A Trader Joe's Survival Guide

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. TC mark

image via: A Girl With Tea


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  • Andrea

    HAHA, amazing, love it. So true. Favorite line: “It’s as though MDMA is filtered through the central air system.”

  • beckyb

    yes! I swear every cashier there has a crush on me – and on you too?!?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    this is good

  • shannon

    whenever im feeling down, ill go to TJs and let them charm me back to a brighter mental health state. im not ashamed. its the cheapest therapy.

  • http://sarahspy.tumblr.com sarahspy

    yes, mad admiration for the employees' against-all-odds pleasant dispositions

  • Ari

    this post is painfully accurate. ive been a 14th street tj's superfan for 5 years and was recently forced to move to the chelsea location (recently exed-bf got custody of 14th street location in the break up…despite the fact that he has no idea we were in a custody battle) and the chelsea location was even more of an out-of-body experience. i was confused at how quickly i was able to get my groceries and be ready for the (very short and fast-moving) line and so i actually found myself walking up and down the aisles…for fun…and comfortably….its all a matter of space, and shockingly tall ceilings, and a tasting stand (equipped with both food AND beverage) that didn't force me to awkwardly cut through two lines to get a sample (thus leaving the opportunity for MULTIPLE samples to be a more than viable option- which, to be honest, is sometimes reason enough to keep you going to tjs) the only thing that left me disappointed was the cashier- he didn't say a word…not even so much as a grunt….but i was also compulsively bbming about how much i loved the location, so i probably had his indifference to my well being coming. thanks for the great post!

    • stephgeorge

      Ah, the double line cut for samples… I know it well.

      Thanks for reading!

  • http://sixmetamorphoses.blogspot.com/ The Other Jordan

    Hilarious, but a bit heinous that you would suggest shopping the frozen food aisles before going for the fresh stuff.

  • ruthlezz

    Nice piece! I thought the whole happy go-hippy employee thing had more to do with my regional location in 'laid back' Socal and possibly a loose and/or non-existent drug testing policy for employees. The fact that you get the same pleasant experience as I do in your busy downtown Manhattan centers is incredible to me. Now just imagine your experience without those crazy lines. Mind fucktastic!

  • saramcgrath


  • http://twitter.com/t_baugh Travis Baugh

    One time a TJ's check out dude scolded me for saying that I had a bunch of “shit” to do.

  • fl

    I guess the one perk of living in a Californian suburb as opposed to in the middle of New York City is that there's never a TJ's check out line longer than four customers. The last one, though, is universally true.

  • http://twitter.com/michpc Michelle Craren

    ha, excellent! I have found one exception to the cheerful employee rule…the Fresh Pond TJ's in Cambridge, MA…bunch of hipster bitches working there, but the bitterness might just stem from the fact that that location doesn't sell beer and wine, so I think I can understand it.

  • Tay

    Excellent use of the term “bougie”.

  • Madison Moore

    next, you should write a whole foods union square/columbus circle survival guide. talk about a MIND FUCK. i once went to a whole foods in boston, strolled in, ready to compete. only there was nothing and nobody to compete with. all was calm, like a normal grocery, and it didn't have those confusing RED YELLOW GREEN BLUE and numbered cash register computers that always freak me out, took me 12 visits to get it right.

  • Andy

    there is a trader joes in my hometown of albuquerque. i never went shopping there but i went inside and there were no lines just soccer moms and old people. but this summer i was staying with this old hippie jewish lady in manhattan. she's like let's go to trader joes. when i got there i was like what the fuck because the lines were fucking long. i asked her if there was some sort of special sale and she said no. she said the line us not that bad today. also the majority of the people in the line were attractive asain or blonde girls. it seems like a great place to get some chicks. the food is good too.

  • agh

    as someone who worked at the chealsea TJ's for 3 months fuck that store

    • Sdglsdkgslgkdsdg

      u mad?

    • Katie

      Them’s is fightin’ words!

  • AGH

    the only job qualification is being able to talk to morons and make them feel like they had a hint of human contact

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505759069 Julian Tully Alexander

    I was going to “freak out” about the lack of “two buck chuck”. Then I read the last line all in anticipation for that bottle of wine. Sweet.

  • http://twitter.com/blingless Dave P

    They've gotta open some more stores in NYC! Here in LA they're all over the place.

    • Katie

      Well they originated in Cali silly!!!  They’re working on more stores!!

  • http://twitter.com/JosephErnest Joseph Ernest Harper

    man. waanna go there now. do they sell nice cheese? all i could think bout while reading that was nice as cheese and fresh bread.

    • Katie

      TJs has some of the best cheese around and ridiculously awesome prices

  • ryan chang

    yeah. i liked this a lot. 'TJ's Law' was my favorite part

  • five5five

    Hopefully not too many of you are lazy fucks that don't bag your own shit. TJ empolyees are well-paid. Thats why they are slightly happier, but don't push it. No amount of money is worth the way some people treat them.

    • http://twitter.com/miniestation minie

      Thank you for this, it’s really true. We put up with a lot but some of our customers can be incredibly spoiled and insolent. :

  • http://twitter.com/kendallcorner kendallcorner

    I think you mean perimeter ;-)

    • http://www.theuglynewyorker.com Stephanie Georgopulos

      I did! My sister called me out already. Guess that's what happens when your grammar school teachers have Brooklyn accents.

      • http://twitter.com/kendallcorner kendallcorner

        hahaha. oh my.

  • http://experiencingrevolution.com Tessa Zeng

    Cant. Wait. To. Go. When. I. Get. Home. Months without a Trader Joe's is torture. There have actually been times when I've gone on a day trip to NY and been tempted to shop there (on a day trip! While walking for hours! With a 4-hr long bus ride!)

    Love this post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bee-Goode/100001676566533 Bee Goode

    re: why the TJ's employees are so happy & nice.

    i'm assuming they don't drug test the workers at TJs.

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