Published in The Barrington Times on Tuesday, November 24, 2015
“I heard that they are putting one in to that new shopping plaza next to Ichigo Ichie,” a mom said excitedly. A gaggle of other moms leaned towards her on the bleachers, squinting against the midday sunlight as they tried simultaneously to watch the Pop Warner football game and catch up on local gossip.
“Where that Mo’s Southwest Grill just went in?”
“Yup, that’s the spot.”
“That would be amazing.”
Everyone leaned back, satisfied.
Here is the East Bay of Rhode Island, we’ve all heard tell of the Ballad of Trader Joe’s.
Rumor has it, this chain of – and I quote – “neighborhood grocery stores with amazing food and drink from around the globe and around the corner,” is coming to our little corner of Little Rhody.
As a recently transplanted New Yorker, who lived in a shopping Mecca with not one but two local Trader Joe’s, I was overjoyed with this bit of news. Think of the dinners I could whip up! Think of Joe’s granola bars, the sunflower-encrusted ciabatta rolls, the weirdly appealing frozen appetizers and dessert treats, and the ready-made international lunches just waiting for me! Visiting Healthtrax or Tennis RI with a Trader Joe’s stop on the way back to Barrington would now be so much more…experiential.
I am ashamed to admit just how much the arrival of that store would enrich and diversify the part of my life that exists on Route 6.
And a lot of my life exists on Route 6.
The mom squad sounded confident, and so I left the field that day pumped for Joe’s, as if the shelves were already being stocked with cinnamon roasted almonds and parsnip chips. (Did you know that pork belly is the new bacon? Well, you would if you read the colorfully written, always entertaining Trader Joe’s flyer, the way I used to religiously when I lived 1.5 miles away from a TJ’s. Not bragging, not complaining, just saying.)
“Did you hear?” I asked my friend, Jill, a longtime Rhode Island resident. “About the new Trader Joe’s? We won’t have to drive to Warwick anymore to buy Joe-Joe’s peppermint cookies!”
She shook her head wistfully, side to side. “Oh, that old wives’ tale? That story has been going around for years,” she said, immediately bursting my Joe’s bubble of happy. “Never gonna happen.”
Clearly, I was flaunting my newbie-resident status, falling for a sideline trick like that story. But, oh, how I had wanted to believe.
By moving to Rhode Island from suburban Westchester County in New York, I gave up a lot. There were the obvious changes: I left my family and friends behind and needed to begin again, making new friends and situating our children in new schools where they, too, would make new friends. My husband’s family lives in Rhode Island, and so now we get to see them frequently, but I had to shift from seeing my Manhattan-based mom a few times a week (and using her as my go-to carpool helper and de-facto babysitter and sometime lunch and shopping companion) to chatting on the phone daily, but only seeing her perhaps once every month or two.
And then, there’s the silly stuff that matters on a surface level even though it doesn’t really matter. In my former life, did I need to live 4.7 miles away from Bloomingdale’s? No, but it certainly was a great perk during a shoe sale, or on bonus-point days, or just when I had twenty minutes to kill and wanted to see the latest trends. Did I need to live near several gourmet prepared food shops? No, but it made my family happy to know that dinner was always ready, even on the nights when I had no time to personally prepare it. And it made me oh so happy to know that I didn’t have to always (or, ever) make dinner.
And did I need to live within walking distance of a SoulCycle?
Perhaps, yes. Yes to that one.
And I suppose that’s why the opening of a local Trader Joe’s would mean so much to me. When I left New York, great holes opened in my life that I am still trying to fill, in both meaningful and superficial ways. By establishing new relationships and finding connections to the community, I am planting and then deepening my roots here. I am also trying things I never would have done in my New York life, like ride bicycles with my daughter to her dance class and shake my own hips in a zumba class. Occasionally, I go for a run.
The New York me never ran. So, there!
But I cannot deny the comforting feeling I get when I step back into the familiar. Something as simple as shopping at a place I knew from before the move can actually move me to tears, so relieved am I to know – before I even park my car – that I will know where to find the crunchy peanut butter.
(If you’ve ever seen me wandering around Shaw’s like a lost toddler looking for her parent, up and down aisles and doubling back again with tears of frustration rolling down my cheeks, then you know how turned around and overwhelmed I get in there. Next time, feel free to take my hand and lead me right to the peanut butter aisle, maybe while singing soothing nursery rhymes.)
And that is why, while my kids and I had a late-afternoon, pre-tennis, pre-cheerleading slice of pizza the other day at Papa Gino’s on Route 6, I asked them to say a little prayer. “Go to the windows,” I demanded. “Come, come!”
They eyed me suspiciously and did not move from the table. “OK, fine. You see that new shopping plaza being built across the street?” They nodded their heads and kept chewing. “We need to send positive vibes out there, hoping that a Trader Joe’s fills one of the storefronts!” I waved my arms in front of me like a shaman might, welcoming the wandering, international spirit of TJ’s to the crossroads of Seekonk and East Providence, where two great New England states meet and do commerce together.
Yes, here in the East Bay, we’ve all heard tell of the Ballad of Trader Joe’s. It’s a romantic song of hope and longing, passed down orally from one generation to the next, from fisherman to dentist, from farm hand to football coach, about the man, the myth, the legend: the neighborhood grocery store.