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C'mon, Trader Joe's: Prove me wrong


It happens more often than you'd think. I get together with friends I haven't seen for a while, we relax and talk through the “how have you been?” part of the conversation, and then someone asks this, because they know I work at the Business Journal:

“When are we getting a Trader Joe’s?”

The question is partly flattering, since they think I know everything about midstate businesses, and partly funny, because I’m pretty sure, without any insider knowledge, that the answer is “Never.” Or pretty close to it.

Yes, I know the quirky, upscale retailer opened a store recently in Centre County, but if all the analysts, marketers and academics who write about the wild success and mystery that is Trader Joe’s are even halfway correct, a store in the midstate will be a long time coming.

Is that better than “never?” Not to my friends.

Let me say right up front, Trader Joe’s is very secretive about its growth plans and site selection process. “We actually don’t disclose what goes into the decision-making process in selecting a location,” TJ spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki told Prairie Business Magazine last spring.

Nevertheless, the professional consensus is that Trader Joe’s looks for three things in siting a new store: population density with a high concentration of people with college degrees; households with an income of $100,000 and above, with 40 percent as the threshold; and a robust logistics/distribution network.

Well, the midstate certainly wins on that last one, but the other two factors seem to put us out of the running. According to demographic database ZIP Atlas, the top three communities in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties for percentage of $100,000-plus households are Brownstown in West Earl Township, Lancaster County (No. 21, with 43 percent); Mount Gretna (No. 104, with 23 percent); and Hummelstown (No. 121, with 21 percent). It’s a long, long way down the list until you come to another midstate community.

One thing all three of those communities share — with the exception of Hummelstown, they are beyond tiny. Brownstown has 2,800 residents, Mount Gretna 602.

The list is dominated by the Philly suburbs. And guess what they have? Half-a-dozen Trader Joe’s stores.

We might do better on educational level — percentage of college-educated people in the midstate range from 19 (Lebanon County) to 32 (Cumberland County).

But I just don’t see it happening. On income levels and education, Centre County compares well with the midstate but definitely strikes out on accessibility when it comes to transporting goods. But it has something we never will — Penn State.

I am a big believer in the adage, “Never say never,” however. So prove me wrong, Trader Joe’s. When are you coming to the midstate? I want to see what all the fuss is about.

The week ahead

Did somebody say it’s time for the annual Top 100 Private Companies issue? Yes, indeed — coming this week! In addition to an issue packed with insight into how the midstate’s top privately held companies have fared in the past year and why, this year there are a few surprises and even some prizes.

If you don’t subscribe, now’s the time.

Meanwhile, here are the week’s networking opportunities.

The rewind

Colleges in the midstate have begun welcoming back students and getting this year’s crop of freshers acclimated, and the Class of 2018 Mindset list comes out Tuesday. Compiled annually at Beloit College in Wisconsin, it’s aimed at faculty to remind them that, well, times change even if we don’t notice. Here’s what I wrote about the List last year.

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. A Pennsylvania native, she is a graduate of Penn State and Xavier University. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at Follow her on Twitter, @hstephan. Circle Hope Stephan on .

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BJ August 26, 2014 10:01 am

State College is a god place for TJ's - Don't need them in Lanc County - we got Yoder's!

samiam August 25, 2014 7:41 pm

One of the best buys at Trader Joes are there very good wines for a very good price, otherwise they are challening Wegmans in amny categories. I always do a Trader Joe shop when at Dulles airport. My guess is Lancaster will br their first local store.

Mamateach August 25, 2014 3:36 pm

After all the hype about Trader Joe's I couldn't wait for a trip to State College. The store is tiny and the junk food IS amazing but as far as being able to complete my whole shopping list, I don't see it happening. Wouldn't mind having one closer but I really don't see it becoming a reality.

Not2Happy August 25, 2014 12:46 pm

The leadership of Cumberland County's economic development team that seems to want to make us warehouse central will certainly keep a Trader Joes out of the area. Maybe we can support their stores in Philly!

Gretta August 25, 2014 11:31 am

Trader Joe's is owned by Aldi North and Aldi is run by Aldi South-kind of like Trader Joe's is the Lexus and Aldi is the Camry. I don't see overlap in product-but it may just be packaging and limited display space in the Aldi stores.

Scalewoodman August 25, 2014 11:06 am

As a West Earl I am amazed by the statistics cited! Most of our neighbors are Amish and Mennonites and other than a few housing developments there does not seem to bet that kind of affluence. That said, there might be a lot of stuffed mattresses in rural Northern Lancaster county-- we are known to know how to pinch a buck.

Of course we lose out in the college degree mode as most were educated in one-room schoolhouses and our logistic distribution network is by steel-wagoned cart to the Leola Produce Auction-- pretty darned efficient but not what they have in mind. Plus TJ's delivery trucks would have to dodge road apples and horse exhaust which would be incompatible with their hotsy totsy business model LOL.

We don't need no Trader Joe's: The many local produce stands and farms (and Oregon Dairy Farm market for everything else) provide a rich and consistent source of local fresh produce!

CJ August 25, 2014 8:45 am

I would sooner expect to see a Whole Foods appear in the Hershey or Lancaster areas. Rumor is that they won't open a store within a certain distance of Wegmans, so the West Shore wouldn't be a viable option, but it has potential for the Hershey/Lancaster areas where farm-fresh is expected and there are higher incomes.

SInbad August 24, 2014 5:07 pm

It's not far to the Owens Mills or the Towson TJ's. You go down there for good seafood on the water anyway. Of course a little further, the VA TJ's have beer and wine, more attractive for both TJ's and their customers, unlikely to occur soon in PA. For now, stop by after a big league ball game, & get some of those big chocolate bars and whatever else strikes your fancy. Take your cooler.

Nancy August 24, 2014 2:48 pm

YES! We have a Trader Joe's in Centre County but it would almost fit in the cafe at Wegeman's. Nice to shop there but hard to complete your entire shopping list...and Wegeman's has everything -- their own inexpensive brand, gourmet foods, healthwise foods, and awesome customer assistance.

FactCheckr August 22, 2014 3:31 pm

Between State Government, Highmark and Hershey, we should have plenty of $100K+ households to support one measly Trader Joe's in the Harrisburg market. Chances are, the place would be jammed every day of the week. Ditto Whole Foods.

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