TAMPA — The wait is over. After years of shoppers' whining about Trader Joe's not having a store in the area, the specialty grocery chain opens its first location in Tampa at 8 a.m. today.
Of course, expect crowds and traffic snarls. The store, at 3808 W Swann Ave., just west of Dale Mabry Highway, has a huge following but just 70 parking spots and only one way in and out.
Police will direct traffic around the store all weekend, but parking will be limited — and probably will be for weeks, based on experience at other openings nationwide. Keep this in mind: The store's shopping carts outnumber the parking spaces 2 to 1.
Store captain Aimee Pawelek — that's Trader Joe's speak for store manager — says the store is prepared. Fortunately, the staff is parking off site.
Trader Joe's doesn't release the number of store employees, but Pawelek said about 70 percent are local, and the rest came from other Trader Joe's stores. She moved from the Trader Joe's in Knoxville, Tenn., where she also was the captain.
Even shoppers new to Trader Joe's eclectic mix of products will feel at home. Murals of Tampa landmarks adorn the walls, and the nine checkout lanes are named after nearby streets.
In keeping with Trader Joe's focus on everyday low prices, the store is not doing any special promotions on opening day, but it will offer food samples. Here are some other things to know:
• The bell ringing at the store is a form of Morse code. One bell lets the crew know when to open another cash register. Two bells is the signal that there are additional questions that need to be answered at checkout. Three bells will call over a manager.
• Employees wear Hawaiian shirts to reflect the chain's attitude that "grocery shopping should be fun, not another chore.'' The shirts are also a nod to the retailer's worldwide search for the best products.
• Eighty percent of items are sold under the Trader Joe's private label brand. That label means the product contains no artificial flavors or preservatives, synthetic colors, MSG, genetically modified ingredients or partially hydrogenated oils (artificial trans fat).
• Store hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.