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In a city where New Yorkers argue with each other over nearly everything, there’s one thing (almost) everyone can agree on — Hell’s Kitchen needs a Trader Joe’s supermarket. Ahead of today’s press conference — where Council Member Erik Bottcher and neighborhood organizers will ask Trader Joe’s to “be their Valentine” and open a local branch — hundreds of W42ST readers voted on the issue. Results were overwhelmingly in favor of a store opening, with 96% voting Yes, 2.6% voting No, and 0.9% voting Maybe.
“We need it badly…it’s like someone read my mind,” said one respondent. Left without a local TJ’s, West Siders overwhelmingly do their shopping at one of the Whole Foods locations that border the area in Hudson Yards, Columbus Circle and Bryant Park (with several readers noting its “Whole Paycheck” reputation). The next most popular destination? Trekking to other Trader Joe’s locations — specifically the W72nd and Broadway UWS and Chelsea locations, where many readers bemoaned large crowds and long lines, likely owing to the lack of closer TJ’s locations for several other neighborhoods across Manhattan.
Other readers noted that they currently don’t go to Trader Joe’s at all, finding it to be out of the way. As one respondent put it — “It is hard for seniors or disabled people to travel far away from Hell’s Kitchen,” and reader Beth Hallo added, “Opening a Trader Joe’s in HK would basically be a license to mine gold. How about adding a delivery service, maybe just for elderly/disabled customers?”
Some responses drove home the multi-leg commute required to get to current TJ’s locations — “If you live in HK it’s literally a difficult chore and a schlep to get to a TJ’s. I’ve spent countless trips walking, riding a Citibike (when the bags break) and even taking an Uber just to get there. Hell’s Kitchen would be an incredible new home for TJ’s and the neighborhood would embrace it with open arms!” said one respondent. Another reader chimed in, “I’m not the type to travel very far for groceries, but I am the type that if there was a TJ’s in a quick walking distance, I’d shop there every day :-).”
As for where to build a theoretical TJ’s, W42ST readers had plenty of thoughts. Barbara Wikstrom suggests building a location near W42nd Street as “we have nothing decent. I have to take the bus to 6th Ave to Whole Foods but TJ’s is still a better store.” Reader Lenny mused, “Maybe it could be part of the plan for new commercial space near the Penn Station area that is being developed.”
Bill Young posits that “any of the closed pharmacies” (e.g. the recently shuttered Rite Aid on W50th St and 8th Ave) will do as a new TJ’s. Patricia, who currently goes to Whole Foods, Fairway, and Trader Joe’s 72nd, would like a 9th Ave location — “This area desperately needs better supermarket options. Gristedes, Morton Williams, and the others are awful.” Matt Fox, who currently shops at Amish Market, says “There are so many new buildings west of 10th with vacant ground floor space.” Natasha, who currently splits her time between NYC TJ’s, hopes Trader Joe’s will head to Lucky Strike’s old space, saying — “Having one here will only bring more residents to the beautiful neighborhood.”
Several readers argued that while Hudson Yards may have the advantage of plentiful square footage and constant new development, it’s not as accessible to residents — “I would prefer not to have to walk to Hudson Years or 57th St to shop at TJs. Those areas already have a Whole Foods and a younger population, especially at Hudson Yards. The aging 10036 population needs a closer TJs!” said one respondent.
A passionate contingent of respondents shared organizer Anne Davis’s assertion that “Everybody hates Food Emporium,” saying “Food Emporium really does suck”, “the Food Emporiums are gross and are a long walk for me,” and “I also hate Food Emporium!! (aka ‘Rude Emporium’).” One reader even suggested a TJ’s takeover at “Food Emporium on 43 and 10th. It’s perennially horrible.”
What’s also clear is that many residents have been campaigning to bring Trader Joe’s West for quite some time — as one reader put it, “I’ve emailed Trader Joe’s at least 4 or 5 times begging them to come to Hell’s Kitchen.”
Leslie Riddle started “writing them 4 years ago 🙂.” She hopes TJ’s will land in “that huge space at 42nd & 11th Avenue, or the space to the East of The Victory Theater.”
Another said, “I lobbied TJs to take over the W43rd St. Food Emporium location back when it was going to close, before Key Food bought the name and kept it open. They were not very receptive to the idea back then. I hope this effort gets them to seriously consider it!”
In the pursuit of accurate survey representation, it must be noted that there were a few arguments against adding another national retailer to the neighborhood. One reader argues that with Trader Joe’s 15,000 square-foot minimum, “There just isn’t the space for it.”
Others were concerned with the disappearance of local purveyors in favor of big box retail. Said reader Christopher, “We are looking more and more like Orlando. No more chains, please. Walk up from Hell’s Kitchen to see what an overabundance of suburban chains looks like.” Added another, “Stay local! Big Apple and Terra Market are great and affordable, why change that?”
Brandon Issa, Regional Manager of Brooklyn Fare told W42ST — “Trader Joe’s, you’ve got to give them respect. They’ve been around for many years, they’re good at what they do. It’s not surprising that they could be looking at Hell’s Kitchen — all of these brand new buildings are coming up, new stores go hand-in-hand with that. But after the past two years in Midtown for businesses selling food and beverages – new competition will be a hindrance. It will be very difficult. We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel but we’re not there yet. Competition is competition. There’s not much I can do to stop them from coming in, other than to continue to do better on our end.”
Another subset of respondents emphasized a potential equilibrium between national chains and local Hell’s Kitchen businesses. Said reader Cory, “I’d still go to Big Apple for meat though!!! Have to keep the balance between local and national chains.”
Many readers were so eager to see a Trader Joe’s appear, that they began to make product requests — Juli Oliver appeals, “Bring back Nutty Bits — TJ’s! They were so tasty — li’l dark chocolate & nut clusters. I’ve already contacted them.” Adds reader Michael Miller — “Add in a Trader Joe’s wine shop too!”, perhaps echoing the pleas of others who have waited for hours at the Union Square location in hopes of snagging some Three Buck Chuck.
As Bottcher’s press conference ramps up the campaign to woo TJ’s, many noted the economic benefit of having a grocery store where residents are excited to drop hard-earned dollars. Monica Nako, who currently shops at TJ’s on W72nd and Bway as well as Clifton, NJ, says — “I would be absolutely thrilled to have Trader Joe’s in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s my favorite grocery store. I shop at Trader Joe’s once a week and spend at least $90-$100. We desperately need them in our neighborhood. Please make this happen!” Others argued that opening a TJ’s would add to the economic vitality of the area, saying “it brings important jobs to the neighborhood!”
While it remains to be seen if Trader Joe’s will accept Hell’s Kitchen’s passionate VDay proposal, there is little doubt that a majority of residents will keep waving the banner in hopes of a commitment from the brand. As reader Joel put it, “If you build it, we will come. Frequently.”