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Why are Trader Joe's parking lots so small?




Urban planning expert Richard Willson stands in front of his local Trader Joe's in Eagle Rock. The chain's first store opened 1967 in Pasadena.
Urban planning expert Richard Willson stands in front of his local Trader Joe's in Eagle Rock. The chain's first store opened 1967 in Pasadena.
Leo Duran/KPCC

Trader Joe’s turns 50 years old this month with the very first store opening in Pasadena – just around the corner from KPCC – in 1967.

And while it might be famous for things like Speculoos Cookie Butter and the pun-tastic Fearless Flyer, there is something special about it that many of us love to hate – the crowded, small parking lots.

"Then again, if they provided big spaces, there would be no Trader Joe's here," says Richard Willson, professor of urban planning at Cal Poly Pomona.

Willson says Trader Joe's is able to be an oasis in food deserts because it can shoehorn a store and parking onto smaller lots.

"What they are doing from an urban planning standpoint is providing a smaller grocery store option in local neighborhoods so that people don't have to drive as much," he says.

That also means more people will have easier access to fresh, healthy foods.

Willson adds stores like Trader Joe's are helping public officials rethink how to design cities.

"They act like people go to places for good parking, but it's not true," he says. "We're learning that you don't have to oversupply parking everywhere to make places attractive. In fact, it makes them less attractive because they're all spread out and not walkable."