17 July 2016

Geography and Convenience

We've been going to Trader Joe's since the store on Memorial Drive opened in... 1999? I'm not exactly sure when it opened, but it was quite a while ago. I even worked there for the better part of a year. There are now 18 stores in Massachusetts (plus two in southern New Hampshire and one in Rhode Island), but we've never managed to get a store closer to where we live. Sometimes we go to the TJ's on route 1 in Saugus, not because it's closer or more convenient but because it's an easier drive from our house, compared to driving through Somerville and Cambridge's always-terrible traffic.

But then a couple of months ago, it was announced that Trader Joe's would be opening a store next year in the Assembly Row complex in Somerville that is roughly two miles from our house. (Our previous residence in Somerville was technically within walking distance of Assembly Square/Row, but it was a bit treacherous to get there.) The newer buildings that were constructed a few years ago were set up for smaller retail and don't have the amount of floor space required for a grocery store, even one like TJ's that's quite a bit smaller than a modern supermarket.

But the older part of the complex, which at one time was a traditional enclosed mall and, long before that, a Ford auto assembly plant (hence the name), is composed of medium-size floor plates and currently occupied by stores like Staples, TJ Maxx/Home Goods, AC Moore, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Christmas Tree Shops. A vacancy came about due to the demise of the Sports Authority chain. I have no idea how Trader Joe's secured the space, but someone must have had someone else on speed dial because it seemed to fall into place pretty quickly after the Sports Authority liquidation and closings were announced.

We've been going to the movies at Assembly Row since the AMC theater opened there, and the popularity of the complex has brought plenty of traffic. It's all right on the surrounding roads, but within the complex itself things can get chaotic. I imagine this will only get worse when the Trader Joe's opens, but I am hoping that Somerville will allow this store to be open until 10 pm like the ones in Brookline and Cambridge (most close at 9). That would give us some flexibility in when we shop and might help us avoid some congestion.

There's also a grocery-related development happening here in Medford. The Wegmans chain, based in Rochester, NY, has been growing quite a bit over the past decade and currently has four stores in MA. They distinguish themselves from competitors by building enormous stores (100,000 square feet is not unusual) with huge prepared-food sections, a response to our culture's desire for greater convenience. Wegmans has agreed to open a store at the site of the Meadow Glen Mall on route 16, about a mile from our house (and closer than the nearest Whole Foods).

The mall was awful, mostly empty with a few tired, sad stores kept afloat by a Kohl's on one end and a Marshalls on the other. (It was used by some seniors for indoor walking, and I don't know where they will go now for their exercise.) The property owners arrived at an interesting solution: the anchor stores have remained and are open while the middle section of the mall building has been demolished, and the Wegmans is going to be built in its place. We have heard that the store will open next year, but the Wegmans website lists it as TBD.

Meanwhile we have made a couple of visits to the closest open store, in Burlington, to sample the offerings. While not life-changing, they were certainly tasty, no more expensive than comparable items one might purchase elsewhere, and the staff were uniformly very pleasant and helpful. (The chocolate-chunk cookies with pecans are worth a repeat visit.)

Again it will be interesting to see how traffic is affected; there is also a proposal for an almost 500-unit apartment complex to be built on land directly across the street from the mall property (ironically, there used to be a Shaw's supermarket there). Neighbors have protested that the housing development would be too dense for the size of the property, and the Wegmans is likely to add significantly to traffic in and out of the area.

The Wegmans was announced first, but the Trader Joe's seems more likely to open first. Either way, upon hearing of the latter the Mrs. responded, "I guess we can never move." That remains to be seen...

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