Trader Joe’s responds to ‘conspiratorial theories’ about its small parking lots

Any fan of Trader Joe’s knows that the joy of picking up a jar of Everything But The Bagel seasoning is weighed against the despair of dealing with the specialty grocer’s often sardine-like parking lots. Well, for frustrated customers everywhere, the brand has offered an explanation.

The popular specialty grocer has a podcast called “Inside Trader Joe’s,” where hosts and employees Tara Miller and Matt Sloan discuss subjects like why Trader Joe’s doesn’t have online shopping or tips on navigating its wine selection and more.

An episode from October 10, 2022 titled, “What’s Up With Trader Joe’s Parking Lots” has offered a definitive reason as to why we all need to take a deep breath and say a prayer before parking at most TJ’s locations.

“Here’s a tweet,” Miller said, pointing to a trio of tweets about TJ’s parking lots, including one from June 2022 where a user aptly and sarcastically compares their brain to a Trader Joe’s parking lot. This serves as a jumping off point for the discussion.

“Matt, what is up with our parking lots?” Miller asks Sloan.

“Like a lot of things related to Trader Joe’s, this can be traced back to the very first location, the Arroyo Parkway store in Pasadena, which has had, and still very much has a challenging parking lot. And by that, I mean it’s small and it’s busy,” Sloan said of the first store that opened in 1967 which still operates to this day — and appears to have a parking lot tantamount to a game of Tetris.

“That size factor, it’s small, and the busyness factor, lots of people parking cars, well, those are the two reasons that our parking lots can be, well, a bit challenging,” he continues.

Miller then explains that Trader Joe’s stores are small, and on purpose, too. The powers-that-be at TJ’s have always held true to the more personal nature of its interiors rather than the cavernous nature of other big box stores, although the company said they tend to have just as many customers at one time.

“There tend to be a lot of people, maybe not even more people than you might find in a regular grocery store,” Miller said. “But if our stores are 10,000 square feet and those stores are 70,000 square feet, it feels like more people. But what does that have to do with the parking?”

Sloan offers the answer.

“When you design a parking space or you allocate spaces for parking for a retail store, it’s based on the size of the store,” Sloan said, perhaps pointing the finger at city planners, who clearly have not tried TJ’s Mandarin Orange Chicken. “So you mentioned how small our stores are relative to other grocers. Well, that’s true and that can have an effect on the number of parking spaces allocated.”

“A 12,000 square foot store will get far fewer parking spaces than a 70,000 square foot store,” Miller adds.

“Yes,” Sloan responds. “Now let’s say that 12,000 square foot store has 500 people visiting and the giant store has a 100 people visiting, the parking lots are going to feel very different.”

“If you spend any time on social media, looking at things about Trader Joe’s, you will find there are lots of conspiratorial theories about our parking lots and people out there in the world really seem to think, not all people, but a number of people, that we are purposefully making horrible parking lots,” Miller says,

This mirrors a lot of chatter on social media, with funny tweets, TikTok videos and even Reddit threads on specific TJ’s parking lots that are trouble spots in locations as far flung as Massachusetts and Florida.

There are even memes, as evidenced by a funny Reddit post called, “Trader Joe’s Parking Lot Starter Pack.”

“The argument could be made, ‘Hey, Trader Joe’s just make your stores bigger.’ But that kind of changes who we are. We have small stores, so they come with small parking lots,” Miller says. “If we had bigger stores, sure we’d have bigger parking lots, but we’d feel like a different store.”

Miller says TJ’s gets accused of opening stores with the world’s most ridiculous parking lots on purpose all the time. “That’s not our plan. We try to get as much parking as possible. In some municipalities, we can’t get any parking at all,” Miller says, adding that some TJ’s have absolutely no parking at all.

“Parking can be an energized experience,” Sloan says, thanking the TJ’s crew for taking care by collecting carts and keeping things moving in lots across the country. “And thanks to you for taking up the challenge to find that spot when you do your shopping.”

So, the next time you’re about to scream because someone took the last parking space on your next visit maybe just sing that immortal Joni Mitchell verse from “Big Yellow Taxi” instead, and exercise a little patience.

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