Possible Trader Joe’s in Greensboro … not in my back yard?

Fresh, organic produce, international products, friendly customer service and grocery shopping that doesn’t cost a fortune. All of this can be found in one store: Trader Joe’s, which might be coming to Greensboro, though nothing is past the rumor stage yet.
Although many citizens would welcome a Trader Joe’s, the rumor  of a Greensboro location has ignited a heated debate because the possible commercial development site is in a residential location.

“People in the surrounding neighborhoods are mobilizing in opposition to the rezoning,” said Janet Wright, faculty secretary/ombudsperson and former member of the Greensboro Zoning Board. “That does not mean they oppose bringing Trader Joe’s to Greensboro. They are opposed to that location.”

The tentative location is the northwest corner of where Hobbs Road and Friendly Avenue meet, right near the Friendly Center.

In 1958, Joe Coulombe opened a chain of convenient stores in California called Pronto Markets. In 1967, Coulombe changed the concept of his stores to small neighborhood grocery stores called Trader Joe’s. The company rapidly expanded to over 350 stores across the U.S.

While many people are excited to finally have a Trader Joe’s in Greensboro — the nearest one is in Chapel Hill — others are less than thrilled with the possibility of more development of that area in Greensboro.

“I am not in favor of rezoning residential to commercial,” said Susan Wilson, a member of the board of Hamilton Lakes and Parks Inc., to the News & Record. “There is plenty of commercial property in this town”

“The issue of zoning and where any retail place should be located is different than whether someone supports the particular store” said Wright. “In considering rezoning you have to consider any business that fits within the particular zoning classification. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Trader Joe’s, CVS or Big Lots.”

Some are excited about the economic boost that Trader Joe’s could bring to the area. Many have longed for a Trader Joe’s to come to the area for many years.

“We definitely think we should have Trader Joe’s in Greensboro,” said Mayor Robbie Perkins to The Guilfordian. “We have found it to be a great opportunity, great products at reasonable prices.”

In contrast, residents near the proposed location are strongly opposed to Trader Joe’s encroaching upon a residential area.

“There is a neighborhood group opposed to the rezoning,” said Ed Cone, local blogger and editor of Ziff Davis Enterprise, via email. “It drew a lot of people to its first meeting. There’s discussion, pro and con, on local blogs.”

“A lot of people would want it, but someplace else,” said Clyde Marr, a member of the board of the Hamilton Lakes and Parks Inc., to the News and Record. “Unfortunately, it is one of those things (where people say), ‘Not in my neighborhood.’”

One possible solution is to allow Trader Joe’s to use one of the many existing and vacant buildings somewhere else.

“I’d be happy to see a Trader Joe’s in Greensboro, but I’d prefer that we not pave over more green space and extend commercial development further down Friendly Avenue to get it,” said Cone. “There is a lot of vacant commercial space in this town. We should stop treating buildings and land as disposable assets.”

“Something that concerns me is that we have a lot of vacant retail space,” said Wright. “Could some of that be utilized?”

“My personal preference would be to put the store at Golden Gate Shopping Center,” said Cone. “I understand that location may not meet some site-location criteria and that another grocery store tenant would have to be appeased, but maybe those obstacles could be negotiated.”

At this point, a Trader Joe’s coming to Greensboro is still a rumor, though many seem to think it likely that the grocery store chain will be seeking a location in the city.

“There are a number of steps a person has to go through to get a piece of property rezoned,” said Wright. “It is ultimately up to the  (City) Council to decide whether a piece of property should be designated for another use.”

“Trader Joe’s has yet to officially file a zoning application,” said Perkins. “We won’t know more until the application has been filed, March 12. It’s a long process and we are right at the very beginning of it now.”