Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | September 24, 2004

Dreaming of a TJ’s in MH

I’m really trying not to get my hopes up, really I’m not, but news that Morgan Hill City Council rezoned some land on Cochrane Road has me dreaming.

Why would a boring land-use decision put me in such a tizzy? Because the land in question, 7.72 acres across from Cochrane Plaza (the shopping center that’s home to Target, Ross and Mervyn’s stores) has been rezoned to allow a specialty grocery store of 15,000 to 50,000 square feet.

The zoning change came at the request of developer Toenisketter and Breeding. The company is apparently trying to attract a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods to the site.

I’ve been pleading for a Trader Joe’s for years, and I’m not alone. Morgan Hill’s Chamber of Commerce waged a postcard campaign. The Chamber printed postcards extolling Morgan Hill’s virtues that residents mailed to the Monrovia-based grocer’s real estate firm. I heard that the postcards were a hot item; all were given out and most, presumably, were dutifully mailed to TJ’s.

There’s a lot for a penny-pinching liberal like me to like about Trader Joe’s. Besides the fact that I like their products and their prices, the company pays its employees decent wages and benefits, according to an April 26, 2004, article in Business Week.

“Besides above-union wages and generous bonuses (pay for entry-level part-timers starts at $8 to $12 an hour; first-year supervisors average more than $40,000 a year), TJ’s contributes an additional 15.4 percent of each worker’s gross pay into a company-funded retirement plan,” Business Week reported.

The privately-held company’s web site promises medical, dental and vision benefits for employees and dependents, and lists an average first-year employee’s bonus in 2002 at $950.

According to a Sept. 22 article in Progressive Grocer, the company recently stopped using paper bags manufactured by Weyerhauser. That move followed petitions and planned protests over concerns about Weyerhauser’s logging practices.

But so far, no TJ’s in MH.

I guess I’d settle for a Whole Foods, but I really prefer the prices and the ambiance of Trader Joe’s. Now that land has been rezoned to accommodate a “specialty grocer,” I’m really hoping someone (maybe Toenisketter and Breeding) can convince Trader Joe’s that it is missing a vast untapped market by ignoring Morgan Hill and South Valley.

The same Business Week article notes that Trader Joe’s stores typically locate in “abandoned retail stores in second-rate locations.” The chain, which the article says earns $1,132 per square foot (double typical supermarkets) per year, is fastidious about controlling costs. One way it does this is by selling a staggering 80 percent of its products, according to the article, under one of its Trader Joe’s brand names.

All of which makes me worry that a brand-new store in a prime Morgan Hill location isn’t going to be Trader Joe’s cup of tea.

But there’s still hope. A May 5, 2004, Seattle Times article cited statistics about the typical Trader Joe’s customer.

“Scarborough Data, a market research firm, profiles the typical Trader Joe’s shopper as a college-educated, white homeowner with a median age of 44 and a median household income of $64,000,” The Seattle Times reported. “Almost evenly divided among married people and singles, females and males, two-thirds have no kids at home.”

That sounds a lot like South Valley to me, but I thought I’d check. According to the 2000 Census, the median household income in Morgan Hill was $81,958; in Gilroy, $62,135; in San Martin, $70,064. In Morgan Hill, more than 70 percent of adults have attended college, with more than 33 percent holding Bachelor’s degrees or higher.

Trader Joe’s has more than 200 stores, mostly on the East and West coasts, but they’re rapidly making inroads into the heartland. I just wish they’d make one little inroad into the heart of South Valley.

I’ve heard TJ’s described in many ways: funky, quirky, trendy. It appeals to folks who would describe themselves as foodies and those who fit the frugal label. Despite what seems to me as a liberal bent in its corporate policies, some of the most passionate TJ’s fans I know are also some of the most conservative people I know.

It’s clear that despite my good intentions, I’ve failed in my mission to contain my excitement. I want to know: When will TJ’s open on Cochrane Road?

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