PORTLAND – Trader Joe’s fans in Maine finally got their wish Friday when the popular grocery chain opened a new store on Marginal Way.

Customers started lining up well before 7 a.m. to get into the store, which opened at 8 with a lei cutting, clapping and cheering. mid-morning, customers were parking blocks away and causing major traffic backups on Marginal Way.

Marsha Marley of Portland arrived at the new store at 6 a.m. with hot chocolate and a book. She said she was there for bargains, and “to get a look at the store.”

When Luke Hitchcock of Portland arrived at 7:15, there were still plenty of spaces in the parking lot.

Hitchcock started shopping at Trader Joe’s 15 years ago, when she visited her daughter in Philadelphia. In recent years she has gone to the store in Cambridge, Mass., to stock up on Trader Joe’s brand products.

“I don’t even know if I’ll buy today,” she said. “I just wanted to check the layout.”

As the clock ticked down to opening time, the line grew longer. 7:40 a.m., about 85 people were standing out in the cold and drivers were starting to circle the parking lot, looking for spaces.

a few minutes before 8, the line of people curved around the parking lot and had grown to hundreds. People were parking at least a couple of blocks away and walking to the store.

Dan Furst of Scarborough, who runs a designated driver service, had just gotten off work and “would normally be asleep” at 8 a.m.

Furst, who is from California, said he has missed shopping at Trader Joe’s since he moved to Portland about 10 years ago. He likes the store’s gourmet microwave meals and other products that are not part of his supermarket routine.

“It’s the variety of stuff they have here,” he said, explaining the store’s appeal. “They have things that the normal supermarket wouldn’t have.”

Peggy Williams, who drove to Portland from Richmond, called herself “a huge Trader Joe’s fan.”

Before it decided to come to Portland, Williams regularly e-mailed the chain, asking it to open a store here, sent comments to the Federal Trade Commission in support of the Portland store, and joined a Facebook petition to bring a Trader Joe’s to Maine.

When Whole Foods Market bought the Wild Oats grocery chain, the FTC’s approval of the deal included a requirement that Whole Foods sell off the Wild Oats stores it was closing, preferably to other food retailers that would provide competition.

The Trader Joe’s in Portland, just down Marginal Way from Whole Foods Market, used to be a Wild Oats store. Hundreds of Mainers wrote to the FTC asking that it approve the transfer of the site to Trader Joe’s. The process took months, and fans of Trader Joe’s wondered whether the store would ever make it to Maine.

“I didn’t think they were opening until after the holidays,” Williams said, “so I actually stocked up on our last trip to New Jersey.”

Williams said she was looking for frozen brown rice, low-sugar jellies, cornbread mix, meat and cheeses, and the Trader Joe’s brand high-fiber cereal.

She said she likes “the fact that I don’t have to pay through the nose for good food.”

“I have a 4-year-old goddaughter, and we’re trying to raise her without high-fructose corn syrup,” she said. “Trader Joe’s makes it easy.”

Robin Buczkowski of Woolwich said she would buy some “soyaki,” a soy and teriyaki sauce, as well as cereal, bread and wine. She also brought along a friend’s shopping list.

A band played upbeat tunes as a Trader Joe’s employee emerged from the store carrying a tray of pastries for the crowd. “Good morning, Portland!” he yelled.

“We’ve got cookies, pastries, muffins, scones.”

Trader Joe’s employees, known as “crew members,” typically sport Hawaiian shirts.

The Portland store’s employees wore blue shirts featuring Maine’s version of aloha — lobsters, lighthouses and other iconic symbols of the state.

As customers entered the store, crew members put leis over their heads and passed out free shopping bags with the Trader Joe’s logo.

Inside, after about an hour, checkout lines stretched back to the cheese case.

Marsha Marley had filled her cart with two bunches of bananas, a dozen eggs and three kinds of soup.

She said she was disappointed that the store didn’t appear to carry local milk.

Michael and Sandy Jubinsky, proprietors of the Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School in Lyman, showed up wearing Hawaiian shirts to celebrate the fact that they won’t have to drive to a Trader Joe’s in Massachusetts anymore to buy marinara sauce by the case to bring back to Maine.

Sandy Jubinsky recommended a product called “golden grain blend,” a mixture of couscous, red quinoa, orzo and baby garbanzos. She makes a pilaf by adding chicken broth, fresh thyme and a teaspoon of orange or lemon zest. Bring it to a boil, and in 10 minutes it’s done.

The professional bakers swear by the Brownie Truffle Baking Mix, which they find only at Trader Joe’s.

“And the selection of coffees they have here that you can grind yourself is excellent,” Michael Jubinsky said.

Not everyone was excited about Trader Joe’s moving in. Wells Staley-Mays and Rachel Talbot Ross of the local chapter of the NAACP and Dawud Ummah of the Center for African Heritage carried signs and passed out flyers asking the grocery chain to sign a “fair food agreement” that would pay farm workers more for the tomatoes they pick in Florida.

Staley-Mays said they were there “to leaflet and inform the public that Trader Joe’s is the only major food chain which has refused to sign a contract with the Immokolee Florida farm workers who are largely Hispanic, Haitian and Mayan Indian.”

“They’re holding out over 1 cent an hour to people who make really low wages,” he said. “We’re not asking for a boycott. We just want people to know.”

Alison Mochizuki, a Trader Joe’s spokeswoman, responded: “At Trader Joe’s, we work with reputable suppliers that have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments, and we will continue to make certain that our vendors are meeting if not exceeding government standards throughout all aspects of their businesses.”

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]