Like Visiting an Old Friend

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Is it the cheese section I never tire of visiting, or the free samples of their endlessly yummy, health-conscious and creative culinary creations? Or the 99-cent greeting cards with just the right words – not too trite or gooey? Or the plants and flowers I can always count on grabbing for a friend who’s feeling blue or as a last minute hostess gift? Or the super friendly, Hawaiian-shirt-clad staff that seem to genuinely like being at work? Or the fact that they didn’t even flinch when I returned the soy bacon I thought I would like but, well, didn’t?

Ah yes, there’s nothing like Trader Joe’s, and I feel like I’ve been a fan my entire life. Like watching “60 Minutes” on Sundays, the tradition of TJ’s is one that dates back in our family as far as I can remember.

Growing up, we’d make weekly trips so my parents could stock up on granola, trail mix, nuts and dried fruit – all the items they couldn’t find in traditional supermarkets. They’d reach up and pluck Chianti bottles wrapped in raffia that were hanging from the rafters. These would later become candle holders (hey, it was the ’70s!). There was a butcher shop in the back, and deli meats and cheeses were cut to order. The minute you walked into the store, the wonderful smells wafted a warm greeting.

Back then, TJ’s felt more like our trusty local country store, they sold organic items well before the trend was trendy. There was sawdust on the floor, and merchandise was displayed in big wooden barrels. My folks were conscious of establishing healthy eating habits for my brother and me, and TJ’s played a big role in us learning to choose healthful snacks.

When I was in college, I could feel like I was able to maintain some semblance of “gourmet” while watching my budget. When single, I loved that I could shop there and not feel wasteful. When planning a spontaneous get together or even a large party, I turn to TJ’s for a robust selection of hors d’oeuvres and wine selection. TJ’s seems to cater to its shoppers in a way that is intuitive and unforced. The most important element in establishing and maintaining a relationship with consumers is trust, and they’ve certainly earned mine. It is one of the very few brands I can think of for which I am a true devotee.

Now, driving into Crystal Cove Promenade means losing any and all cell service, but I look at the lack of technology access as a treat, allowing my brain a break to reboot, and a little peace and quiet to adequately concentrate on my TJ’s mission. I’m a label reader, and yet another TJ fact I like is that most products there have very few ingredients and are not filled with many I can’t pronounce. In fact, in 2007, TJ’s made a commitment to eliminate added trans fats from their private label products, as well as artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and GMO ingredients.

Today, Trader Joe’s has more than 350 stores in 29 states, yet they are still able to maintain a homey feel. Each store is custom outfitted to reflect its community. Crystal Cove, for example, has surfboards throughout and features two large murals of Crystal Cove State Beach and a rendition of the Shake Shack. Going there is always a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to live and shop in such a breathtaking environment – it just doesn’t get better.

So the next time you swing in to the store at Crystal Cove, say hello or give some feedback to “store captain” Nicole Marino. She’s always looking for ways to bond with the Newport Beach locals.

“We absolutely adore our customers and are fortunate enough to interact with them several times a week; many have become friends,” says Nicole.

I’ll toast to that!

Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. She can be reached at [email protected]

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