Trader Joes: Trading out originality

When I migrated to Colorado from San Francisco in 1985, our colorful state was colorful in many ways. We had Casa Bonita, a one-of-a-kind hot mess of cliff diving and food that tastes suspiciously like Velveeta. Colfax had more one-off, unique shops and dining choices. Colorado had a funky western flair going, but there was this nagging idea that something was missing.

As years rolled by, there started to be dissatisfaction with our possibilities. Or it seemed that way when the first Krispy Kreme came to town. The media was all North Carolina donut icon as if it was a savior of sorts. But why? What were we missing? How did we manage through day-to-day life without this sugar overloaded, hello diabetes brand? After all, it was just a donut. Well, Canton’s Dunkin’ Donuts and Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts followed suit by bringing their cult-like brands to Colorado.

Remember the hype when Ikea opened? When the doors opened, Colorado dialed up their bragging rights for higher culture and self-assembly furniture imported from Sweden. Again, the media swarmed all over the grand opening. It must have been a slow news day or clever public relations at hand as store openings usually don’t garnish top stories on news outlets.

I was also thinking about In-N-Out Burger. I like it. It’s good. Coloradoans have raised campaigns to open one here. To date, nada. We still have our locally invented SmashBurgerFive Guys, Johnny Rockets, Larkburger, and Fatburger have also opened up a few locations, while one-off favorites like Edge, Linger, Punch Bowl, Grind, Candlelight, Crave, Bang, and Park Burger provide further options. Yet Coloradans still yearn for the day In-N-Out Burger arrives.

This leaves me with Trader Joe’s from California. Their first store opened in 1967, the year I was born. It evolved from nothing more than a 7-Eleven clone store. Is it just another grocery store, or a concept turned on its head? Don’t forget, we also had our first Natural Grocers in 1955, not to mention Whole Foods and Sprouts in our recent past. Like all consumers, we have brand preferences and there always seems to be a donut shop, hamburger joint or grocery store to align with.

There are two kinds of Coloradoans: natives and transplants. Locals want what other states have to validate our worthiness as a growing, thriving place to live and raise our families. They don’t want to live in a second best place. Transplants celebrate regional and national brands that open their doors because it’s a familiar smell in the air, a taste that only can be satiated with brand x, y or z.

Since living here for nineteen years, I’ve seen the landscape populated by most of the popular brands. I can be assured that when I travel that I always find the comfort of a national brand in Any City, USA. But what I realized I missed was traveling to different cities and discovering a regional treasure that I could only find there. Fifty states all seem the same now. Very few cities have maintained a locally branded flavor, tone or textured landscape.

What makes Colorado unique today? There must be a theme we can hang our modern western hats on. It seems like the only thing the media outside of Colorado focuses on is Rocky Mountain Oysters; our claim to fame deep fried calf testicles. Is this the best we can come up with?

For now, I’ll have to go to California for an In-N-Burger and New Orleans for authentic Cajun cuisine and beignets. Perhaps it doesn’t matter now that we can buy a mashed-up concoction of gingerbread cookies and almond butter at Trader Joe’s. Life is complete. Right?

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