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Trader Joe's opens in Pittsburgh

| Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

If tangerine juice, frozen goat cheese pizza and salmon chimichurri filets are on this week's grocery list, chances are the shopper is heading to Trader Joe's.

Pittsburgh's version of the groovy grocer opened this morning, complete with a lei-cutting ceremony and Hawaiian-shirt-clad Mayor Luke Ravenstahl greeting shoppers with an "Aloha!"

Calling Trader Joe's just a grocery store is like calling Manolo Blahnik heels just a pair of shoes. It's the store that customers talk about wistfully after one visit; the low prices, unusual selections and Hawaiian-shirt clad "team members" tend to inspire return visits and dedicated customers.

Beth McAhren, 41, of Bloomfield, made the first purchase at Pittsburgh's Trader's Joe's. McAhren bought the spinach goat cheese quesadilla ($5) for lunch.

Emily Harding, 26, of East Liberty, said she appreciates Trader Joe's because "it's a great store for a 20-something on a budget."

"It's kind of sexy, but they have excellent products at affordable prices," she said.

The 10,500-foot store joins more than 260 locations in 22 states, and is the third offbeat grocery store to open in the East End. It follows Whole Foods in 2002, and Giant Eagle's Market District earlier this year.

"We're really excited to have Trader Joe's," said Ernie Hogan, director of residential development for East Liberty Development Inc. "Hopefully, this is another success like Whole Foods has been, which has turned out to be an amazing asset to our community."

But Keith Pozzuto, 28, of the Strip District, ups the ante one more.

"You get Whole Foods quality at Wal-Mart prices," said Pozzuto, who has shopped at Trader Joe's in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Dayton, Ohio. "Everything's really cheap and really fancy. They just do everything really well."

(For the record, we asked if we was a company plant. Nope, just an enthusiastic shopper.)

Pittsburgh's store is unlike any other Trader Joe's -- it's smaller than most other stores, for one thing, but also due to the work of local artists Dianne DeStefano, Nina Marano and Rick Colerich. Replicas of the Fort Pitt, 16th Street, Clemente and Smithfield Street bridges sit atop the aisles, and a miniature version of the Duquesne Incline runs up and down near the frozen food section.

"They really gave us free rein to make the store was all about Pittsburgh," said DeStefano, who like Marano, is a Penn Hills native.

The artists were finishing the final touches on the store on Wednesday, readying blue-and-white street signs that will hang over cash registers, and "Kennywood arrows" which will guide shoppers up and down the aisles.

Eighty percent of the groceries in those aisles are Trader Joe brands, like Trader Giotto's marinara sauce, Trader Jose salsa, Way More Chocolate chip cookies and Semi Precious Stone Wheat crackers. According to the Trader Joe's Web site, all its store brands are preservative-free and have no artificial ingredients.

Basics such as bread and milk are readily available, alongside less-traditional items: lemon grass chicken and rice frozen entrees, pumpkin butter. Alongside the cheese puffs and chips are Snapeas, which are baked pea pod snacks.

"Commander" Patrick Brandon (otherwise known as store manager) has worked at 16 different stores in five states, most recently Cleveland, said each store is a blank slate.

"We're always looking for ways to respond to customers," he said. "The merchandise is based on what customers want and ask for." Additional Information:

Details

WHAT: Trader Joe's

WHERE: 6343 Penn Ave., East Liberty

WHEN: Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Shopping List

  • Chunky salsa, 12 oz. jar: $1.99
  • Organic bananas: $0.29 pound
  • Salmon chimichurri filets: $6.99 per pound
  • New York cheesecake: $3.99

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