Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 28, 2006

Sour grapes over Trader Joe’s location

I was startled by Gilroy resident Ed Rolls’ letter to the editor that said, in part, “This comment is directed to Morgan Hill City Councilman Greg Sellers: It’s interesting that you perceive Morgan Hill as being populated with educated rich folks… Meanwhile, us poor, ignorant dolts here in Gilroy are rolling in income from sales tax. We see plenty of Morgan Hill residents flocking to our big box stores, Costco and Wal-Mart.”

He’s not the only one feeling this way, it seems, after reading Sellers’ comments about the impending arrival of a Trader Joe’s in Morgan Hill. I heard one prominent Gilroyan say that Sellers apparently thinks Gilroy is “too dumb” for a Trader Joe’s store.

In case you missed it, the paper reported recently that Trader Joe’s will construct a 12,000-square-foot store near the intersection of Walnut Grove Drive and East Dunne Avenue in Morgan Hill. I’m hearing that the much-beloved retailer might be open for business by Thanksgiving.

As retail openings go, this will be big for foodies’ quality of life, but because most food items are exempt from sales tax, it won’t have great impact on Morgan Hill’s coffers.

I’ve been pining for a South County Trader Joe’s for years. I’ve written columns on the topic and participated in the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce’s postcard campaign some time ago that was aimed at convincing the offbeat specialty grocer to locate in Morgan Hill.

I’m quite happy that Trader Joe’s is finally coming to Morgan Hill, but given Gilroy’s dominance in all things retail in South County, I wouldn’t have been surprised if TJ’s had chosen the garlic capital’s retail mecca for a South County location.

But the underdog won, and now it seems that some Gilroyans’ feelings are hurt because Trader Joe’s picked Morgan Hill instead of Gilroy. I don’t know how else to explain the resentment that has been inexplicably directed at Sellers.

To try to make sense of the hurt feelings, I re-read the article announcing Trader Joe’s upcoming store. Sellers was quoted exactly twice by reporter Matt King:

• “I have no doubt that the outpouring of support from the community influenced their decision,” Councilman Greg Sellers said. “But there had to be some hard financial data as well. I think they’ll find an even warmer reception than they’re anticipating.”

• “I think it’s evidence of the demographic differences between the two communities and the difference in the focus of our economic development efforts,” Sellers said, adding that Morgan Hill has not been welcoming to Wal-Mart and other so-called big box stores. “A good number of the stores Gilroy welcomed would have been problematic for Morgan Hill. It makes economic development more challenging but makes the fruit of our efforts more worthwhile.”

Sorry, but, I’m not seeing any justification for those Gilroyans taking offense based on these quotes. Sellers didn’t call Morgan Hill residents smarter or richer or Gilroy residents dumber and poorer. I prescribe more careful reading before anyone takes umbrage at nonexistent “insults.”

I note that reporter King’s text just before Sellers’ second quote called Morgan Hill a “wealthier and better-educated” city, an assertion, again, not made by Sellers, but by reporter King, and one that’s backed up by census data.

Data from the 2000 U.S. Census show that Morgan Hill has a higher percentage of high school graduates (70.1 percent in Gilroy, 86.8 percent in Morgan Hill); a higher percent of college graduates (19.1 percent in Gilroy, 33.5 percent in Morgan Hill); and a higher median household income ($62,135 in Gilroy, $81,958 in Morgan Hill).

Did those statistics have anything to do with Trader Joe’s officials choosing to locate a new store in Morgan Hill? Who knows. Company officials have declined to comment on why they chose Morgan Hill; in fact, they haven’t even confirmed that TJ’s is coming to Morgan Hill. They’ve only said that Morgan Hill is on their list of possible expansion cities.

Meanwhile, as letter-writer Rolls noted, many Morgan Hill residents do indeed travel to Gilroy to purchase bulk toilet paper, office supplies, automobiles and more. Is it really so much to ask that Gilroyans travel to Morgan Hill to buy two-buck chuck, high-fiber and organic oat cereal, holistic pet food and whole-wheat refrigerated pizza dough?

I hope not. Instead, I hope to bump into lots of Gilroy, San Martin, San Benito County and South San Jose neighbors at the new Morgan Hill Trader Joe’s.

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