Trader Joe’s, a boutique grocery store with a devoted following, opened on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst Friday morning to much fanfare.
But as the music from the steel drum band fades, Trader Joe’s will settle in as just another part of the Western New York landscape.
“Traffic is going to be horrible,” said Vincent Somogyi of Kenmore. “This is probably one of the worst areas for congestion already. Just wait until Christmas!”
Rumblings about traffic headaches began almost immediately after Trader Joe’s announced it would locate its store in Boulevard Consumer Square.
The stretch of Niagara Falls Boulevard between Sheridan Drive and Interstate 290 is notoriously slow, but the section between I-290 and Maple Road that runs alongside Trader Joe’s is especially problematic.
Amherst police posted “no parking” signs along Romney Drive, which runs along the south perimeter of the Trader Joe’s parking lot. The Amherst Town Board is expected to approve permanent no-parking designations soon.
A handful of security personnel and off-duty police officers directed traffic inside the lot Friday, as parking overflowed into the adjacent Barnes & Noble and Burlington Coat Factory Plaza parking lots.
“I was hearing horror stories, like we would have to shut down the 290,” said Capt. Patrick McKenna of the Amherst Police Department. “But everything seems to be handling itself so far.”
The additional 50 to 100 cars per hour could worsen gridlock during rush hour, McKenna said, and another test will come today and Sunday, as Canadian shoppers arrive for the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Another question is how the specialty grocery store will impact surrounding local businesses, such as Wegmans, Tops and Premier Gourmet, which are just minutes away.
“Much like we’re a destination store, Trader Joe’s is a destination store that people will drive long distances for,” said Mark Notarius, president of Premier Gourmet. “I think it might have a more positive impact and bring more traffic in our direction – especially Canadians.”
While a small group of consumers might do the majority of their grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, the average Trader Joe’s customer tends to round out its shopping basket elsewhere. The store does not carry paper products, baby food or baby formula, and has a very limited pet food section.
Still, the California-headquartered Trader Joe’s, whose parent company shares ownership with no-frills deep-discounter ALDI, is expected to take some market share away from each of the locally and nationally-owned stores in the region, according to Burt Flickinger III, a grocery expert and managing director at Strategic Resource Group.
That lost market share for other Western New York grocers will increase as Trader Joe’s adds up to 6 more locations in Buffalo Niagara over the next five years, as retail experts expect it to do.
“Trader Joe’s is entering one of the most competitive grocery environments in the country,” said Flickinger. “It’s going to make its competitors better, competitors are going to make it better and the winners will be the consumers.”