Trader Joe’s, a boutique grocery store with a devoted following, opened Friday morning on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst to much fanfare.
Devoted fans were ready and waiting.
Angela Taggart, from the City of Tonawanda, arrived at 3 a.m. and was first in line, carrying a sign that read, “I fell in love with Trader Joe’s in San Francisco.”
Sara Orendorf of Amherst came at 4:30 a.m., wearing a handmade purple sweatshirt that read, “I heart TJ’s Buffalo.”
By 7:45 a.m., there were 70 people in a line, eating Trader Joe’s cookies and dancing to music from the Sweet Home Middle School Concert Band. The line had grown beyond 150 people – from Barker, Lockport, Lancaster and the City of Buffalo – when local dignitaries gathered to cut the ribbon at 8 a.m.
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 Youngmann Memorial Highway 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.
But any minor traffic woes won’t bother the faithful.
Melissa Foster, president of the Kenmore Village Improvement Society, was at the opening bright and early with “Kenmore Joe,” a giant stuffed doll wearing a Hawaiian shirt – a mascot the citizens group used in its two-year campaign to bring a Trader Joe’s store to Kenmore. She was “wildly excited” to see Trader Joe’s open, even if it was a few miles away on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst.
“They’ve got great prices, products without too many chemicals, low-price organics and a creative product line that continually changes,” Foster said. “And they don’t have a huge footprint, so you’re not exhausted when you leave.”
Even nearby retail competitors were not alarmed by the outpouring of support. The increased traffic may have benefits, one said.
“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 the 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.”