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Trader Joe’s brings new grocery variety to South Loop

Trader's Joe's opens Friday September 9 1224 S. Wabash South Loop . | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Trader's Joe's opens Friday, September 9 at 1224 S. Wabash in the South Loop . | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 9, 2011 11:48AM

Amid restaurant closings and several blocks lined with retail vacancies, the South Loop will host a new grocery store Friday when Trader Joe’s opens on the northeast corner of Roosevelt and Wabash.

The store opens at 8 a.m.

More than 1,600 people came to the store — site of a shuttered Sam’s Wine & Spirits — to apply for jobs, said store captain Missy Brown.

Company spokespeople declined to say Tuesday how many workers each store employs, but insiders say it can range from 60 to 70.

The privately held Trader Joe’s, owned by the same German company that operates Aldi grocery stores, pays above-union wages to full-time workers, contributes to employees’ 401(k)s, and provides medical, dental and vision coverage to employees who work an average of 20 hours a week and their dependents, according to articles in trade and national magazines. Employees receive 10 percent discounts on store goods, according to the reports.

Forty percent of those hired at the South Loop store at 1224 S. Wabash live within a 3-mile radius, Brown said. The store has 47 free parking spaces.

Trader Joe’s is known for its “Two Buck Chuck” wine at $1.99, a nautical theme featuring hibiscus flowers and new products introduced each day that lend a treasure-hunt atmosphere. The South Loop store, ringed by murals that employees painted of humorous portrayals of local landmarks, emphasizes prepared meals, ethnic foods, large, separate wine and cheese displays, and $1.99 bargains on products ranging from a 15-ounce box of Joe’s O’s whole-gain oats cereal to a box of six vanilla almond granola bars, to a microwaveable 10.6-ounce meal of Farfalle with four cheese and spinach.

Trader Joe’s is able to keep prices low because it deals directly with its suppliers and sells 80 percent of its goods under its private label, Brown said. The company’s products have no artificial sweeteners, additives or preservatives, and are labeled as to whether they are vegan, vegetarian, Kosher, gluten-free, fat-free and/or low sodium. Shoppers may obtain lists of those labeled foods on-line or in the store.

Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president of the Near South Planning Board civic group, acknowledged Tuesday that the South Loop suffers from “a tremendous amount of vacant retail spaces” and future growth remains “iffy” due to the struggling economy.

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