A cashier hands a customer a free Trader Joe's shopping bag on opening day in San Antonio.
After years of San Antonio begging on collective bended knee for a Trader Joe's, that shopping dream came true this morning.
Customers make their way carefully through opening-day crowds at Trader Joe's.
If you thought there would be mob scene at 8 a.m., you might have done what I did and waited until ... noon. Which was, of course, a mob scene. But the officers in the parking lot directing traffic did a fine job of making sure it was not an unhappy experience. And, once inside, it was a happy mob.
"I haven't had to haul out the pepper spray yet," joked one employee as she guided shoppers through a particularly knotty intersection near the cheeses.
"I thought it was fine, it's going very smooth," said a shopper.
Mary, who moved to San Antonio from the northern Midwest, has yearned all the while for a Trader Joe's to open. "I've waited five years for this," she said. Her shopping cart was only half full, and I saw her still shopping as I made my exit.
Open at the Quarry Extension, across the street from Quarry Market proper, the store is "about average size for a Trader Joe's," one of the busy employees told us. (He didn't know if Austin's store is bigger.)
When I finally got in line to pay up, my basket was just under a quarter full. Judging it with an eye well-honed by some of the city's other stores, I figured I'd purchased close to $100 worth of stuff. I was going to be surprised.
Into the basket (not in this order, necessarily) went wine. No, there was none of Trader Joe's label of very good reserve pinot noir on the shelves. "Try around February. We don't get much and it sells out in less than a month," said the wine clerk. "Oh, and our employees tend to grab up most of it."
Duly warned, I promised I'd be pestering him again after the first of the year. In the meantime, I picked up another passion, a very dry, pink sparkler from Bourgogne at a little more than $10. A slab of Compte cheese to go with that and a black olive demi-baguette kept this lovely, movie-time snack for two much less than $20.
From shiny eggplants to nicely trimmed leeks, the produce attracts crowds.
The fresh produce aisles also drew the crowds. They were moving through single file, more or less patiently. My eye caught on the $1.19 Hass avocados, the package of two fat, already trimmed leeks, salad mixes, Persian cucumbers and Trader Joe's own salad dressings. The creamy cilantro went into my basket.
I bought food gifts for buddies not as fortunate as I, who were at work instead of shopping. A bag of Trader Joe's organic popcorn, some stone-ground, whole-grain crackers and an Italian soda went into the cart for my husband. Another friend will get a hefty bar of Trader Joe's chocolate with hazelnuts. I even bought some of Trader Joe's cat food. We'll see how that goes down with my picky feline tasters.
Fresh flowers at value prices.
Fresh flowers are a luxury that I had to cut back on when the $4 bundles of fresh alstromaria went away at my neighborhood supermarket. Here, though, I picked up a bouquet of alstromeria -- plus zinnias and one fragrant lily, for $3.99. That offer, right there, will bring me back on a weekly basis.
Finally, for dinner, I picked up a full Indian meal for two of Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala with rice, Baingan Bharta (Eggplant Curry) and Channa Masala, a spicy stew of vegetables and garbanzo beans.
I did not buy any Cookie Butter. Despite months of watching every foodie geek on Twitter rave about this product, I managed to pick it up, then put it back down. This, after checking the calorie count. Doing this once, though, doesn't mean I will resist next time.
My total at the cash register, or the digital equivalent thereof, was a little more than -- surprise -- $62.
As I made my way out, I heard one customer ask a clerk, "When will it slow down?"
"Oh, try back in January of February," he responded.
Photographs by Bonnie Walker