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Trader Joe's comes to Warwick

Law prevents sale of 'Three Buck Chuck'

When Emily Breslin '10 went home to Acton, Mass., one week this fall, she returned with a lunch box full of frozen Vegetable Masala Burgers. The burgers are manufactured by the grocery chain Trader Joe's, and Rhode Islanders who wanted them had to travel to Massachusetts to buy them - until now.

The California-based grocer will open its first location in Rhode Island tomorrow. According to its Web site, the store sells "minimally processed" foods, including many vegetarian, kosher and organic products, mostly under its private label. The Rhode Island store, located at 1000 Bald Hill Road in Warwick near the Rhode Island Mall, will sponsor a grand opening celebration at 8 a.m., and open for business at 9 a.m. Trader Joe's cultivates a tropical image. Employees are called "crew members." The manager and assistant manager are called the "Captain" and "First Mate," respectively, and wear Hawaiian shirts. Instead of cutting a ribbon to ceremonially open the store, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian will cut a bright red lei. Store Captain Paul Bourgeois and First Mate Blair Carroll said that they had seen significant community interest in the store's opening. People "keep driving up, and they're looking, driving and they stop, and we wave and we go out to talk to them and we're like 'No, no, it's coming up,' " Bourgeois said. "It's been, like, the past month and a half ... some of them don't know us, they're just curious. Some of them are like, 'When are you going to open the door?' "

Though most Trader Joe's stores carry largely the same items, the Warwick store cannot sell alcoholic beverages ­- including its famous "Three Buck Chuck" wine - as it does in other states, including in some stores in Massachusetts - because of Rhode Island law.

"We've been whining about it the whole time," said Bourgeois, who transferred to the new store from the company's Cambridge location.

Eliot Tang-Smith '12 said he hadn't heard about the store's opening until a friend wrote about it on Facebook. Tang-Smith, who is from northern California, said that at home he has three or four Trader Joe's nearby. He's been frustrated by the lack of "options" he perceived in the Providence area, he said. He said he was excited to learn of the new store's opening and hopes to go there on Friday, "at the very least to see how it is."

"Everyone within our age range loves Trader Joe's," David Hansen '10 said. However, he said he doesn't buy into the hype. "It's kind of overblown."

Carroll said he expects the store to appeal to the youth demographic, because of the free samples and the "really cool" atmosphere there.

However, said Bourgeois, the store is "not going out of our way to do anything special for any particular age group. We're really just putting ourselves out there for Trader Joe's fans, and Trader Joe's fans span every age group." Breslin and her suitemate Tess O'Brien '10 both shop at the Trader Joe's in their hometown of Acton. They said they loved Trader Joe's but were unlikely to shop at the new store frequently. "It's kind of far," Breslin said.

"I think Trader Joe's is best for their nonperishables anyway ... so you can just go and stock up," O'Brien said. She said she would probably continue to do most of her shopping at Eastside Market because it's easier to get there.

Though Trader Joe's is accessible by public transit - there is a bus stop across the street from it - the trip can take more than 30 minutes each way, according to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority Web site, including a walk to Kennedy Plaza and a bus transfer. Bourgeois said he did not know why the company chose to locate the store in Warwick.

Alison Mochizuki, Trader Joe's director of national publicity, said that the company, which is privately held, does not disclose its business strategies or its reasons for choosing particular locations for expansion.

"We're so excited to be here in Rhode Island and we can't wait to see how excited Rhode Islanders are to come to us," Bourgeois said. "We want the collision to happen so that we can have fun."


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