by Joleesa Redeye
Mayor Rebecca Smothers announced this week that California-based grocery chain Trader Joe’s intention to open a High Point store along West Main Street. After beginning renovation on the empty TGA Furniture Inc. building on April 1 and retrofitting the facility, Smothers said the company plans to open by mid summer.
“This is another example of how a public-private partnership can spur economic growth and development and inject new life into our beloved city,” Smothers said in a press release. “Once the store is open, we project a ripple effect in the local economy as residents from Jamestown, Greensboro and the surrounding area travel here to shop, and hopefully take some time to experience what High Point has to offer the Triad.”
High Point, which provides electricity as a public utility similar to how other cities supply water, was partially able to land the development by offering Trader Joe’s free electricity for the first 18 months of operation. The city plans to offset the cost by firing three city employees and replacing them with Americorps members, who barely require compensation. It is unclear which departments would be considered for cuts.
The move came as a shock to some Greensboro residents, who have been engaged in a love affair with the company for unspecified reasons for over five years.
“It feels a little bit like a slap in the face, but we’re strong enough to press on,” Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins said. “What I’d really like to focus on, though, is the downtown performing arts center. If we can complete the center in the next few years, and if we modify the noise ordinance to be more reasonable, we can situate ourselves to catch an even larger wave of financial investment.”
Trader Joe’s was well aware of Greensboro’s unrequited love for the company, and a spokesperson said that influenced their decision and was part of a reason they decided to open a store in Winston-Salem last month as well.
“To be completely honest, we’re partially doing this to spite Greensboro,” Trader Joe’s spokesperson Annie Bodie said. “It might sound harsh, but the reality is that Greensboro’s attitude reminds me of a rabid dog foaming at the mouth. There was more pressure and awkwardness than a blind date. We just couldn’t make it work, and [the people of High Point] were just more levelheaded about the whole thing.”
The grocery company outlined its 10-year plan, which includes opening stores in Kernersville and Burlington. The idea, Bodie said, is that Greensboro residents are so overly excited enough about a Trader Joe’s that the company knows residents will be willing to drive out of town to shop there. Regency Centers, a Floridabased development firm that repeatedly suggested Trader Joe’s could be their anchor store for a development on Holden and Friendly Avenue adjacent to the Friendly Center, said plans to develop the site would still go forward. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Regency executive said the company would say whatever it needed to in order to be approved for commercial rezoning, and was hoping to go before the planning board before the High Point store became public knowledge. Nonetheless, the company was not deterred, the executive said, because people in Greensboro will believe anything, especially if it’s about Trader Joe’s.
“Y’all know this is just a grocery store and not Disney World, right?” Vice President of Sales David Warbucks said, referring to Greensboro. “We just have some cheap wine, a few special items like pesto pizza and pretty stellar organic nuts. What’s all the hullabaloo for?” Perkins called Smothers to congratulate her on the store’s announcement.
“On a day known for practical jokes and trickery, this announcement on April 1 feels kind of like a cruel joke,” he told her. “But that’s not why I called. I wanted to commend your hard work and creative thinking on this project, and also to see if we are still on for a few rounds of golf at the country club this weekend.”