Should Trader Joe's or Whole Foods Come to Buffalo?
Iâve been a Buffalo Rising reader for almost two years now and have worked as the YUM editor for the majority of that time. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how often a post about a supermarket or national food retailer will undoubtedly turn into a fervent discussion of Trader Joeâs and/or Whole Foods, and the likelihood that either chain would ever open a store in the Buffalo area. This most recently happened on Monday when I posted a story about Au Bon Pain on High Street.
It is obvious that we need to have this conversation once and for all, as evidenced by the fact that, of the 47 comments that appeared on the Au Bon Pain article within the last few days, more than half were a discussion about supermarkets.
Furthermore, over 40 different posts on BR have seen the conversation evolve into a comparison of these supermarkets (to one another and to Wegmans, Tops and Dash's), despite the fact that only two of these posts mention either business by name. A search of our publishing platform revealed over 55 comments that included the exact term âTrader Joeâsâ and 79 that referenced âWhole Foodsâ. The number of comments that used abbreviations or other derivations (i.e. "Whole Wallet" or "Trader Jâs") was impossible to determine. Suffice it to say, this is a pretty hot topic.
I have tried to contact people at both companies, but have not had any luck when it comes to speaking with a human being. Iâm sure they donât have a staff member prepared to comment about why they donât yet have a store in Buffalo, NY, but I was hoping to uncover some information regarding the specific demographics they look for in new markets. So, until I can speak with someone willing to divulge that information to me, let's look at how this ongoing conversation has rooted itself in every possible nook and cranny of BR since its inception.
For those of you unfamiliar with Trader Joeâs and Whole Foods, I will offer a grossly undetailed summation of the two (for which I will no doubt be corrected or called out for!).
Trader Joeâs first opened in Southern California in 1966. It currently has over 290 stores with 23 more slated to open in the near future. Joeâs is very similar to Wegmans, but much smaller. It focuses on service and offers a wide variety of goods, many of which are upscale.
Whole Foods began in 1980 and is, in my opinion, a larger version of the Lexington Co-op. Its 270 locations (with 85 more in development) offer shoppers an experience that combines an attractive layout, gourmet appeal and products that are socially and environmentally friendly, i.e. free-range, organic, free trade, sustainable, etc.
On the whole, Trader Joeâs prices are similar to Wegmans, where Whole Foods are somewhat higher, something I attribute to the fact that their products are organic and therefore pricier
I went through the archives and uncovered a few comments that I thought may begin the discussion. These are a very small percentage of the comments, and most are excerpts. We haven't made changes to spelling or grammar, but have edited some for length:
In the post called âLet's Get an H&M Downtownâ (Jan 3, 2006), the debate about whether or not a Trader Joeâs would ever come to town, and what we could do to encourage it, began.
phoenix said: âOne word...Letters. Lot's of them, and relentless. Case in point...for over 2yrs 'Trader Joes' was adamant about the impossibility of 'another' outlet in the Seattle area...in fact the entire Puget Sound area. The people wrote letters and refused to give up doing so. Not only did the Puget Sound get another outlet...but surprisingly it was 'bumped up' ahead of other outlets in the corporations projected planning.â
WCP said: ââŚFYI- there are six Trader Joes in the Sacramento region and two more planned. They definitely would be a draw to the city. Downtown needs one or two non-Bass Pro destination retailers to get some momentum going.â
From an article entitled "What Do You Really Want" (June 6, 2006):
Steel said: "Eric you are right about Whole Foods. It is extremely over rated. Buffalo's traditional super markets (Tops and Wegmans are far far far far superior to anything in Chicago and BostonâŚ(based on my personal experience) Trader Joes is interesting and has some fun foods and good quality (it is not a healthy natural foods store though) But it is not a place you can do all you shopping in. The unfortunate thing about Buffalo's biggies is that they are big box stores and don't meld into a city neighborhood like a Trader Joes store.â
And in a "Better Shot of the DL&W", (August 13, 2006):
veryprotourism said: âas much as i'd like to see a whole foods or trader joe's in buffalo im not holding my breath. i would imagine both are reluctant to expand into smaller markets where wegmans has a strong presence. many of the foods these stores specialize in are available in similar quality for similar prices at wegmans stores. furthermore, TJ's sells a great deal of wine in most of its markets(2 buck chuck !!!!) and new york state law is not condusive to that.â
During the Downtown loft boom, we ran a piece about amenities needed for downtown's new dwellers, "Needed: More Services for Downtown Residents", (August 17, 2006)
J01283 said: "Again, I'm always amazed with Buffalo's fix for Whole Foods."
JohnMartin said: "Really? The times I've mentioned it here, I've been flamed to a crisp with the usual "We don't need [business X] here when we have [something locally owned but barely related to, and much smaller than, business X]" argument. There is a lot of love for Trader Joe's, though. Alas, neither TJ's nor Whole Wallet have plans to come to Buffalo."
When Food Network awarded Wegmans (over Trader Joe's and Whole Foods) the 2007 top U.S. SUPERmarket, the fur began to fly. Seems that people really like to compare the three of these businesses to one another. "Wegmans is the Cream of the Crop" (April 18, 2007)
Loaf said: âMy wife and I moved from Buffalo a couple of years a go to Denver and we miss Wegmans. Whole Foods is "Whole Paycheck" to us. Weg's has the best of both worlds - the usual suspects and good specialty foods. Miss it big time.â
Buffalocat said: âI'm definitely a foodie, and I love to cook, but when I lived in North Carolina, I had to shop at 3 different stores - Whole Foods, the local co-op, and Harris Teeter - each week to get everything on my grocery list. I'm back in Buffalo now, and although I've got an absolutely gigantic list of great things about living here, one of the best is having Wegmans. It's affordable and has virtually everything that my three old stores used to have under one roof.â
In "Latinaâs Closing on Elmwood" (April 24th, 2007), we saw a lengthy discussion about the Elmwood storefront left empty by Latinaâs, a conversation too lengthy to really summarize here. People were not only discussing the value of these two supermarket chains, but also the economic viability of having one here in Buffalo and the lack of affordable, fresh food resources in the economically challenged areas of the city.
We even, somehow, managed to have the Trader Joe's/Whole Foods chat on a post headed by a picture of a grown man in a smiling donut costume. "Jumpinâ Jelly Donuts", (July 25th, 2007)
LeftCoast said: "What would be really fantastic is if Buffalo could support an upscale grocery chain like Whole Foods or, better yet, Trader Joe's. If Pittsburgh and Cleveland can, why not us??? This is the thing that irritates me about WNY - for all the talk of the great, affordable lifestyle you can have here, people seem to overlook the fact that you can live almost as cheaply in other Rust Belt towns that have far more amenities.â
So Buffalo, what do you think?
Does Buffalo need a Trader Joeâs or Whole Foods?
Could we even get one? Do we need them because they offer something that we donât have? Or as some readers have suggested, would they mostly serve to provide competition for area markets so that prices would be lower and more affordable (specifically on organic and gourmet goods)?
Where would they best be located?
Could they survive and/or thrive in a city location?
Would they drive smaller places like Guercioâs, the Co-op and Dashâs out of business?