Shelves stocked for Trader Joe's debut

OLYMPIA – Employees are putting the finishing touches on the 12,500-square-foot Trader Joe’s store that will open in west Olympia at 9 a.m. Friday.

On Wednesday, staff members and managers were installing art on store walls and putting food on the shelves. Murals throughout the store depict scenes from Olympia; they include images of the current and old state Capitol buildings, Budd Inlet, Priest Point Park and Capitol Lake.

“It’s Olympia’s store,” store manager Brad Holmes said.

In Trader Joe’s nautical-themed parlance, store managers are referred to as commanders, and assistant store manager Chris Melsha is the first mate. Employees are crew members.

Perhaps since the Monrovia, Calif.-based company opened a store in the Tacoma area in December 2004, there has been a steady wave of rumors and speculation that a store was coming to Thurston County. This year, the company announced plans for a store at 1530 Black Lake Blvd., next to Barnes & Noble Booksellers, then gradually narrowed down its opening date to Friday.

The new store has generated a buzz among fans of Trader Joe’s, as well as among those seeking work in the slower economy. More than 2,000 people applied for jobs at the store and 68 were hired, the majority of them from the area, Holmes said. The store continues to accept applications, he said.

The entire staff will work during the weekend to accommodate the first wave of shoppers, and Holmes expects people to line up before the store opens. The store is well-stocked as a result, he said.

“We definitely have what folks will be looking for,” Holmes said.

Some shoppers walked into the store Wednesday already pushing a shopping cart, then realized it hadn’t officially opened.

Linda Corin of Olympia took a peek on her way to Barnes & Noble. She said she is looking forward to shopping at the new store, although she was concerned about whether there was adequate parking, noting the company seems to pick locations that are congested.

Corin has shopped at Trader Joe’s store in University Place and likes to buy hummus, ice cream and crab cakes there, she said. The store offers “unusual, always clean, quality foods,” Corin said. “We have adventurous food choices at reasonable food prices,” Holmes said, with Melsha adding, “Plus a lot of the basics, too,” such as milk and eggs.

About 80 percent of its products are sold under a Trader Joe’s brand, products that are free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, company spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki said. The stores also are known for ready-to-eat meals, a dried-fruit-and-nuts section, specialty cheeses and a California wine sold under the Charles Shaw brand that sells for $2.99, informally known as “three-buck chuck.”

Customers also can sample any food in the store, except wine, with the assistance of a store employee, she said.

How the competition feels about Trader Joe’s was not clear Wednesday. Spokespeople for Cost Plus World Market and Stormans Inc., the company that operates the Ralph’s and Bayview Thriftway stores in Olympia, could not be reached. A Top Food & Drug store is across the street from Trader Joe’s.

“Our Olympia (Top Food) store has a great, loyal following, and the customers have warmly received the remodeled store,” spokeswoman Becky Skaggs told The Olympian this year.

Trader Joe’s also is scheduled to open a store in Redmond this year, Mochizuki said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403