PORTLAND — Maureen Smith of Hiram has come to Trader Joe’s repeatedly since it opened three weeks ago, but it wasn’t until this week that she actually got inside the store.

“I’ve come through the parking lot several times and not gone in because I can’t find a space,” she said.

To borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra, no one goes to Trader Joe’s anymore — it’s too crowded.

Parking has become so tight at the popular store on Marginal Way that shoppers are spilling over from the 135 spaces shared by Trader Joe’s and Eastern Mountain Sports into the parking area for neighboring businesses — and those businesses have had cars towed to make room for their customers.

The neighboring businesses say the parking crunch has hurt them because their own customers are turned off by the crawl through the parking lot or simply can’t find a space.

“Every parking spot is taken, but there’s no one in our store,” said Warren Elsaessert, manager of West Marine, across the parking lot from Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s declined to comment on the parking controversy, but a spokeswoman said the company hired off-duty police officers to handle traffic during its grand opening on Oct. 29, and has a traffic director on weekends.

The traffic director will be on duty again Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, she said.

That hasn’t been enough to satisfy West Marine and its neighbor, the Maine Rock Gym, which have put up signs warning drivers that the spaces next to their building are for their customers, and violators’ cars will be towed.

Charles Curry, manager of the rock-climbing gym, said he was calling for cars to be towed about five times a week initially. Curry and Elsaessert said the problem has begun to diminish during the week, but weekends still bring a full lot and spillover parking.

Elsaessert said he informs his landlord, Fore River Co. — which also owns the Trader Joe’s lot — when there’s a problem. The company has sent a worker who has called in a tow truck.

He said he was upset when Trader Joe’s put up a sign warning customers that West Marine was towing, because it was actually the landlord calling in the hook.

Curry said he feels like he takes his life in his hands whenever he walks across the lot, with drivers looking for open spaces instead of watching where they’re going.

He also said the gym’s walk-in business dropped to almost nothing shortly after Trader Joe’s opened, and is just starting to recover.

Curry said he learned quickly that a gentle approach won’t work with people who are intent on checking out the chain’s famous “Two Buck Chuck” bottles of wine and other goods.

“We actually have addressed the issue with people who are parking, and we ask them to move and they say, ‘No,’” Curry said. “They really want their groceries.”

Portland officials say they’re happy to see business booming in Bayside and note that Trader Joe’s, like the Wild Oats store that preceded it, meets city requirements for parking.

“We’re excited about the level of activity,” said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg. “It’s an urban area,” and nearby businesses should benefit in the long run, she said.

City zoning doesn’t require any off-street parking for the first 2,000 square feet of retail space. After that, it’s one space for each 200 square feet of first-floor space, not counting storage areas.

Dennis Morang, manager of Eastern Mountain Sports — which shares the building and the parking lot with Trader Joe’s — said the throngs drawn by the new store represent “a dual-edged sword.”

On one hand, parking is limited for his customers, who had plenty of room when the Wild Oats store closed after that chain was acquired by Whole Foods Market in 2007.

But it also draws a lot of foot traffic to his store, which specializes in outerwear and gear, Morang said. “We share a lot of the same customers,” he said.

Morang said he never complained — or had cars towed — over the years if a big group heading to the Maine Rock Gym used spaces in his lot or there was spillover parking for a big sale at West Marine.

“Rather than being goodwill ambassadors like we were, they turn around and tow,” Morang said. “They’re complaining about the parking because they’re used to a lot that was completely empty.”

But one EMS customer, Terry Clark of Windham, wasn’t so sure as he sat in his car in the parking lot, watching for customers to come out of Trader Joe’s and clear a space for him.

“I knew Trader Joe’s was open, but I didn’t expect this,” he said. “When (EMS) moved from the Maine Mall, I thought, ‘This is great.’ Now, I’m not so sure.”

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

[email protected]