Trader Joe may have found his way to Greensboro, at last.
The trendy specialty grocer with the fiercely loyal following had been rumored, off and on, to be coming here for years, but this time it seems to be for real.
The Monrovia, Calif.-based chain has confirmed plans to locate in Brassfield Shopping Center in an affluent part of northwest Greensboro.
And, while that’s not exactly an area that’s starving for retail (if you threw a handful of gravel there, you’d likely hit a strip shopping center), Brassfield is riddled with vacant storefronts. It could use the high-profile tenant.
As for Trader Joe’s, to call what it enjoys a mystique probably isn’t an overstatement. The chain achieved $13 billion in sales in 2015 and faithful customers regularly drive from Greensboro to Winston-Salem (how dare they get one before us) or even Chapel Hill to shop there.
The problem had been in the past that Trader Joe’s wanted the Friendly Center area and the proposed shopping center that it would anchor was in the middle of a ferocious debate about growth and development.
Although the 6.6-acre site for the center at Hobbs Road and Friendly Avenue eventually was approved by the City Council, the project now is on hold. Local developer Roy Carroll bought the property from an Atlanta company in January and said his company did not “currently have a plan for developing the property.” Instead, Carroll said, he would hire an urban planner to conceive a concept for the site that would be both profitable and acceptable to nearby neighborhoods. As for Trader Joe’s, he said the grocery chain “has been very clear that they were turned off of Greensboro by the actions of some of the neighbors who were opposed to the last plan that was approved. I want to be very clear that no one on my team has been in touch with Trader Joe’s to date.”
Still, Carroll expressed hope that the grocer might reconsider. Now it has. Only in a different part of town.
The Hobbs-Friendly/Trader Joe’s debate touched upon several growth issues facing Greensboro then and now:
Balance … or the lack thereof. With others areas of town craving new development and Friendly already teeming with it, why couldn’t growth be more evenly spread?
Quality. Was Greensboro so hungry for the tax revenue and jobs that city leaders were settling for projects that were not as attractive, pedestrian-friendly or harmonious with their surroundings when they didn’t have to?
Overbuilding. Why was (and is) the City Council still approving shopping centers in northwest Greensboro even as existing shipping centers there have struggled to find tenants? And even as some parts of town have few, if any, shopping or restaurant options.
Still, Trader Joe’s at Brassfield is a good fit (and one alternative we suggested as a better fit during the Friendly-Hobbs wars). It’s near the type of affluent customer base Trader Joe’s prefers, but there is room for it at Brassfield. And it is known for good pay and benefits.
Fact is, we may never totally understand the allure of Trader Joe’s, or its hallowed place in our culture.
But all’s well that may end well. Prospects for the Friendly-Hobbs site look brighter and Joe may have finally found a home here. Welcome.