Trader Joe’s is the Disney World of grocery stores

We’re back in Madison after three days at Walt Disney World.  CJ and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up stuff for dinner and realized:  Trader Joe’s is Disney World.


  • Part of what you’re paying for is a sense of, well, “fun.”  WDW employees — who are called “cast members” — wear costumes.  Trader Joe’s employees — who are called “crew members” — wear Hawaiian shirts.  It is part of their job, not just to be pleasant to customers, but to appear actively happy to be talking to customers.  And maybe they are!  You can imagine that if you were the kind of person who likes chatting with strangers you’d be drawn to working at WDW or TJ.
  • Iron-clad branding.  Just about every single thing you can buy, see, or eat at Disney is Disney-branded.  Same for Trader Joe’s (even if the product is surplus Sabra hummus repackaged in Trader Joe’s tubs.)
  • Limited selection.  Disney World restaurants have short menus; they need to get thousands of people in and out fast.  There aren’t twelve roller coasters like at Six Flags, there are two.  At Trader Joe’s there aren’t a hundred different kinds of Cheerios.  Just the Trader Joe’s kind.  The problems of choice are taken away from you and this release is itself a kind of fun.

Unfinished thought:  both Disney and Trader Joe’s are trying to project a spirit of California.





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4 thoughts on “Trader Joe’s is the Disney World of grocery stores

  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    It is precisely the distinction between “spirit of California” and “spirit of Florida” which explains why Trader Joe’s is nothing like Disney World.

  2. Aren’t Hawaiian shirts supposed to project a “spirit of Hawaii,” not California? I grew up in SoCal, and I don’t feel TJ’s is particularly “California-y” at all. But what do I know?

    Speaking of growing up in SoCal, a lot a lot a lot of my friends worked at Disneyland. And if they weren’t misanthropes, when they started out, well… Those folks are not ecstatic extroverts, they are wanna-be actors. (Hence “cast members.”) And it’s really painful, day after day, to smile that great big Disney smile and say things like, “Hey, ma’am! What a beautiful daughter you have! You know, she almost just cracked her head open swinging on the railing like that. Maybe you want to keep an eye on her so nothing ruins this beautiful day!” or “Good afternoon, sir. I see you think this is a lovely picture spot for your twins, but unfortunately there are tracks here because they are used by an actual train. It might come by at any moment! Won’t that be exciting! It would be a lot better to view the train from *next to the tracks* instead of *on the tracks*, though! Don’t you think?”

  3. jda says:

    Baudrillard railed against Disneyland, not because it was just a simulation of real places, but because when you leave Disneyland, you’re led to believe that you are re-entering reality — and *that* reality is something he didn’t think existed.

  4. @michellemanes: “Irish pubs” project a clear spirit of Irishness around the world, except to people who’ve lived in Ireland, for whom they’re at best inauthentic and at worst bafflingly alien. Trader Joe’s is perhaps similar: to European or East Coast eyes, it definitely evokes a certain kind of Californianness.

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