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What a Difference a Year Makes

August 3, 2012

Today is a hard day to have a food blog in the Capital Region, especially if you happen to be hundreds of miles away from Wolf Road. Because today, that thoroughfare lined with chain restaurants and shopping plazas is the epicenter of the Albany food universe.

If I were in town, I would have woken up early and trudged my tired tush down to the Trader Joe’s parking lot, and hung out with the crazies who I suspect will be gathering before sunrise to be among the first inside the new store. The thing is that they aren’t crazy. It’s just that the desire for this market has been so deep, and it has been unfulfilled for so long, that the first opening of those doors will be a magnificent release.

Surely to many, stepping foot in our very own Trader Joe’s will bring palpable feelings of joy so strong that it might approach ecstasy. Others will want to see what all the fuss is about and will come just to check it out. I fall firmly into the former category, and when I finally do step foot in the shop (I’m hoping to do so on Sunday), I suspect that despite the horrific parking, it will be difficult to wipe the silly grin off my face.

Do you want to hear something funny? August 3 is an auspicious date. Okay, that’s not actually funny at all, but I’ll tell you why I would say say such a thing.

It was exactly a year ago today that I wrote the post State College is Getting What? This was an irate piece about how a small town in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania defined only by its large university was getting  a Trader Joe’s, and Albany wasn’t even on their two-year plan.

That was a year ago, and the State College TJs still isn’t even open. It’s not even expected to open until the end of the year.

Oops. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Really, I have no idea what happened to change their mind. And frankly it doesn’t even matter. We’ve finally got our own Trader Joe’s. That means I no longer have to buy overpriced olive oil after my strategic reserve–from trips to distant TJs in other states–dries up. It also means that I’ll be able to buy some of their frozen foods too, which I haven’t done for about five years.

Back in California, Trader Joe’s was a regular part of my grocery shopping routine. And leaving it behind, I felt like I lost a bit of myself as well. Now it feels like I’m getting it back. TJ’s isn’t just another place to buy food. It is a little piece of my old life in my new home.

If that doesn’t make you happy, I totally understand. And if you’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s before, it may take a while before you learn to love the place. I say this from direct experience. For several years in California, people kept on telling me about the glory of TJs. And I never got it.

But by the time Young Master Fussy was born, it had become indispensible.

Sorry I’ll miss all the other die-hard Trader Joe’s fans at the opening today. Please drive safely. For the love of God, don’t try to pull into Trader Joe’s by turning left across traffic on Wolf Road. And for all that is good and holy, when leaving the parking lot, don’t even think about turning another direction besides right onto Wolf. It may be inconvenient for you, but doing otherwise is guaranteed to snarl up traffic for everyone else.

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If you were inspired to check out the archives based on the prescience of last year’s post, here are two more for your consideration:
Two years ago today on the FLB: Writing a Letter to Chefs
Three years ago today on the FLB: Old Dogs

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2012 11:11 am

    It sounds interesting, I must say, but I still don’t get the hype and euphoria. From what I’ve heard, you can’t really do your grocery shopping there — you can cherry-pick, stock up on certain things, but their variety isn’t enough to buy a whole week’s groceries. Not to mention that the location isn’t terribly convenient.

    Still, I’m glad to have the option, and I’ll probably go check it out sometime. But what I really, really don’t get is the people who went today. It’s like Jesus has come back and is doing a one-day-only appearance or something. Seriously, people, IT’S A GROCERY STORE. It’ll be there tomorrow, and next week, and next month. They’re not going to run out of all of the things and never, ever restock the store ever again. It’s just nuts. Why create that sort of madhouse, and why be part of it?

    • August 5, 2012 3:53 pm

      It’s like Jesus has come back and is doing a one-day-only appearance or something.

      I’m pretty sure Wegmans fever would outrank even that.

  2. August 3, 2012 12:47 pm

    I am more than a little agoraphobic. One of the things I relish about my career is that I work at night and have days off during the week. This affords me the opportunity to experience the world outside of the normal “9 to 5” type day. I schedule my trips to the gym/mall/grocery store/etc… when I know that the places are going to be near empty and my wife is a stay at home mom so it doesn’t matter much to her when we go. Grocery store on the weekend? I would rather drill my own teeth.

    I will probably drive by Trader Joe’s on a Tuesday at 2:30 or something, but if it looks even slightly annoying I probably won’t go in. Last time I went into a Trader Joe’s I left with nothing but a bag of peanut butter pretzels and an empty feeling inside anyhow…

    I much prefer to frequent smaller establishment for most of my day to day needs, even if it forces me to spend a bit more. I like going to Rolf’s, the Delmar Market, even Price Greenleaf (instead of Home Despot for yard stuff). I know that I won’t have to be around a horde, I won’t get jostled, and I might get to ask an un-rushed question (don’t give me that Trader Joe’s employees are friendly line, they are what they are).

    I only except going to Price Chopper because it reminds me of being a kid. I understand all the justifications for liking Trader Joe’s, but as I said before, I still think the place is just another nail in the coffin for all the little sorts of stores that I like to go to.

    I don’t understand how you can spend so much energy supporting places like the new Cheese Traveller or All Good Bakers in one breath, and then evangelize for Trader Joe’s in the other. Places like Trader Joe’s put places like the Cheese Traveller of All Good Bakers out of business. I know you will give me a line about there being “room” for all these businesses, but I would argue that this is not the case, especially around here. People have limited funds/time to obtain their “luxury/novelty” food items. Why go to Cheese Traveller to buy your splurged upon cheese if you already got it (along with your whacky, frozen, thai sauced, peanut noodles or whatever) at Trader Joe’s?

    Bah, I will continue to play the devil advocate on this issue. I am not indulging an adolescent urge to be contrary and jumping on any anti-Trader Joe’s bandwagons. I just don’t think it is a good idea, nothing to be done about it (or the rest of Wolf Road and the innumerable facsimiles throughout the land), but not a good idea nonetheless.

  3. August 3, 2012 2:57 pm

    The cheese at Trader Joe’s is no threat to the Cheese Traveler. None whatsoever.

    You speak good words, Mr. Dave.

    • August 3, 2012 4:18 pm

      Yeah, I could have picked better examples but I was writing quickly.

  4. Jenna C. permalink
    August 3, 2012 5:01 pm

    I just returned from my first trip and it was great. The traffic was no worse than any other day on Wolf Rd, with traffic cops keeping things moving along surprisingly smoothly. I found a parking spot after one turn around the (small) lot and as I walked in noted 2 more spots open up. Grabbed a shopping carriage and walked right in. Was it busy? Yes, very. But no busier than when I visit the Natick, MA store on my way home for Christmas. Staff was enthusiastic and helpful as always. Tearing open bags and boxes and inviting people to try things.

    Above, KB asked, “Why create that sort of madhouse, and why be part of it?” As someone who was a part of it (although it fell far short of the madhouse I expected), I feel equipped to answer, at least in regard to my own intentions. I like TJ’s a lot, and was excited that we now have our own. Oftentimes, people like to share space and energy with other folks who are excited about the same things. Everyone was in high spirits, smiles all around, and it was fun. People get wound up about all kinds of things I don’t get (Phish, handbags, football). This was my thing.

    I think there is room for all of these places and (for me at least) they are different kinds of destinations. I live in Troy and work in Latham. I will not drive to Delmar on a Tuesday night for a loaf of sandwich bread (AGB isn’t even open then). I will go to TJ’s and get my sandwich bread, some snackies, and some organic milk, over in Colonie and be home 15 minutes later. AGB and The Cheese Traveler get my business on a Saturday when I want a yummy, local foodventure.

    Daniel, I hope you enjoy your first visit when you get home. I did.

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