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Why can’t Decatur get a Trader Joe’s?

Why can't Decatur Georgia get Trader Joe's
Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Despair not, Decaturites—y’all may get one of the quirky boutique groceries yet.

No, we’re not privy to any internal corporate memos; we’re basing this prediction on the encouraging fact that the city’s median household income has steadily been rising over the past decade.

But first, let’s back up for some history. The original Trader Joe’s opened in Pasadena in 1967 with its familiar tiki theme and the staff’s aloha shirts in place from the start. The company grew slowly before its sale in 1979 to the German tycoon behind the Aldi discount grocery chain. His family still owns Trader Joe’s and, to their credit, has never meddled with its cheeky packaging—i.e., Mexican food is labeled “Trader Jose’s”—bell-ringing cashiers, or hand-lettered signage.

Trader Joe’s, however, is notoriously conservative when it comes to growth. It didn’t expand beyond California until 1993, and most of its stores are tiny compared to those of its big-box competitors. Although the company is rather tight-lipped about how it chooses locations, industry-watchers believe it is extremely picky when it comes to demographics, demanding a customer base that’s well-educated and boasts a six-figure median household income. It typically selects retail space only in established shopping centers on high-traffic thoroughfares in densely populated areas. It also likes lots of parking (which is to say, more than what’s available at its Midtown Promenade location.)

Those exacting criteria have allowed Trader Joe’s to become highly profitable—its per-square-foot revenue is more than double that of Whole Foods—but they’re not very helpful in getting a store opened near you.

For years Decatur adults have been pining for a Trader Joe’s the way their children crave a PS4. At one point, locals hoped a store might open in Oakhurst, but that seemed unlikely, given the company’s preference for locations on busy strips like Peachtree and Roswell roads and Monroe Drive. Decatur’s best chance would appear to be at, say, Scott Boulevard and North Decatur Road, but both Sprouts and Whole Foods have already opened stores near the intersection. And speaking of competition, it’s possible that Trader Joe’s has stayed away because it doesn’t want to go head-to-head with the ginormous Your DeKalb Farmers Market.

Still, money talks and Decatur is becoming more and more talkative. With the best public school system in inner metro Atlanta as a draw, Decatur has seen housing prices shoot up, and all this gentrification is pushing the city’s median household income north of $92,000.

So, Decatur folk, you’re not far off from meeting one of the criteria on Trader Joe’s lengthy checklist. With any luck, you’ll have your own store before gentrification pushes y’all out as well.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.