Robert Ehlert: Welcome to Boise, Trader Joe's, there's plenty of room

Idaho StatesmanMarch 19, 2014 

It's not my job to tell people where to shop, when to shop or how to shop for things like groceries. We all have our routines, and I get that.

But I think it is my job to say that the variety and volume of food shopping opportunities in Downtown Boise is more important than the size of the Trader Joe's parking lot.

The new Boise store, which just opened Feb. 28, has caught some heat (and we have received critical letters to the editor) because of its location at Capitol and Front streets and the limited number of parking spaces in that retail block. I haven't actually counted them, or even used one yet — the lot has been full and quite busy when I have visited. The two times I shopped there were piggy-backed onto trips to the movies and on a Friday night snacking-and-grazing tour of BoDo. I parked on nearby streets or in a garage. It was pretty easy — and the street parking is free after 6 p.m.

I've been a Trader Joe's customer in many different states and communities. I've seen them located next to big box lumber stores in the Sacramento area and in strip malls in the San Francisco Bay Area and Santa Cruz. I've been to one in New York (a son lives there) where parking is out of the question because, hey, it's New York.

This same son happened to be visiting us during the hubbub of the Boise Trader Joe's opening weekend. Witnessing the crowd, he said: "In New York, I'm used to lines going around the block just waiting to get into the place. This is nothing."

I don't use Trader Joe's as my main grocery store — the neighborhood Fred Meyer and Albertsons are reserved for that. Trader Joe's is my niche retailer, a specialty market, a delightful part of the mix evolving in Downtown Boise. I'm not the type to attempt to do the monthly shopping there and then try to navigate to my car with six bags and a case of Three-Buck-Chuck.

This is not New York, and I am not auditioning for the position of Trader Joe's apologist. I'm just going to nudge Boise for a minute and point out that change is afoot downtown, and I think it's great.

Though there are still details to work out in regard to adding bike lanes and subtracting car lanes as proposed on some of the Downtown streets, it's all part of the picture for a more walkable, bikeable corridor that will have a few drawbacks — but many more charms.

I feel good about arriving here just about a year ago and being fortunate to witness some phenomenal change and development in the Downtown corridor. I can't wait to take in Treefort this weekend and enjoy the return of the Saturday morning markets next month.

What I see is Boise growing and moving in a direction that bodes well for the future — a future that has room for everybody and transportation alternatives that are geared more toward cycles than cylinders. What's not to like?

I'm pleased to see that existing grocers in the area don't seem threatened by the arrival of Trader Joe's. The weekend it opened the parking lots at Whole Foods and WinCo were packed. A few days later, the Boise Co-op announced it would be expanding and adding a new location.

There's a lot of room to grow around here — and maybe even grow to like a bike ride to pick up some Trader Joe's tarter sauce and tater tots. Yes, I know Idaho is the potato state, but have you tried them?

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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