 am

    I really really see where you’re coming from with this. Because TJ’s is my absolute favorite grocery store. But the problem is I can count the number of times I’ve been there on one hand, and that’s pretty sad. I had to vote for Hannaford, because that’s where I get the majority of my groceries. I do like HWFC and Fresh Market, but there are a few things I don’t like about them. I don’t go to either of those places as much as I would if I lived near them–so I felt obligated to vote for the grocery store I spend most of my time and money in. Now, if only TJ’s would get here already, I would be a very happy girl.

  4. Ellen Whitby permalink
    April 5, 2011 11:19 pm

    From what I understand about how TJs decides where to open, there needs to be a successful precedent. Our HWFC is the first part and second should be the Whole Foods Market that recently opened (that I haven’t been to yet, but it’s on my list). According to what I’ve been told, if similar stores are successful in an area, TJs has more of a reason to think their presence will be worthwhile.

    That being said, I’ve lived in places where there is a TJs and whenever I’ve visited Boston since moving here, I haven’t felt compelled to stop in to stock up. I don’t feel any particular reason to shop there. If it were a kosher deli we were trying to attract (or kosher chinese, or middle eastern), I’d put on my activist clothing and campaign hard.

  5. April 6, 2011 10:06 am

    Daniel, what’s missing from this (unless I didn’t notice it in the previous post) is how you expect any of this to make any difference, even if your efforts are successful.

    The TU (and Metroland) Best Of is a great racket. People get to compete over the brands they “own”, and a few flavor categories even get individuals to compete themselves (I’m looking at you, Best Tweeter). Everyone talks up the ballot, and all the attention funnels up to to traffic and mindshare for TU — Best Tweeter being the perfect example, what a way to start a snowball of people willingly advertising for you, right? In the end, the winners get to stick up a sign saying they’re the best, and everyone’s happy, right?

    But do the awards change anything? It sounds like you’re expecting a dark horse winner to influence those who didn’t win. But can you go back to past winners and show that the title has made any difference to anyone but them? You’re not going to make Golub Corp. sit up, monocole dropping, and exclaim “That’s it! We need to be more like Wegman’s!

    Daniel, I have a grudging appreciation for your outspoken devotion to your opinions. I think you are completely honest and straightforward in your intent and you really believe in what you say. Finding that in the local blog scene is like finding a virgin at the Playboy Mansion. While I think you have good intentions here, I just don’t think it’s going to make the impact you’re looking for. The Best Of is a popularity contest designed to impact the TU’s bottom line. Even if you got some surprising entries in the top three in a few categories, all that will happen is some head scratching before people shrug and move on.

    I like that you fight the good fight, but we only have so many minutes in this life man, make them count. In any case, best of luck!

  6. April 6, 2011 12:54 pm

    I just don’t get the Trader Joe’s fervor. I keep reading posts from people who are all about the TJs but I cannot understand the rabid appeal. I’ve been to four different TJs in three different cities/states and I can’t for the life of me see what the fuss is. Yeah, it’s affordable but it also seems to focus primarily on processed goods. I guess that’s probably why a lot of people prefer it, but it’s definitely not for me. I make almost everything from scratch so for me, large bulk sections and good produce are far, far more important than salad dressings and chocolate-covered nuts.

    (I do, however, confess to really liking Whole Foods, especially the one here in Chicago that has a bar and a separate wine/cheese bar within, along with a community cafe area. )

    I’m not trying to just be a contrarian for the sake of it. Every time I go into a TJs, I leave scratching my head and wondering what the heck I’m missing. And here in Chicago, Two Buck Chuck is more like Four Buck Chuck. For a dollar or two more, I can get a red I like a whole lot better. And the Hawaiian shirt thing is just hokey.

    So what is it? What am I missing? I think I need to go on a Trader Joe’s field trip one with a fan one of these days.

    Anyone care to explain? Bueller?

  7. April 8, 2011 6:08 pm

    As I’ve mentioned here and at my dining blog, I agree entirely with Jess. First of all, NYC didn’t have Trader Joe’s most of the time I was there and I don’t think anyone thought of it as a podunk town. But, secondly, “Yes, each has its strengths. But they also all have significant weaknesses” applies more to TJ’s than to the alternatives. It has some neat stuff (especially if you like ready-to-prepare dinners, which we don’t really do much), but he quality is uneven and there’s a lot of staples it doesn’t have or keeps in stock erratically. I’d rather have one in the Capital Region than not, but I’d be a lot more excited by Wegmans or Fairway.

    But I can see a case for citing it in the grocery store category. But in wine store? I don’t get that at all. I really don’t understand voting for a national chain that is substantially inferior by any standard to the local independents, where you can also get drinkable cheap wine but in the context of much better selection.

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