Will Trader Joe’s Market Open in the UES Soon?

Expect a Trader Joe’s UES “as soon as possible,” said a report in Patch in February. Long coveted by Upper East Side shoppers, Trade Joe’s sought a landmark okay for space under the Queensboro Bridge.

By David Stone

In February, the grocery store chain’s plan won unanimous approval by the landmarks committee at Community Board 8. Next, the full board votes on a referral to the City’s Landmark’s Preservation Commission.

But “as soon as possible took a hit when COVID-19 shut down New York City

And although construction could resume in June or earlier for essential services like grocery stores, little progress has been made.

Trader Joe's UES proposed location.
The idea was for Trader Joe’s restoring this closed Food Emporium. But as this current photo shows, there’s been little progress.

What’s the hold up…?

News is hard to come by, but it’s fair to assume that the coronavirus held up the Landmark Preservation Commission.

The desired space, filling most of the block on 1st Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets, was last occupied by Food Emporium. That failed when the chain dissolved in bankruptcy.

Because the store incorporates key features of the historic Queensboro Bridge, changes must be approved.

Building a new loading dock and posting signage require okays as the City protects landmarks. So, Trader Joe’s must blend with the century old design.

What’s this mean for the Upper East Side?

Grocery shopping evolved fast in the last decade, forced by innovations like online ordering, free delivery and unique branding.

Trader Joe’s features friendly service and eco-friendly store brands. Pricing is the same, no matter the location. That’s a big advantage where expensive leases drive higher costs in New York.

The chain joins others that changed shopping in the UES. Fairway’s 86th Street store is solid, although the chain itself is struggling. And Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon, is an aggressive marketer, just over three blocks away.

Because of Trader Joe’s popularity, UES residents often appeal for an outlet in their neighborhood. But the Upper East Side is a long sprawl, and the historic bridge location is closer to Midtown than much of it.

But that strategy works for Whole Foods, which sits right on the border.

Another challenge for Trader Joe’s is access. The Queensboro Bridge is historic, yes. Cars clog it at almost all hours. But except for buses, public transportation isn’t nearby. And you can forget about parking.

Also, sidewalks alongside the bridge are challenging, to say the least, sometimes non-existent.

Conclusion: Trader Joe’s for the UES

The Upper East Side gets the store it wants soon, depending on how quickly landmarks approvals take. It joins another TJs, Maxx, on the same block.

The chain makes smart expansion decisions, and it’s sure they’ve vetted the challenges. The fight for shoppers soon engages.

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