When it comes to an out-of-body grocery shopping experience, Trader Joe’s is second to none. It took several trips to figure out exactly how to maneuver through the enigmatic wonder that is TJ’s in order to maximize my productivity, and I’m here to share some nuggets of wisdom with you, my fellow frugal shopper. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure that you make it out of there alive.
Step One: Getting Inside
Let’s clear up one thing: Trader Joe’s is not popular solely because it is organic. It is popular because it is organic AND cheap. Do not let branding trick you into thinking TJ’s is too bougie for you; this is a popular misconception that simply isn’t true.
Going to Trader Joe’s whenever you feel like it is tempting, but an unwise choice. Once, I went after work. There was a line to GET IN THE DOOR, a line of stoic and hungry shoppers snaking along 14th street. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of lines in the first place, nor am I the biggest fan of grocery shopping. Did I turn my back on TJ’s and opt for a less seductive grocery store? I did not. I got on the line and waited. When I made it through the doors, the end of the cashiers’ line greeted me. The line has wrapped around the perimeter of the store every time I’ve been there with the exception of the following: 9 AM on a Sunday. I imagine the Sunday morning pace to be similar to that of a mid-day shop, while most people are at work. In other words, if you have a job, you are screwed and have to deal with the lines or shopping with a hangover on Sunday morning. You should block off one hour for all TJ trips made during “rush hour,” so plan accordingly.
Step Two: Buying Groceries
Shop the middle first. In most TJ’s, this is where you’ll find frozen goodies like crab cakes and frozen pizza, cans of tuna, bags of pasta and the accompanying pasta sauce, etcetera. Then hop on to the end of the check out line, where you’ll walk alongside the vegetables, fruits, breads, meats, cheeses, eggs, and dairy for the duration of your stay. TJ’s law guarantees that the line will be long enough for you to have ample time standing next to each of these refrigerated sections (this does not apply if you are in the 10 items or less line, but I don’t know what kind of person only buys 10 items from Trader Joes’s).
The lines at Trader Joe’s rival the bathroom line of the most live concert you can imagine. It’s the bathroom line at the fucking Bad World Tour. Only a masochist would subject themselves to this sort of torture in the name of organic food, but paying next to nothing for comparatively healthy, delicious groceries is nothing to sneeze at.
Step Three: Overcoming Mindfuck
Like long lines and overly competitive shoppers, there’s one last recurring theme I’ve endured at Trader Joe’s, and that is the disposition of its workers. The workers are typically aged anywhere from 18-45 and wear Hawaiian shirts. I don’t know what it’s like to be one of them, but I imagine that having a task to complete (i.e. stocking the shelves) is a complete bitch when you’re surrounded by droves of (organic) bargain hunting assholes who can’t be bothered to move out of the way for five seconds to allow you to do your job.
Despite this adversity, Trader Joe’s has some of the most pleasant workers I’ve come across. I’ve never seen one of them scowl or roll their eyes. I’ve never seen one of them become enraged with the fucking chaos that surrounds them for what I imagine to be an unspeakably long shift. Their lack of discord both pleases and concerns me. They are calming to be around, but I do not understand how Trader Joe’s employees are uniformly happy and it frightens me. It’s as though MDMA is filtered through the central air system.
Chummy employees are apparent as you walk the floor, but it’s when you reach the register that the real mindfucking begins. Without fail, I’ve always felt like my cashier was hitting on me. Men and women cashiers alike. They are more interested in what I did this weekend than every guy I’ve dated in the past year, combined. They engage you in chitchat, they smile at you, and they make lingering eye contact. And THEY ALL DO IT. They even do it to each other, except there’s more touching. Once you reach the register, you’ve left Trader Joe’s and you’re on the Love Boat. Or some sexy organic food commune. Yeah. They’ll check you out, all right.
My advice on this one is to just accept all of the cash register loving they dish out. Think back on all of your bad Pathmark/Stop-n-Shop/Shop Rite experiences with disgruntled workers and ask yourself if being mentally undressed by a Trader Joe’s employee is really all that bad.
Finally, you’ll want to load up on booze while you’re there. A bottle of wine will run you $2.99 and you’ll need it by the time you leave.