In March 2009, Nova Duft launched a bring Trader Joe’s to Spokane Facebook group. A California transplant, the South Hill mom and her husband, Ward Duft, are using the Facebook group to try to woo the trendy California food store to open an outlet in Spokane.
The couple moved from San Francisco in 2006. A devoted shopper at Trader Joe’s, Nova said she started the Facebook page on a whim as a way to prod the picky, privately owned Trader Joe’s to put a store in their new hometown.
Duft – the mother of a 2 1/2-year-old daughter – forgot about the site until she looked again last winter. By then, the Facebook group had gained more than 3,500 fans.
By now it’s expanded to more than 6,300, making it one of the largest of roughly 100 similar Facebook groups focused on the same goal.
The Spokane group is also one of the most active, with more than 1,000 visits per week. The comments online are fueled by rumors (“TJ’s is coming!”) and suggestions on how people can persuade TJ’s to come to Spokane.
Some observers say the Trader Joe’s fervor – both on Facebook and off – is a symptom of this area’s ongoing need to prove it’s one of the best cities in the West.
Marty Dickinson, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said the intense interest comes in part from fans knowing Trader Joe’s nearly took the plunge.
“Part of the romance with Trader Joe’s was they had their toe in the water here and then pulled out,” Dickinson said.
That one close call came in 2006, as agents for Trader Joe’s reviewed plans to move into the Empire Ford Building, near Interstate 90. They changed their minds without explanation.
Dickinson said another factor is the “why not us?” attitude of many deal-hungry food shoppers in this area.
“A little bit of it is, ‘Darn, what does it take to get one?’ ” she added. People who travel and see Trader Joe’s stores in smaller towns always compare those burgs with Spokane, she said.
“How can they have a store in some little strip mall and they can’t find a great place (to use) in Spokane, where we have five major universities?” Dickinson said.
Randy Barcus, economist for Avista Corp., worked on the failed deal in 2006. He said he made the attempt thinking Spokane residents would embrace Trader Joe’s the same way they love to shop at Costco.
The hunger for Trader Joe’s is a consumer version of the effort by the Spokane business community in the 1990s to recruit a satellite office for Microsoft, Barcus said.
“It’s like a checklist,” he said about both efforts. “Just like having a Nordstrom downtown, if you get a Trader Joe’s, it separates you from lots of medium-sized towns.”
While Trader Joe’s is the No. 1 “trophy company” many Inland Northwest residents covet, it’s not the only one on the list, according to Barcus.
Other trophies are a Whole Foods Market and an IKEA furnishings store, he said.
Trader Joe’s opened in Southern California in 1967. It has grown to more than 330 stores nationwide. The nearest to Spokane are in Issaquah and Portland. Trader Joe’s also has opened stores in cities much smaller than Spokane, including Bend and Corvallis, Ore.
Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for the chain, said the company does pay attention to Facebook efforts like Spokane’s. But Trader Joe’s does not disclose what factors it uses to select new locations.
The company also asks people to submit new-store requests at its own Web site, traderjoes.com. Even so, the company doesn’t say whether focused begging does any good.
“Although it is nice to be wanted, wooing doesn’t go into the decision-making processes of selecting a location,” Mochizuki said in an e-mail response.
That corporate answer, summarized numerous times on the Spokane Facebook page, prompts a variety of user comments. For some, the Trader Joe’s rebuff is proof that Spokane still carries an image of being “flyover country” and a desert wasteland.
Others in the Facebook group say it’s time to forget about Trader Joe’s. They say the community already has good organic and quality food retailers in Huckleberry’s and the Main Market Cooperative.
Barcus, however, said he’s heard rumors that the Trader Joe’s management team has changed course again and is beginning to revise expansion plans. He’s convinced Spokane would be a good location for the company.
The net benefit would go beyond having a place to buy “two-buck Chuck,” the popular, inexpensive Charles Shaw wine the company has carried for years, he said.
Having a Trader Joe’s would add to Spokane’s recruitment profile, helping other companies decide to move here, Barcus said.
“I have to be careful how I say this, but the shopper profile of a Trader Joe’s customer is way different than a Kmart and Walmart customer,” he said. “The decision-makers who might consider relocating to Spokane will tend to be folks who tend to shop at Trader Joe’s or Huckleberry’s.”
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