PORTLAND – Jim Hutchings wants to get back into the work force after battling cancer for the last few years.

So when he heard that Trader Joe’s was hiring for its new store on Marginal Way, he headed there Thursday to apply.

Hutchings said he was impressed by how the company treated its customers when he visited Trader Joe’s stores when he lived in Massachusetts. That suggested the company would be good to work for, he said.

“It’s how they relate to people,” he said.

The company said it hopes to open its first store in Maine by the end of this year.

Trader Joe’s entry into the Maine market comes courtesy of Whole Foods’ purchase of Wild Oats in 2007. As part of the Federal Trade Commission’s approval of the purchase, Whole Foods had to sell off the Wild Oats stores that it was closing, with preference going to a buyer that could offer competition in the market for natural and organic foods.

Since Wild Oats was just a few blocks from the Whole Foods at Franklin Arterial and Somerset Street, it was closed after the merger, and the FTC ordered it put up for sale.

When the commission took comments on the proposal to sell the site to Trader Joe’s, it received hundreds of comments from Mainers in favor of the sale, including dozens who practically pleaded with the federal agency to approve the transaction.

Many noted the chain’s reputation for fresh, local produce and its line of house products.

Trader Joe’s got the final approval this summer and has been relatively quiet about its plans since then.

Work to transform the store was in full swing Thursday, with contractors installing walls and stripping the vestiges of Wild Oats off the exterior.

Spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki said the company plans to open by the end of the year.

The company declined to say how many people it hires for its stores. Mochizuki said the hiring crew in Portland has handed out about 1,000 applications, with four recruiters operating out of a small trailer and working under a pop-up tent in the parking lot.

Mochizuki said the team leader has been scheduling interviews for the “opening crew” from now until Oct. 1.

Now cancer-free, Hutchings hopes to be part of that group.

“This is a great plus” for the area, he said. “This is a great opportunity for the people of Portland.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]