Shoppers poured in by the dozen to be welcomed with leis and greeted by live music as the new Trader Joe's in Clarendon opened Friday morning after months of anticipation.
"I've been waiting for this to open. I'm so excited!" said Helena Newmann of Clarendon. "I don't have to drive to get groceries any more. And I love the stuff they have here."
The 12,300-square-foot grocery store takes up the first floor of the Clarendon Center's South Block. The store, at 1109 N. Highland St., is immediately across the street from the Clarendon Metro.
Metro-themed artwork decorates the walls above the dairy and produce sections, complete with Metro markers indicating what section you're in. The art will occasionally change and update over time.
"Our store is never done. Like all art, it's a work in progress," said Cassandra Loomis of Annandale, one of four Trader Joe's artists who decorated the new Clarendon store.
"We knew that Clarendon was a commutable, friendly city," said Joe Mauro, another Trader Joe's crewmember on the art team. "We just kind of took that and ran with it."
Trader Joe's refers to its employees as crewmembers, and store manager Perry Zettersten is given the title of captain. All of them wear Hawaiian-themed shirts to add to the atmosphere.
"We offer a different feel -- happy employees, engaged employees, a fun environment," Zettersten said. "We're kind of a vacation from the drudgery of shopping."
The store offers more than 1,000 items under its own brand name. About a dozen new items are added each week.
Zettersten said items like Mandarin orange chicken in a bag or roasted seaweed snacks are part of what helps set Trader Joe's apart from other grocery stores.
"See those peanut butter-filled pretzels? That's what first brought me in to Trader Joe's… about 15 years ago," Zettersten said. "Nobody else had them."
The company did little advertising beyond a couple of radio spots, Zettersten said. Still, word spread like wildfire by word of mouth that Trader Joe's was coming to town. Several customers talked about waiting for months for the store to open -- and then some.
"I've been waiting for this day since I first walked in to a Trader Joe's about 10 years ago," said Laura Vickers, adding she has lived in Clarendon since she was a child and looks forward to being able to walk to get groceries.
Arlington County Board member Mary Hynes said every major development project she has dealt with since 2008 has been trying to land Trader Joe's in its ground-floor space.
"There's been a real desire in our community to bring them here… because of their quality. And, it's fun," said Hynes, who participated in a ceremonial lei cutting at 8 a.m.
"People in my neighborhood have been tapping their toes," said Hynes, who lives in Lyon Village. " 'When's it opening? When's it opening?' "
Live acoustic numbers included the Grateful Dead's "Not Fade Away" and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Crewmembers draped leis over shoppers as they entered the store and handed out complimentary reusable bags to celebrate the opening.
Crewmember Dave Brewer of Silver Spring, Md., set up an arts and crafts table for children just inside the front door to welcome Clarendon's kids. He showed off his "prehistoric interplanetary pasta pets," made from spraypainted pasta shells, and talked about ways to turn produce packaging into something to play with.
"Trader Joe's is really big about bringing in your personal talents and gifts -- what you excel at," Brewer said. "They really welcome your desire to let that fly."
Motorists can enter the two-level parking garage below Trader Joe's off Garfield Street. The store has about 82 dedicated spaces and validates parking for 90 minutes.
"It's a great location," said Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Rich Doud. "They'll get a lot of walkers."
Zettersten said he expects the shopping crowd to peak around 5 p.m. Compared to the store's Foggy Bottom location, though, Clarendon has an extended row of registers that the captain hopes will help ease the time people have to wait in line.
Clarendon also has two "lane busters" to try out, hand-held devices that allow a person to pre-scan their items.
Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said there could never be too much fanfare for a new grocery store.
"This is an area that needs it. Think of how well this fits in with everything we're trying to do," he said, citing how the location allows people to walk or take the Metro to shop.
"It's a key element to make urban living work. It'll help our quality of life, but it also helps our transportation goals," Zimmerman said.
"And, they have really good cheese."