Trader Joe’s Parking Lots Are Smaller Than You Think

Why does one of the most popular grocery stores have one of the smallest parking lots?


Photo Cecilia Cheng

As a popular grocery store chain, Trader Joe’s should have a bigger parking lot.

Malia Rodriguez, Staff Writer

I was going to the store with my dad when all of a sudden, our car jerked to a stop and my dad slammed the horn. “I’m trying to park here, can’t you see,” an angry lady shouted from within her teal Toyota Corolla. She was attempting to back up in a one-way lane in order to grab a prime parking lot right by the Trader Joe’s entrance even though there was a line of three cars behind her. She succeeded (as none of us were trying to get in an accident) and continued on her quest to fill up an entire basket with cheese.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only incident I or any of my friends have had in these parking lots. One time, we almost got run over by a large black Bronco because it was trying to pull into the same spot as us. This issue isn’t confined to our local Trader Joe’s either; I’ve been to two other Trader Joe’s (one in St. Pete and one in Alpharetta, Ga.) and both had the same issue. Tight, compact parking spaces with thin one-way lanes in between. Considering that Trader Joe’s is very popular and often is bursting at the seams, it’s strange that they don’t invest in better parking lots.

There actually is a reason for this unfortunate situation. If you walk into a Trader Joe’s, you will realize that the store is just as crowded as the parking lot, if not more. Trader Joe’s is typically more crowded than other stores in terms of walking space. This “people per square foot” concept is actually Trader Joe’s whole schtick, except it’s with “sales per square foot.” That might sound like a strange way to measure a store’s success, but putting it into other terms makes more sense.

Trader Joe’s is able to filter more people in and out of their stores than any other grocery store because people feel rushed knowing they are taking up parking spaces in an already crowded area. This also causes more people to try to go to Trader Joe’s because there is a sense of scarcity to it. These combined factors add up to equal the “most sales by square feet” badge that Trader Joe’s proudly boast.

According to Polycentric, “Trader Joe’s is able to be an oasis in food deserts because it can shoehorn a store and parking onto smaller lots.” Trader Joe’s has the advantage of accommodating a larger number of customers in their stores while also having the flexibility to establish their outlets in smaller areas like strip malls. This strategy enables them to bring grocery stores closer to people’s residences, thereby reducing the need for excessive driving. They also target lower-income areas that might not have “health stores” near them so that they will go there before other stores.

Recently, at our own local Trader Joe’s, it has gotten so bad that nearby businesses have been forced to put up signs to discourage Trader Joe’s shoppers from parking there. I myself have witnessed people parking 2-3 blocks away from the store so that they can walk there when there aren’t any spots left while carrying coolers. I have heard stories of people returning to their cars to find scratches or dents from people parking incorrectly in incredibly compact and tight spaces.

Now of course, these sorts of things are only issues if you go during the busiest hours of the day and happen to be parked next to a bad driver, but regardless this is still an issue. It makes me not want to go to the store at all because it takes twice as long to park as it does to actually shop. I know they do it for a reason and I respect that, but it’s definitely gotten to a point where I don’t really see why they won’t fix it, it’s not like they would lose customers. I still like the store and their food options are good, it’s just something I hope gets fixed and soon.