Jo Lane glowed when asked her opinion of Trader Joe’s in South Pasadena. And why not?
She’s been coming to the store on Mission Street for more than 45 years.
“This is like my family,’’ Lane said this week as she shopped at the South Pas institution. “I may come five times a week. I stop by, coming or going from different places, and I might buy one or two things, or I might buy several bags of things.’’
She knows the clerks — crew members, as they called by the company — and she’s happy to see them, but sad to see them leave for another job.
“It’s nice to keep track and see how people grow and move on,’’ the South Pas resident said. “They have a relationship with you. I was waiting once while someone checked on an item, and three people came by and asked if they could help me.’’
Who knows what Trader Joe’s groupies would be called if they had a nickname, the way Jimmy Buffett’s fans are called “parrot heads’’? TJ Troubadours, maybe?
The holidays are a good time for TJs shoppers to be singing the praises of special items for gifting or for taking home for the dinner table.
People fill shopping carts full of poinsettias to give as gifts, and the list goes on from cookie tins to kits to make gingerbread houses.
And like Buffett’s beloved the tropics, TJ’s employees dress the part, wearing Hawaiian shirts and exhibiting an air of welcome.
“Hawaiian shirts symbolize an adventure on the culinary seas,’’ said Bryan Lo, who, as the store’s general manager, is called “captain.’’ Supervisors are “mates’’ and the workers are “crew.”
“The real culture hasn’t changed. Customer service never changes. We find unique offerings that people can’t find anywhere else,’’ said Lo, who has been with the company since he graduated college in 2002.
The South Pasadena store helped develop that culture — being the second store opened in what is now a 504-store chain. The first store is still in business on Arroyo Parkway. The company headquarters used to be located right across the street from the South Pasadena store.
Trader Joe’s is now in 42 states and recently had a big opening in Little Rock, Ark. The line was around the block, according to Kenya Friend-Daniel, who is the company’s public-relations director.
Friend-Daniel said that, as a private company, Trader Joe’s does not release sales for individual stores either for the year or for the season, nor do it say which item is its best seller.
But the traffic going in and out of the parking lot and lines all through the year testify to the store’s continued success.
Lo said that many of the South Pasadena store’s customers have been coming back for years.
“Our roots run deep here in South Pasadena,’’ he said. “A good amount of customers have been shopping here for a long time.’’
Sometimes, it’s hard to love TJs — especially when you are waiting for a spot to open up in the limited parking area.
That’s when quick checkouts and being super nice help makes shopping worth the wait. Lo said crew members have even walked customers to the train station and returned with their empty carts.
“We realize the parking situation, and we’ve walked several blocks with groceries if a customer has to walk that far,’’ he said.
Crew members during the holidays are often dispatched to serve as traffic supervisors, guiding patrons to empty parking spots.
The store tries to keep its roots in the community in other ways too. It donates food every day to people in need and sends employees every week to help at the food bank at Holy Family Catholic Church. They also help with school projects.
“It’s a community store like in the olden days, when you knew people and they knew you,’’ Lane said.