Customers lined up for the opening of national grocery chain Trader Joe’s at its new location in Coralville on Oct. 6.

by Sarah Watson

National grocery chain Trader Joe’s opened for business early on Oct. 6 in Coralville on Ponseti Way. At 8 a.m., employees opened the doors on the foggy morning to welcome a line of customers with Hawaiian leis and shopping carts. 

The store, which began in California in the 1960s, promotes its own Trader Joe’s brand, which advocates no GMOs used in its branded products and a unique welcoming shopping experience. 

The Coralville grocery store will be the second to open in Iowa, the first being in West Des Moines. As of early August, the chain had 467 stores nationwide. 

Coralville Mayor John Lundell said the city has been working to bring a Trader Joe’s to Coralville for about five years. 

“Trader Joe’s has been at the top of our target list in terms of a store that we’d like to recruit because it’s so popular and it’s a great fit for the city of Coralville and the district that’s down here,” Lundell said. “They have a nautical theme, so I think that fits really well with this district being right next to the river.” 

The theme of each Trader Joe’s stores reflects trade on the high seas. Each location has a store manager called the “Captain” and a “crew” of staff members. The managers wear Hawaiian shirts because they are “traders on the culinary seas, searching the world over for cool items to bring home to our customers,” according to the website. 

UI graduate student Emily Wheeler said she looks forward to shopping at Trader Joe’s once in a while for certain items. 

“They have sprouted grain breads, and they have really great prices on almond butter, and the way they sell produce here is really neat,” Wheeler said. “When I moved to Iowa City this year and heard one was coming, I knew I wanted to shop there as soon as it opened.”

As the store opened its doors, fall-related products dominated shelves. 

“Right now, it’s all about pumpkin,” store manager Todd Gibson said. 

Everything from gluten-free pumpkin pancake mix to pumpkin butter stocked the shelves. Apple cider caramels were another fall special.  

UI graduate student Tyler Hendrickson said he liked shopping at Trader Joe’s when he lived in cities on the East and West Coasts.  

“I’ve experienced [Trader Joe’s] in other parts of the country, and there’s certain products I can get [at Trader Joe’s] for a better price,” Hendrickson said.

Gibson said 95 percent of all employees are local, although they don’t specify between students and the larger community.  

A Google search of “grocery stores in Iowa City” brings up a list of about 25 other grocery stores, including other chains, Hy-Vee, and Walmart. Gibson said Trader Joe’s stands out as a unique place to work and shop. 

“The atmosphere is a great working environment and a great place to shop,” Gibson said. “Serving customers is our biggest focus.”