Could Collingswood Get a Trader Joe's?
Patch spoke with Mayor James Maley and representatives from the offbeat grocery store about what it would take to open a location in Collingswood.
With the news that the borough of Collingswood is taking steps to oust the owners of the barely operational National Food Market—and the promise from Mayor James Maley that another, food-related business waits in the wings—the enduring hope shared by many Patch readers was that a Trader Joe’s grocery store would somehow take its place.
Although that’s assuredly not going to happen (Maley has also expressly promised as much), it hasn’t stopped specialty shoppers from dreaming, or scheming, of a way to close the gap between the 08108 zip code and the next-closest Trader Joe’s locations in Marlton and Philadelphia.
The imminent closing of the Westmont Superfresh grocery store on Cuthbert Boulevard—could it be the next best spot?—has done nothing to dampen this enthusiasm.
Collingswood is a dry town, but apparently, the ability to retail alcohol isn’t an issue; Trader Joe’s just opened a store in Salt Lake City, UT, and the local branch in Marlton is dry too.
What’s more, Maley told Patch, he had been in negotiations with the company to bring a Trader Joe’s into Collingswood years ago, and for a number of reasons, it just didn’t work out.
Crunching the numbers
“They weren’t telling us no, but they stopped the process because they were focusing on development in the south,” Maley said. “The whole approval process for building a store was easier [there]. That’s where they were focused.
“Now that we’ve been in this economy, I haven’t pursued it in the last few years,” he said. “We’re trying to let the top settle on our local economy.”
Maley also pointed out that in order for a business like Trader Joe’s to come to Collingswood, developers must crunch some numbers to see whether the surrounding suburbs have sufficient means to support it.
“They evaluate who those people are, what their incomes are,” Maley said. “They can tell [from] where you live what you’re likely to buy, and see if there’s enough people to maintain it.”
Maley said part of the reason Collingswood hasn’t tried to recruit a Trader Joe’s again recently is because of the physical footprint the store requires, and the amount of redevelopment that could have been required to build a store here given the existing layout of the borough.
One plan would have involved relocating the police station and building a property that ran from the Hi-Speedline (where the Collingswood Farmers Market is held) right up to Haddon Avenue, complete with a parking deck.
“Any place we could put them would be a redevelopment project, which costs a lot more money [than building on a vacant property],” Maley said. “You have to buy property with existing buildings, and that throws the numbers off-kilter.”
But even that could change in the future, Maley said.
“Some of the chains, like Pottery Barn, are coming up with smaller footprint stores for downtowns,” he said.
'We grow slowly'
When you really want to know something, as they say, you’ve got to go to the horse’s mouth. Unfortunately, in this case, the horse is keeping mum.
“There’s no special algorithm that brings a Trader Joe’s to a particular area,” said the customer relations consultant who took a call from Patch.
“We definitely get customers calling and requesting,” she said, and pointed out that the company does have a location request form online. “Those [requests] do get tallied and sent to the real estate department.”
Hold on, though: Bringing a Trader Joe’s to your neighborhood isn’t just a matter of stuffing a ballot box.
“I think there’s a misconception that a certain number of email signatures or phone numbers” can make that happen, she said.
As the company is privately held, the agent said, “we grow slowly,” following a two-year plan—and there’s nothing on schedule in South Jersey in that current plan.
“I think it’s a very unique store,” she said. “It’s sort of unlike anything else. I think that in and of itself really drives the following.”
And just because there’s nothing on the table now, Maley said, doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be again. The recent shuttering of the Superfresh as well as the Lawnside Pathmark are indications that buying patterns are changing, he said.
“Those stores are only closing down because people aren’t going there,” Maley said. “Even though I know people are upset that it’s closing, it’s because people aren’t going there.
“We used to have a whole lot of video stores and record shops too,” he said.