Reaction to Monday's announcement that specialty grocer Trader Joe's is exploring the idea of adding new store sites in Tennessee, including Chattanooga, was immediate and passionate.
The last time a new business prospect had Chattanoogans so excited, the logo of the entity getting area residents worked up had a "V" stacked on top of a "W."
The Trader Joe's story had more page views on the Times Free Press website for the day than any other story except the tragic boat dock fire in Scottsboro, Alabama, that claimed at least eight lives. Impeachment? Pish. An Asian carp invasion? Forget it.
It was shared from the newspaper's Facebook page faster than any story in recent memory — 831 times by Tuesday morning. Nearly 2,000 people had liked the post, and it elicited 536 comments.
Editorial writers only wish their opinions counted for so much.
Chattanooga area residents were happy to suggest to the California-based company where in the area it should relocate — Highway 153 in Hixson, Ooltewah, Morrison Springs Road, Riverview, Riverfront Parkway, Dayton Boulevard, Avondale near the Tubman development, Ringgold and Cleveland. Several admitted they drive to Knoxville, Nashville or Atlanta to shop at the stores.
Trader Joe's, according to its website, likes to hear of such interest.
In the FAQs (frequently asked questions) on traderjoes.com is this: "What can I do to bring a [store] to my neighborhood?" The answer is to send the company an email through a form on the site. "There are no guarantees," it says, "but being wanted matters to us."
Visitors to the site also can reach the form when they click "Request a TJ's in My City" under the broader category "Customer Inquiries."
If being wanted is Trader Joe's love language, Chattanoogans have dialed up Valentine's Day with their desire.
But why? What is it that Food City, Aldi, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Fresh Market and Publix, among other competitors, don't have that have made residents for years pine for the grocer that made "Two Buck Chuck" synonymous with cheap wine?
Again, according to its website, the company says at its stores "you won't find a lot of branded items. Instead, you'll find unconventional and interesting products in the Trader Joe's label as well as everyday basics. We buy products we think are winners and that'll find a following among our customers. Sometimes it's a product we intend to stock as long as it sells well; and sometimes we buy a product which is in limited supply, sell through it, and you won't find it again. It's all part of the shopping adventure at Trader Joe's."
Frankly, we'd like a little less "shopping adventure" in our lives — no aisles blocked by employees stocking shelves right in front of your brand of Mueslix, no aisles so crowded with specials that turning every corner risks a head-on collision and no guessing whether the Kleenex you've bought for years has been replaced with Puffs.
But Facebook posters had this to say to a questioner who said he'd never been to a Trader Joe's and wondered "what the fascination" is: "More organic foods," "Tasty, tasty, good food with insane prices" — insanely good, we assume — and "a good culture."
The company also boasts that "'sale' is a four-letter word to us. We have low prices, every day. No coupons. No membership cards. No discounts. No glitzy promotions or couponing wars at our stores. We offer the best everyday values, every day."
So, they've got that going for them, which is nice — unless you're into that couponing kind of thing.
Why not Chattanooga then? After all, the company has two stores in Nashville, one in Knoxville and one outside of Memphis in Germantown.
Well, said one Facebook poster, Trader Joe's is picky about its store demographics and generally builds "around wealthy areas." "They look for a demographic income median over $100,000," said another, "and higher education levels within 2 miles of location. This is why Chattanooga has been overlooked for years."
We would argue that improving the county's education level is a bigger priority than a specific grocery store, but we're not sure Trader Joe's is as elitist as the Facebook commenter would suggest. In 2019, in fact, it opened seven stores, had 15 more under construction and said another 15 were in the planning stage.
But if the company is looking for a trendy but reliable city in which to locate, Chattanooga ranks highly. Just in the past year, it was listed among the best U.S. cities for millennials, among the top 100 best places to live in America, having the best hiring outlook of any major metropolitan area in the country and in the top 10 of best small cities in the U.S. in Condé Nast Traveler's 2019 Readers' Choice Awards.
So, Trader Joe's, we have it going on. Are you ready for us?