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One of Trader Joe's trademarks is low prices on flowers. Like many of the perishable products, the flowers hadn't been stocked yet when we toured the store earlier this week.

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The company says all the signs and murals in the store are hand painted. The murals are a nod to local history -- like this one, which represents the Erie Canal. We asked if the company had specifically hired artists to do the murals and signs. The manager said they were just "fortunate" to have crew members with artistic talent. (Everyone from Trader Joe's has been very friendly, but the company has a habit of being oddly coy about a lot of things. For example: it won't say how many people will be employed at the Wolf Road store.)

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In the back left corner is the demo area. The company says it will have food demonstrations and samples throughout the day. (The manager says crew members will open pretty much any item for a sample if customers ask.)

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There's a big selection of frozen items -- a full aisle -- many of them pre-prepared.

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A spokeswoman cited the frozen pizza as an example of the company's intense focus on getting its store-brand products just so -- she said its manufacturer in the US couldn't get the crust on some of its frozen pizza quite right, so the company ended up importing it from Italy.

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These corn dogs are typical of Trader Joe's atypical product selection. They take something familiar (corn dogs) and add an unusual twist (corn dogs with shrimp or turkey).

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The Wolf Road store carries only one type of ketchup -- store brand organic.

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We have no idea, but we're intrigued.

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The store carries stuff like paper towels, but the selection is limited. TJ's isn't a full-scale supermarket.

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If there's any indication of the wave of hype the company rides into town, multiple news outlets here had stand-alone stories this week about how many parking spots the store has and potential traffic related to the opening.

The store is in a strip on Wolf Road just south of Sand Lake Road Sand Creek Road. Yep, we're guessing that area will be jammed this Friday and through the weekend.

Checking out the Trader Joe's on Wolf Road

trader joes wolf road exterior

We stopped by for a tour earlier this week.

As you surely know by now, the new Trader Joe's on Wolf Road opens this Friday. The store is the first TJ's in this area -- the first in all of upstate New York, in fact -- and the opening will probably be jammed. There are people around here who have been anticipating this day for years.

We got inside the store this week ahead of the opening for a preview. So let's get to it...

If you'd just like to gawk at photos of the store, there are a bunch in large format above -- scroll all the way up.

Wolf Rd Trader Joes checkouts wide

The Wolf Road store looks pretty much like any other Trader Joe's. If you've visited one of the markets in another city, you'll recognize the elements right away: the wood paneling, the hand-painted signs, the employees wearing Hawaiian-style shirts.

And like those other locations, the Wolf Road store isn't all that big -- it's 13,000 square feet, tiny by modern supermarket standards. (For comparison: the ShopRite that opened in Albany this spring is 65,000 square feet.) The size is part of TJ's strategy to aggressively edit its selection of products. The chain says about 80 percent of the items in the store are Trader Joe's brand products -- and while many categories do include multiple choices, many others do not. For example: the Wolf Road store has one type of ketchup: Trader's Joe's brand, organic. Explained Alison Mochizuki, Trader Joe's director of national publicity, to us during our visit: "Instead of selling 20 different ketchups, we have one that we feel is the best."

trader joe's ketchup

Trader Joe's tightly managed selection and emphasis on store brand products also helps it keep prices down. The company says it buys many products directly from 3rd party manufacturers (as opposed to working through a distributor), allowing it to save money. The arrangement also allows it to exert significant influence over the the products for flavor (usually something a little unusual or surprising) and ingredients (no artificial preservatives or colors).

trader joes vegan ice cream sandwiches

What's remarkable about Trader Joe's strategy is that even with the tightly edited selection the store doesn't feel like you're shopping in some stripped-down discount market. It's just the opposite actually. Sure, there's super cheap store-brand cereal (Joe's O's for $1.99) -- but there are also items that are familiar but a little different (shrimp or turkey corn dogs), speciality items (vegan ice cream sandwiches), apparently high quality items (three types of wild-caught salmon), unusual items (portioned-out frozen chopped garlic and cilantro), weird items (cookie butter?), or whimsical items (black licorice shaped like Scottie dogs).

"It's a fun place. We just have a good time, don't take ourselves too seriously," says Mochizuki.

trader joes cheese section

In that way, Trader Joe's excels as an interface. Make no mistake -- this is a highly sophisticated company with billions in annual sales. But the store experience feels friendly and human-scale. It makes food shopping seem like something you'd do for fun. (If the supermarket-as-interface idea seems weird, think about Walmart and Target -- both are enormous stores built upon massive, crazy-complicated supply chains, but there's a distinct difference in the experience of using each chain.)

Says Shawn Minihane, the manger of the Wolf Road store: "We want to give customers options -- we're pretty confident people will like the experience and our crew members."

The bigger picture

trader joes wolf road wide shot

It's important to note that Trader Joe's isn't really a full modern supermarket. It carries more mundane things like paper towels, but you probably wouldn't want to do all your shopping there. Many of the products are frozen (there's a large selection of prepared frozen foods) or packaged (so many snacks). TJ's is just another part of the wider supermarket picture.

With all the recently entered new competition -- Fresh Market, ShopRite, Trader Joe's -- it will be interesting to see how the supermarket scene organizes itself in the Capital Region. We're not sure Trader Joe's is a huge threat to the big supermarket chains. Sure, it will skim away some of the dollars that would have been spent at Price Chopper, et al, but for all the hype about TJ's, there are probably a lot of people who still won't shop there regularly -- either because the store doesn't carry the brands they want, or the travel-the-world selection doesn't appeal to them. The Fresh Market might be worried, though. Trader Joe's is more fun and the prices appear to be a lot better.

And then there's Honest Weight. In all the lead up to Trader Joe's -- and now Whole Foods -- people have repeatedly expressed concern about what effect there will be on the co-op. It seems likely there will be some impact. Both stores appeal to people who are food-obsessed and pay attention to things like organic. At the same time, Trader Joe's is very different from the co-op -- its product selection appears to skew more toward packaged goods. And Honest Weight has a strong community-oriented focus that TJ's does not. When we asked Mochizuki and Minihane whether the Wolf Road store has placed any emphasis on sourcing local products, the answer was essentially that it has not. As Mochizuki explained: "Our buying philosophy is to travel the world."

Of course, there's only so much money people in this area are going to spend on food. And every new player in the market takes another slice of the pie. The established players are going to have to step up their games -- not just on price, but also on customer service and overall experience. It's an interesting time to be a supermarket shopper in the Capital Region.

trader joes wolf road from front of store

Trader Joe's opening details

The Wolf Road Trader Joe's opens Friday at 8 am. The company will have a "ceremonial lei cutting" for the opening. And, yep, the company says Bruce Roter from the We Want Trader Joe's in the Capital District group will be involved.

As mentioned, Wolf Road will be TJ's first upstate location. It's also opening a store in Rochester in October.

A large format photo tour is above -- scroll all the way up.

Earlier on AOA: Supermarket Week

Find It

Trader Joe's
79 Wolf Road
Colonie, NY 12205

Comments

It does bother me that people are so excited to go to a market that seems so cheery on the outside, but has a lot of little dark secrets. Not buying or sourcing locally means local producers of great products won't get picked up (I heart the peanut principle!) and trader joes doesn't treat all of their vendors well. (http://www.ciw-online.org/) I think we forget sometimes that real people pick our food, and we focus to much on how cheap we can get it.

The only thing I am concerned/interested in is the giant headache that this and Whole Paychecks is going to cause with traffic around my office for the next several weeks.

Maybe it's an optical illusion due to wide lens or the lack of shoppers, but the aisles seem wider than in other TJ's. I sure hope it's true! Can't wait to go there... in a few weeks when a little of the opening orgy has quieted down.

TJ's is a great pantry-stocker. Lots of good sauces made with real ingredients instead of chemicals. Once or twice a year on my way back from visiting friends in Boston, I would stop and pick up 10-20 jars of an interesting sauce or marinade, and that would last for months, since I prefer to scratch cook everything. The TJ stuff is nice as a back-up on a lazy evening.

I will not join the "ZOMG A NEW STORE" madness, but I could see braving Wolf Road for a TJ's run in 2-3 months.

I love that Bruce Roter is going to be part of the ceremony. Whether his efforts had a direct impact on their decision or not, it's appropriate to include him.

Cookie Butter- We have some in our Pantry- is a spread that tastes like gingerbread. Yes I'm serious, and Yes it is that good. And yes it makes an awesome sandwich with Neutella.

Carolyn: TJ's signed a Fair Food agreement with CIW in February.

I won't be there tomorrow, but I'm one of the people who has been hoping for a TJ's in our area for years. More variety and competition can only be a good thing for local shoppers.

I'm curious to check the place out, but I can't imagine I'll be a regular shopper, for two major reasons:

One, as you point out, you can't do your regular weekly shopping there -- the selection and consistency of offerings are lacking. If I have to make multiple stops to buy groceries, why not just make one at a place that has everything?

Two, it's too far away to be practical for said purposes. It's nice that we have a TJ's in the area now, good to have the option, but I'm not driving all the way to Colonie for groceries.

(I might drop in occasionally if I find something there that's awesome that will keep in my pantry, though.)

Haters gonna hate, but I'm in agreement with Angelos above. This isn't the place to buy your freshest local fruits and vegetables--that's your local farm or farmer's market. And local bread? AGB FOR SURE. But instead of giving Random Big Company X more money for a worse product at Price Chopper or Hannaford, I'll buy the TJ brand that I like better for less money. Cheerios doesn't need my 3.50/box. They have enough. In many ways, TJ cannot be compared to Honest Weight at all. They carry different types of things. So stop trying, it's really annoying.

I always have the frozen cilantro and basil on hand. It boggles people's minds. I guess I could make it myself out of summer's bounty, but theoretically I could make all my own sandwich bread, have my own chickens (wait, not in Albany county) lay eggs, and grow all of my own food. But I don't. So I love it.

85 parking spaces should be plenty!

I drove by around 6:00 on Friday and could tell by the parking lot that it wasn't too busy, so I stopped in. The aisles were a little crowded (I wish they had smaller carts like the Fresh Market) but everyone was polite and did their best to share the aisles. There were practically no lines to check out, I only had one person in front of me. I can't wait to go back and get a chance to really look at all they offer. So far the Joe-Joe's are a big hit, the dried seaweed (not so surprisingly) was not.

The Trader Joe's Masala Simmer Sauce, shown in one of the photos, is really tastey. I can't remember the price when I bought it on Long Island but it was very reasonably priced.

These guys have the best orchids in town and very cheap too!
Blooming oncidium for 7.99? I will come for more!

I have made a monthly-6 wekks trip to TJ for years. There was one just around the corner from my daughter's Brookline MA apartment and when I visited her, I stocked up.I have made the trip to Hadley at about the same interval for ages, The staff always told me they had people from Albany every day. It is a wonderful market-cheese selection,nuts, pasta , coffee, cooking stock, soups----I .could go on and on. When ever I shop there, I always buy a few frozen entrees for those nights you just don't have it in ya. Last night I pulled a roasted red pepper-provolone pizza out of the freezer,sprinkled it with a bit of oregano & red pepper flakes and with a salad had an easy and yummy dinner.
At the holidays, they have all-butter puff pastry that compares to Dufour at abou 1/3 the prce ( Pepperidge Farm is made with margarine! )
I have never had a product at TJ that I wasn't totally happy with.
a couple of weeks ago I made a trek to Hadley knowing the Colonie store would be opening soon, but I needed goat chese crumbles, marcona almonds,macarons,olive oil,buffalo mozzerella,arancini, tomato&red pepper soup.
TJ for staples
Fresh Market or Roma for meat
The Berry Farm & the Troy Farmer's Market for Produce
LOAF in Hudson for the BEST bread ever.
Life is good and it just got better.

Don't get this place. Canned and packaged goods; frozen goods. No butcher; prepackaged meats and fish. Produce doesn't look so good. I don't eat much processed foods (sorry, that stuff in cans is processed; and a lot of that stuff in bags is too), and frozen bags of stuff doesn't thrill me. Prices looked the same as elsewhere, parking was a nightmare and checkout looked slow (nothing there I would buy or eat that I can't get elsewhere without the hassle, really). Looked like a Price Chopper crowd, so maybe that's its appeal.

My wife and I stopped in to the store, on August 21st., to see what TJ is all about.
My first impression was the people that work there. Friendly, helpful, with a good knowledge of their store. Very refreshing to say the least!
Interesting store layout and well stocked. Prices, while not bad, aren't great either! The cereals were fair priced, their bread so-so, and the dairy prices seemed high. Meat prices on par with other stores, but, as I did not buy any, I can't comment on their quality, although they looked good.
Produce, ok, nothing I would go out of my way for, farmers markets still the way to go, this time of year.
They do sell an awful lot of frozen products, and on my next trip there, I will sample some. The selection is pretty impressive.
The only things I purchased there, was some Belgium dark chocolates,(good), a container of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies ($3.99 a pound, very good), and the main reason we went there, TJ's peanut butter ($2.79 for a small jar, creamy, and utterly awesome!)
Price wise, you can do better at other stores, but, if you are looking for organic and other such like foods, the pricing is good!
Overall, not a bad experience, and I will be going back for the peanut butter, and try some of the frozen items.

Funny how provincial Albanites react to TJ's. They seem to be expecting some kind of grocery mecca with thousands of square feet of organic produce and exotic ingredients or whatever. TJ's is a glorified convenience store with some interesting but not fantastic generic TJ products. It's a quick place to pick up a box of Israeli cous cous and some TJ brand cookies.

The problem right now is that with all the insane hype there's nothing quick about the Wolf Road location. Therefore there is very little reason to go. Just chill out and try again next year when everything has died down.

To bad NY has really stupid laws that prevents Trader Joes in Albany from selling it's really good wine. Ah just more government control.

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