Lexington shoppers will have a new stop on the local grocery store train as Trader Joe’s opens its doors Friday morning.
The highly anticipated opening day of the specialty grocery store on Nicholasville Road has finally arrived. The store’s grand opening will take place Friday, with an official lei-cutting ceremony at 8 a.m.
The opening event will kick off as George “Bucky” Salee, Keeneland’s bugler for the last 50 years, will sound the “call to post” to begin the lei cutting. Mayor Jim Gray will be present as well. Local bluegrass band Driving Rain will provide entertainment and the store will offer product taste-testing for shoppers and face painting for kids.
The 10,000 square-foot store, along with its 2,400 square-foot wine shop, is located at 2326 Nicholasville Road, the former site of Joe’s Crab Shack.
The opening is signified with the lei-cutting because hibiscuses are a big part of all Trader Joe’s décor. Employees wear shirts covered with the flowers and painting and drawings of them can be found throughout the store.
Though Trader Joe’s is a national company, the Lexington store has a few noticeable local touches. Murals on the walls of the store and wine shop —all of which were painted by Trader Joe’s employees — depict local Lexington sites, like the Kentucky Horse Park, Thoroughbred Park, the Kentucky Theater and University of Kentucky’s campus.
Additionally, the store offers beer from West Sixth Brewing, Kentucky Ale and Bluegrass Brewing Company.
The store’s Captain – Trader Joe’s name for the store manager — Richard Flanagan said that about 88 percent of the store’s crew members (employees) are Lexington residents. About 1,100 applicants were interviewed during the hiring process, Flanagan said.
Flanagan, who worked at the Cincinnati Trader Joe’s for nearly 8 years before coming to serve as Captain at the Lexington store, said that he has “already seen a couple of customers who used to shop there come by to ask when we’re opening.”
“We’ve got a lot of people who’ve been waiting patiently and will save gas money because they won’t have to go to Louisville or Cincinnati,” to shop at Trader Joe’s, Flanagan said.
One of the items that Trader Joe fans travel to stock up on is the store’s low-priced Charles Shaw wine, which as commonly called “Two-buck chuck.” Though it’s not exactly two bucks, at $2.99 a bottle, it’s a good quality wine for a very reasonable price (disclaimer: This wine has become a staple at my family gatherings, so I may be a bit biased…).
The wine shop also offers a variety of wines from countries around the world, with prices varying from $3.99 to wines in the $40 range.
Flanagan said that the store’s wines, particularly the Two-Buck Chuck are great for people who are getting into wine for the first time.
“It’s a good wine because it’s reasonable. (For) people who want to try wines and area a little shy or timid to try wines because of the pretentious attitude some people might have – it’s a good introductory wine. It’s also a great wine for picnics and large events.”
Moving into the grocery store, you’ll find a large produce area with rotating seasonal items, though the store has bananas year round that are $0.19 each, Flanagan said.
A sampling station sits behind the produce area, where shoppers can sample products daily.
The frozen foods section in the store is about the size of those in most grocery stores, but offers a variety of ethnic frozen foods, like chicken tikki masala, orange chicken and taquitos. Additionally a large frozen seafood section offers items that are caught and frozen fresh immediately, Flanagan said, as well as individual frozen meals, such as salmon with rice and yogurt sauce.
Some other unique items offered are the selection of no-sugar added syrups, organic honey from India, chocolate covered berries and edamame, gluten free chocolate-chip cookies and fair-trade coffee.
The store is able to offer unique products because of their buying process, Flanagan said.
“Eighty percent of our product is private label, which means we contract with the manufacturer. We cut out the middle man. So, there isn’t a fancy marketing plot. By having the Trader Joe’s label on there, you know it doesn’t have any artificial flavors, colorings, foods or dyes,” he said.
Regardless of a product’s brand, Trader Joe’s return policy works to meet customers’ needs, Flanagan added.
“Any of our products, Trader Joe’s or another name brand, there’s a no-hassle return policy. So people who are trying new things, such as going to gluten free or they find out they have Celiac disease, if they don’t like (a product), they can bring it back. We’ll buy it back or try to find something that meets their needs,” he said.
About a dozen new items are introduced each week, Flanagan said, and the newest items are displayed together so shoppers can check them out all at once.
Shoppers can also look for labels on some items, indicating if it is gluten free, fat-free or a vegan product.
“It’s a long process, but more and more items are getting these (labels),” Flanagan said.
Something else that shoppers may notice is the bells ringing at the front of the store. The store’s bell system replaces the traditional intercom that most groceries use.
“It goes back to our nautical theme from when we were started back in 1952. Instead of using the intercom system to call people to the register, we’ll ring one bell,” Flanagan said, explaining that two and three bells communicate when a customer has a question or a manager is needed to do a return or anything else.
From my visit to the store, I can say that shoppers will be able to meet their usual grocery needs with a trip to Trader Joe’s, while also picking up some fun, unique items to try as well.
Following the grand opening June 29, the store will be open daily from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m and the wine shop will be open from 8 a.m – 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. – 9 p.m.
*Check KyForward tomorrow for coverage of the store opening