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Pass the Two Buck Chuck — we have arrived

It is a sign your town has arrived, or is at least hip enough to rate.

Our very first Trader Joe's opens in Tampa — six days and counting — with another in the works in St. Petersburg.

This is the grocery store, if you are the type to care about such things, whose aisles you had to traipse in other towns. You found the most interesting salsas and sauces, dried blueberries, ginger snaps and dark-chocolate almonds, a killer Camembert and those potato chips that put their greasy grocery counterparts to shame. You discovered Cookie Butter. Trader Joe's famously cheap wine may not be as cheap as it once was, but you can still call it Two Buck Chuck.

Maybe for you, your town turned the retail corner when you could buy your daughter's dorm furniture at Ikea without that hellish drive to Orlando. Maybe it was the arrival of Crate & Barrel, or the Container Store, or a high-end Nordstrom or Saks.

(Oh, wait. Saks came and went. Scratch that less-than-shining retail moment.)

And yes, there is still something spectacular about an establishment in your town that is not also everywhere else — a Wright's Gourmet House, say, with its chocolate-frosted Alpine Cake that cannot be explained to an out-of-towner. There is something to be said for every city not having every thing, making us all the same.

But happy day, anyway. No more long ride south down the interstate to arty Sarasota for Joe's mac and cheese bites, produce or tomato-and-red-pepper soup. No more walking around like a child in a Christmas village when you visit Atlanta and a friend turns and says, "Oh, right, you don't have this where you live."

This week I pulled into the parking lot off busy S Dale Mabry Highway — some of us like to get the lay of the land, okay? — and the trademark red letters were up, shopping carts at the ready, new employees inside busy as bees. Three other sets of people pulled in while I was there, hoping, hoping the doors would open.

But with progress can come pain.

One of the people I ran into, Tracey Picone, looked around the trim, 70-space parking lot and cheerfully predicted "chaos." She's coming anyway. Me too.

South Tampa is particularly notorious for battles between neighbors struggling to coexist with parking and traffic from popular nearby stores, restaurants and bars — amenities that, in turn, make it a more interesting and layered place to live. And so it goes.

City Council member Harry Cohen says such struggles are among the top issues the council deals with.

"The real truth: We're an old city, and like other old cities, our streets are just not designed for the number of cars on them," he says. "Our lack of mass transit exacerbates this."

I like that. Maybe Trader Joe himself would be pro-rail, pro anything to push a city forward.

In fact, the Tampa Trader Joe's didn't have to come before the City Council. The land was already appropriately zoned and not enough would be changed to warrant it.

But had there been a public hearing, I bet interested parties in the audience would have been equal parts concerned residents and Joe's devotees. And many who were both.

So we arrive, with growing pains.

Trader Joe's opens Friday at 3808 W Swann Ave. in Tampa, with another in the works in St. Petersburg at Fourth Street and 28th Avenue N.

Pass the Two Buck Chuck — we have arrived 03/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 8:16pm]
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