First, some back story. I used to travel to California lots, years ago, when Trader Joe’s was still relatively new and hadn’t made it very far east. I like them for their charming and quirky imported treats, and their vast selection of little-known local California wines that were priced cheap. And they used to locate in the interesting off-beat neighborhoods where rent was low. In the old days, they were more like what Cost Plus World Imports is today.
Years later, when they opened their store in Annapolis (where I was living at the time) some of the quirky charm had faded a bit, but they still seemed true to their original goal of off-beat treasures, cheap. Except that their locale in Annapolis was anything but low-rent. Very much affluent, berky-lefty-yuppie demographic.
Then along comes Aldi. I don’t know how many ‘hounds in MSP have shopped at Aldi, but it’s a weird experience. It’s like being in a movie – all the products *look* familiar, but different somehow. It’s like a set designer for a film had come up with packaging for the movie that resembled a well-known product. And the products are adequate, just house-branded cheaper versions made to look similar. Aldi is OK, but no great shakes. They have a few good products. Their frozen soups are good. Their cheap black tea bags are better than most. But don’t count on them for meat, produce, or dairy. Sounding familiar? The Aldi Group owns Trader Joe's.
We’re lucky in MSP. Between Kowalski’s, Lund’s, and Byerly’s, and even Rainbow, we don’t want for great grocery stores. Add the Midtown Global Market, United Noodle, and the several farmer’s markets, and we’re downright spoiled. As for wine... Surdyk’s. Sam’s. MGM.
So a few weeks ago I was pumped up and had some time and was in town and made the trek with my CO (chowhound other) to TJ’s. I was almost embarrassed to admit that it was even a TJ’s. The produce was worse than Rainbow. The dairy was appalling. And everything was now a house-brand knockoff off something that you would find a better version of at United Noodle or even Costco. The house-branding I'm sure is influenced by the Aldi corporate culture.
And don’t get me started on the wine. I don’t think I’ve seen a more anemic wine selection in MSP since I’ve moved here. Even the old Liquor Depot had it going on ten times better than TJ’s. Say what you will about three-buck chuck, but Surdyk’s or Sam’s will sell you a much better bottle of something for only seven or eight bucks, and to me that’s worth it. And, like Annapolis, Edina is their target demographic, as opposed to Richfield which is the Aldi demographic. I really felt like I wasn’t welcome (by the other shoppers, that is). The staff on the other hand were great!
Yes, I’ll still go on occasion, but only if I’m going with someone else who absolutely has to go. But really, almost anything I could get there I could get somewhere else in town better.
We should appreciate our local establishments, and keep them well customed, rather than throwing our affections away on a what, to me, seems like a global corporation with a carefully crafted counterculture image.
OK. Rant over. Thanks.