October 28, 2010

Sneaking a peek at Trader Joe's

The first Maine store opens Friday, featuring an 'old Portland' theme and the products Joe's fans adore.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Trader Joe's rumor mill has been churning overtime, so let's start by setting a couple of things straight.

click image to enlarge

Marianna Reeves, kneeling, and Steve Monks stock bottled water at the Trader Joe's store at 87 Marginal Way in Portland. The store has been drawing fans and onlookers as it readies for Friday's grand opening.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Trader Joe's, formerly the site of Wild Oats, will compete with a nearby Whole Foods.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

First, despite the rampant Internet speculation and breathless phone calls to the new store at 87 Marginal Way, there will not be a "soft opening" today.

The grand opening is still scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday, with a "ceremonial lei cutting," live music, hourly drawings for bags of Trader Joe's products, and children's activities.

And yes, the store will carry "Two Buck Chuck." The wine will sell in Portland for $2.59 a bottle, about 40 cents less than in Trader Joe's stores in Massachusetts. There is already a tower of it in the Portland store, stacked in cases along a back wall.

"We will have sufficient quantities to supply the state of Maine this weekend and beyond," Tracy Acciola, Portland's "store captain," said during a tour of the new store Wednesday. "We don't want to run out, for sure."

As workers put the finishing touches on the store Wednesday -- an employee was painting hibiscus flowers on one wall -- Acciola described the response that employees have been getting from wannabe customers.

People have been coming up to the store's locked doors and waving at employees, or they give a thumbs-up sign, she said. Others come carrying signs that say things like "We Love Trader Joe's" and "About Time."

Acciola, wearing the Trader Joe's signature Hawaiian shirt, said she has been getting lots of phone calls, from people who have heard the soft-opening rumor or another rumor that says the store won't open until Monday.

A couple of callers have said they're taking the day off from work Friday, or pulling their children out of school, so they can shop on the store's opening day.

Fans of Trader Joe's tend to be enthusiastic because 80 percent of its products are private-label brands that can't be found anywhere else, said Alison Mochizuki, the company's national public relations director.

The Trader Joe's in Portland, which used to be a Wild Oats store, is a bit larger than the company's other stores, which average 10,000 to 15,000 square feet. The selling floor in Portland is about 17,000 square feet, Acciola said.

Local residents make up about 80 percent of the store's staff, and employees from other Trader Joe's stores around the country jumped at the chance to come to Portland, moving here from California, Virginia, Minnesota, Seattle, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The store is mostly stocked and ready for shoppers. Produce will arrive tonight and Friday so it will be as fresh as possible, Acciola said, and flowers will arrive Friday morning.

The store's cedar-covered walls make the space smell brand new.

On the wall inside the main door, just above the flower stands, is a large mural of Casco Bay painted by employees. The mural includes a Casco Bay Ferry Lines boat, a sailboat and a blimp with banners reading: "The Time Has Come! Trader Joe's is Here!"

Acciola, who transferred to Portland from the store in Cambridge, Mass., is depicted waterskiing in the mural.

Like other Trader Joe's stores, Portland's is marked with cute signs, some of which have been distressed to make them look old. (Need a bathroom? Look for the nautical sign that reads "Port of Potties.")

Lobster traps, buoys and fishing nets are also part of the decor.

"What we were trying to capture is the essence of old Portland," Acciola said.

In the back of the store is a large mural painted by Bill Gould, an artist from Boston who on Wednesday was trying to finish up the last two panels. The mural begins in sepia tones to reflect historic Portland and depicts landmarks such as the Spring Point lighthouse, an electric trolley (with the old-time conductor holding a Trader Joe's shopping bag) and the old Hay's Drug Store on Congress Street.

"I just love that building the Hay's Drug Store is in, where the Starbucks is now," Gould said. "I thought it was a cool, iconic piece of architecture to show."

The mural transitions to modern times and brighter colors, including an image of the newly renovated Portland Public Library and a clever nod to the store's neighbor, the Miss Portland Diner.

Then, of course, there's the food.

Trader Joe's brands are free of artificial flavors, coloring and preservatives, and there are vegetarian and organic choices.

Some products will be local or regional, Acciola said, although the store does not have a particular goal for those in mind. Local foods will be highlighted as they come into the store, she said.

The beer section already contains a large variety of local brews, including Allagash, Peaks Organic and Shipyard.

Portlanders will find some perennial Trader Joe's customer favorites, such as mandarin orange chicken and four varieties of organic frozen rice, along with some newer items, such as Trader Joe's Turkey Meatloaf Muffins.

The store is already stocked for the holidays, with displays featuring boxes of cornbread stuffing, jars of cranberry apple butter, and spiced cranberry cider, a juice blend flavored with ginger and cinnamon.

In the back of the store is a station called the "Sea Cove Sampler," where customers will be able to taste Trader Joe's foods. "The demo stations are a lot of fun for people who have never been to Trader Joe's," Mochizuki said.

She said the store's "crew members" will roam the store with samples, and if a customer wants to try a product, all they'll have to do is find an employee and ask.

Trader Joe's introduces about a dozen new items every week, and there is a display in the Portland store just for those new products. The current display is stocked with a hemp drink, cassava chips, some dessert foods, and tuna in red panang curry sauce.

The new store will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Just don't show up today.


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:



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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Tracey Acciola is the store captain at Portland's Trader Joe's. She is featured water skiing in a mural in the store.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Store employees Roy Taylor (kneeling) and Elenore Toczynski place product signs on shelves as they prepare for the opening.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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