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Say Hello to Fairway's Worst Nightmare: UWS Trader Joe's

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Thanks to the excited crowd dutifully lined up outside the store, the much-anticipated Trader Joe's UWS opened a bit early this morning. No cookies outside like the Chelsea opening, but we'll take a ten minute head start. Employees welcomed the shoppers with clamorous applause, Hawaiian leis (we even got two) and a two-piece Caribbean inflected band (tropical-feel musical highlights included renditions of "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffet and "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid).

When we peered into the soon-to-open store over this past weekend, we encountered a neighborhood resident who exclaimed, "I hope they kick Fairway's ass." Whoa, such animosity, but it seemed as though about another 100 shoppers who stopped in at 8am this morning felt the same way. As we walked through the shop, we heard another exclaim, "Wow, you could fit all of Fairway into one of these aisles!"

The excitement was definitely contagious as we made our way downstairs to the first basement level, aka "Uptown." (Pointer: Take the escalator instead of the stairs down for quick access to the carts and baskets.) The dairy, eggs, produce, meat, deli sections are on this level.

We spoke to a few customers who were practically crying about how the prices are cheaper than other nabe stores like the aforementioned Fairway, plus the overpriced Food Emporium and Gourmet Garage (okay, that was us). A good gauge is the price of avocados, which tend to fluctuate like the Dow. At Trader Joe's, an avocado is $1.29 as compared to even the fruit vendor's at $1.50 each.

Further sampling of what you'll find: Apples are $.59 each, a jumbo yellow onion is $.79, a dozen large organic eggs are $3.29 and bananas are $.19 each. Also, today the free sampling is mac 'n cheese. Who doesn't love mac 'n cheese?

The second lower level ("aka Downtown") contains the bread, cereal, pasta, snacks, sauces, frozen foods and cleaning supplies. We marveled over the variety of frozen pizzas ranging from $3.29 to $4.99 and of course cereal starting at $1.99.

The beer section is also down here. A wine section would be ideal, but as all the employees will explain (and they must have to explain it a lot), there is a New York State law dating back to Prohibition that only allows large chain stores to have one outpost selling wine in the entire state. So Union Square gets that honor. (Which is most likely a relief for the mom and pop wine shops in the neighborhood, but that's another post.) But the UWS can still have fancy beer, ranging from the Trader Joe's label at a very reasonable $5.99 for a six-pack to $13.49 for a six-pack of Golden Monkey.

The check-out is located "Uptown" and features 29 registers and a pretty efficient line system. We swear in just an half-hour, the number of shoppers exponentially increased and there was already a line about 20 deep at the registers. One shopper whined, "Is this going to be worse than Whole Foods?" The answer: No. But while Whole Foods has that new-fangled computerized system, Trader Joe's goes old school with open register staffers waving a numbered red flag and a staffer at the head of the line directing shoppers.

As usual, the check-out was pleasant and smooth. Even more pleasant: Our bill, which totaled just $18.72 for a dinner of curried chicken and French beans, plus a monster bag of trail mix, some peanut butter cracker sandwiches and a box of $1.99 Joe's O's.
· The Battle Between Trader Joe's And Fairway Begins on the UWS [Racked]
· Grocery Groupies Ecstatic as Trader Joe's Chelsea Opens [Racked]