Trader Joe’s: Arrgh! Boise – Are We There Yet?

Like kids in the backseat of the car, snapping gum and bouncing in their seats, locals have been asking, “Are we there yet, Mom? Is this the year Boise becomes urban?” So far the answer has been, “No, kids. Settle down.”  The year 2014 may change all that. With the opening of the Zion building and Trader Joe’s, has Boise hit critical mass?


Trader Joe’s is known for careful planning and rakish secrecy about their plans. Many Boise natives never thought we’d find a place on the TJ pirate map. As early as 2010 a “Bring Trader Joe’s to Boise” page sprang up on Facebook, garnishing well over 6,000 likes. Those hungry for quirky snacks became restless as the Trader’s vessel was reportedly sighted off the coast of the Treasure Valley. Some tried lighting bonfires and beacons or venturing out in their canoes, but village elders remained dubious. The Idaho Business Review responded to rumors of the approaching Trader with skepticism, writing in 2010,  “…It’s time to face the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t interested in Boise. Perhaps we just don’t have the critical mass of foodies they need – or the critical mass, period.”


Today it looks like our Island of Trees is on the map. What does this mean for Boise, besides fewer of those risky food-and-wine scavenging expeditions to Portland? Is there a mass transit system, a network sitcom, and an Eiffel Tower in our future? Certainly, other traders will reach our fair desert island—like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, going up now on eighth street.


On the positive side, TJ’s is known to make generous donations of food to local charities, even employing a full-time donations coordinator at each store. But, controversy also brews. According Andrew Crisp’s report in The Blue Review, the Trader ignored local customs and built with its back to Capitol Boulevard. that once-elegant stretch of pavement early city planners hoped would become Idaho’s Champs Élysées.


Are we there yet, Mom? Yes, Boise, you have arrived. We are Something Urban now. Strange newcomers have arrived bearing exotic gifts of organic chips and affordable wine…how will this exposure change our culture? Well, we at Pith are eager to find out.

Written and photographed by Stacy Ericson.



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