Grassroots effort targets Trader Joe’s for Meriden  

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MERIDEN — A grassroots effort to bring a Trader Joe’s grocery store to the west side is gaining steam, but an organizer wants the public to add more voices to the chorus.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” said Maureen Suzio. “That would be a great place for a Trader Joe’s. I felt like we have a captive audience. We want to ask ‘what does it take?’”

While Suzio is eyeing the soon-to-be vacant Stop & Shop in Centennial Plaza, any location in the city would suffice, she said. Stop & Shop announced last month it is leaving the plaza, saying store traffic was weaker than at its other stores. Stop & Shop is investing in its East Main Street store to entice shoppers to stay with the brand.

But Stop & Shop’s departure leaves a 46,000-square-foot vacancy at Centennial Plaza, which is already saddled with an additional 68,000 square feet of vacant space.

Suzio, a fan of Trader Joe’s for years, travels once per week to West Hartford or Manchester to shop at the grocery chain, which focuses on natural foods while shaving expenses to keep costs down. The Monrovia, California-based chain ranked number two nationally in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Publix stores took the top honor.

After a recent visit to the West Hartford store, Suzio learned there was a link on the Trader Joe’s website that allows people to request a store in their city.

“It’s really simple,” she said. “Name, address and why?”

Suzio posted the link to her Facebook page and received dozens of positive responses. She intends to post to local forums for even more publicity in Meriden and surrounding towns.

In addition to West Hartford and Manchester, Trader Joe’s has stores in Orange, Fairfield, Danbury, Westport, Stamford and Darien. Representatives from Trader Joe’s couldn’t be reached for comment but company management addressed the numerous requests for stores in May 2018 on episode 10 of its podcast, “Inside Trader Joe’s.”

“OK, so finding those locations, that’s not easy,” said marketing director Tara Miller. “There are people all over the country who really want a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood, and we’re so grateful for that.”

Tracy Anderson, Trader Joe’s vice president of real estate, explained Trader Joe’s has a growth plan based on input from customers, employees and regional vice presidents.

“I get multiple emails every day ... asking for a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood,” Anderson said on the podcast. “We look at current stores, where things are really hot. We look at accessibility, visibility, parking, square footage. Parking is a thing and it’s becoming a big thing. Clearly a suburban area where the neighborhood is mostly folks driving. We would like a nice big beautiful parking lot.”

Suzio approached city Economic Development Director Joseph Feest, who has been in contact with Centennial Plaza owner Cornerstone Properties. Representatives from the Farmington property management company told the Record-Journal last month that it plans major changes to the plaza after Stop & Shop vacates and ends its lease. Feest applauds Suzio’s efforts as well as those who petitioned to save the Stop & Shop. Feest agreed the city’s west side needs a supermarket, but understands the need for market research and modeling, he said.

“Cornerstone Properties has reached out to Trader Joe’s representatives about the Centennial Plaza location and we are waiting for a response,” Feest responded in an email. “Trader Joe’s is a highly sought after tenant that has a model store of about 13,000 square feet. I have had several conversations with the owners of Cornerstone and have done a walk through of the plaza with them. They have reached out to several grocery stores and provided them with all the details of the building. They are not only focusing on the grocery side of the building but also trying to fill the other vacancies in the plaza.”

Trader Joe’s also likes to have representatives drive-through towns and cities to get a better understanding of potential customers. It also opens stores in historical properties without changing the outside appearance, such as a store in a movie theater in Houston, Texas, and an armory in Pennsylvania.

Suzio is not deterred by Trader Joe’s typical store size and points to a larger store in its Manchester location. A store in New York City, which opened in 2018, is 30,000 square feet and has 200 employees, according to Inside Trader Joe’s. The current need for social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in grocery stores also demands more square footage, Suzio said.

“It’s a great corridor with access to 691. It’s not a detriment, and definitely a coup,” Suzio said. “(Trader Joe’s) is really affordable and they take EBT. They do their own branding they control the cost and the purchasing, so there’s no middle man. If we get interest from other towns that would help the cause.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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