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Parking Guru Says Trader Joe's Lot Chaos Is Our Own Fault

(Photo by Mike Mozart via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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Sartre was wrong: hell isn't other people, it's a Trader Joe's parking lot. Anyone who has ever tried to negotiate a space in the notorious grocery store lot knows this to be true. But why exactly are they so awful? Writing for The Atlantic's CityLab, Laura Bliss set out to investigate. Repeated calls to Trader Joe’s reps yielded no answers beyond a standard no comment, so she turned to parking guru Donald Shoup. The UCLA professor (known for his book The High Cost of Free Parking) is something of a rockstar in the urban planning world. Shoup frequents the Trader Joe's in Westwood and faults American expectations—rather than the company itself—for frustration with the lots:

Donald, speculate with me: Costs aside, why are Trader Joe’s parking lots the way they are?

I have thought about this. And as you say, this is speculative. But as I understand it, Trader Joe’s is owned by a German family, which also owns Aldi. So I think they have a lot of experience in the grocery business. In Germany, their grocery stores aren’t surrounded by acres of asphalt. They come from a different tradition where, with urban stores in dense areas, you don’t give free parking to everyone. It would be a strange idea. It’s the American expectation that’s creating the problem. The expectation that there will be free parking and plenty of it, and if there isn’t, there’s something wrong.

So even though Trader Joe’s has always been based in the U.S., its owners continue to operate by non-American parking standards.

That’s right. You know, Trader Joe’s has to comply with the same minimum parking requirements that all other stores have. But what’s different is that they have a lot more customers. They’re such a good store. They have more sales per square foot than other chains. They could respond to this by providing more parking, but that’s not their style. So they’re successful at creating a problem for drivers who expect to find free parking. I think it’s the driver’s problem.

So basically, it's our own fault for being ugly Americans. Shoup actually praises the Trader Joe's model of prioritizing lower prices over more free parking, telling Bliss that he thinks that "the world would be a better place if more places were like Trader Joe’s, with lower prices and less free parking. For walkable neighborhoods and environmental purposes and food security and a lot of other reasons, they’ve made the right decisions."

In other news, Aldi will be opening 45 stores in Southern California this year (the first eightopened today). Here's to hoping that your local outlet will be within walking distance, or at least bikable.

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