Trader Joe’s to open on Forest Drive by the end of the year

krupon@thestate.comJune 1, 2012 

  • New markets

    The face of Columbia’s grocery market is changing, with two highly anticipated stores opening in the coming months. Here are some details:

    Trader Joe’s

    Where: In the former Columbia Athletic Club on Forest Drive

    Opening: Between the end of the year and March

    Size: 13,800 square feet

    Known for: Employees wearing Hawaiian shirts, a range of low-cost, store-brand healthy foods

    Whole Foods

    Where: In the former Kroger near where Devine Street becomes Garners Ferry Road

    Opening: October

    Size: 35,000 square feet

    Known for: A large selection of grab and go foods, a range of healthy products

    Other similar grocery stores in the area:

    Earth Fare on Devine Street

    Rosewood Market on Rosewood Drive

    Fresh Market on Forest Drive in Trenholm Plaza

Construction has started at what will be a much anticipated Trader Joe’s in Forest Acres.

The quirky grocery store chain has been looking at sites in the Columbia area for years, and finally confirmed Friday that it will set up shop in the former Columbia Athletic Club on Forest Drive. The news set social media outlets ablaze with folks who were happy to see the retailer land here.

“wine by the case and grippos (potato chips). who’s ex(c)ited? #thisgirl,” one Twitter user wrote.

The store’s opening will give the area near downtown Columbia – from Rosewood to Forest Acres a cluster of similarly branded grocery stores with Whole Foods, changing the face of the area’s grocery market.

Trader Joe’s sells a large selection of low-cost store-brand products that promise to be made with no MSG, artificial transfats, genetically modified ingredients or artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. It also carries selections of vegetarian, gluten-free and kosher products.

The Monrovia, Calif.-based retailer – which has a fanatical following and has locations in Greenville and Charleston – typically follows Whole Foods into a market.

Whole Foods will open this fall near where Devine Street becomes Garners Ferry Road. EarthFare and Rosewood Market are within a couple of miles of that location. And the Fresh Market is a mile down Forest Drive from the new Trader Joe’s.

While each store is unique, all bill themselves as selling fresh, healthy selections.

“We are very happy that they will be locating in our community,” Forest Acres City Administrator Mark Williams said. “Trader Joe’s has a unique vibe. It’s an interesting niche grocer.”

One concern that has been raised about the location is adding traffic to an already clogged artery. The developer has requested a traffic signal, according to district traffic engineer Ed Sawyer, with the S.C. Department of Transportation.

The department did not have sufficient data to prove that the location warranted a mid-block traffic signal, Sawyer said. So it is awaiting additional data, such as traffic counts from a similar location, from the developer’s engineers before approving a stoplight. If it is approved, the developer would then have to install it and any turn lanes or medians that might be needed, Sawyer said.

“Most (Trader Joe’s) are in places that are not unlike Forest Drive,” Williams said. “I expect it will be manageable. … It will be a good fit there.”

Coley Brown, who owned the Columbia Athletic Club building, sold it to the developer for Trader Joe’s a week ago. And construction began this week to turn the 13,000-square-foot, two-story building into a one-story structure. The outside of the building will not change much, he said.

Brown said the company wants to be open before Christmas. But the company itself is being more conservative, saying it will open within the first three months of 2013.

The building has been empty since Gold’s Gym – which bought Columbia Athletic Club’s business but not its building – moved out several years ago.

Brown said Trader Joe’s looked at the site two years ago – as well as several others in the area, including where the new Whole Foods is moving – but backed off of plans.

Brown has had the property under contract three separate times in the past couple of years, he said, but he is glad it ended up going to Trader Joe’s.

“I wanted to give Forest Acres something that they could hang their hat on and that they would be proud of,” said Brown, who was 13 when his dad opened Columbia Athletic Club in 1981. “I didn’t want to stick a doctor’s office in there. … I wanted something retail and exciting that the people of Forest Acres could rally behind as their own.”

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