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Trader Joe's Opens Friday in Centreville

There's a new grocery store in town and, this Friday, Trader Joe's will open its doors to the public in the Newgate Shopping Center at Routes 28/29 in Centreville. It's the seventh Trader Joe's in Virginia, and this 10,000-square-foot store will be open daily from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

STORE CAPTAIN (manager) Perry Zettersten and his crew will conduct a ceremonial lei-cutting Friday, at 9 a.m., to welcome new customers. And the celebration will continue throughout the weekend with drawings for free groceries, product demonstrations, food tastings and balloons.

"We're thrilled to be in this new area," said Audrey Dumper, vice president of marketing for Trader Joe's East, in Needham, Mass. "Centreville seems like a good location for us because people have been asking us when we're going to open up there. They've been traveling to our other locations, but it's a bit of a hike and they wanted to be able to do their day-to-day shopping here."

Trader Joe's prides itself on being a unique, neighborhood store with foods and beverages ranging from the basic to the exotic. The store's name is because it searches the world for great values and distinctive products, and crew members (store employees) consider themselves "traders on the culinary seas." They even wear brightly colored, Hawaiian shirts, adding to the store's lighthearted atmosphere.

"We think grocery shopping should be fun, not a chore," said Dumper. "So we have a little fun with our product names. For example, we have mini quiches called 'Prelude to a Quiche' and a fruit-filled cereal bar called 'This Strawberry Walks Into a Bar.' We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Food is fun and there are so many different flavors to sample."

There's an extensive array of domestic and imported products, including fresh-baked artisan breads and Arabica-bean coffees. "We've discovered that people are interested in foods from around the world," said Dumper. "So we offer items such as Pad Thai, Garlic Chicken Stir Fry and Italian Risotto."

But even so, it offers everyday prices, instead of random sales. Trader Joe's keeps things affordable and competitively priced by buying directly from manufacturers, rather than distributors. "And on some things, we blow all our competitors out of the water," said Dumper. "Right now, we're selling dried, Turkish apricots for $1.49 a pound."

THE STORE also offers more than 1,000 items under its own label, including vitamins, salsas and marinara sauces. Often, it'll take a brand-name product, remove the preservatives and artificial colors and ingredients and sell it under the Trader Joe's name at a discount.

"We're known for our devotion to delivering our customers high-quality products and high value," said Dumper. "And we offer an intimate shopping experience because we're on a much smaller scale than other grocery stores."

She said Trader Joe's considers itself a food ambassador for its customers. "For example, if we wanted to develop a particular type of cereal, we'd talk to different vendors and discuss what ingredients should be in it and what size it should be," she explained. "So we do the homework for our customers [in advance]."

In addition, said Dumper, everything in the store first goes through Trader Joe's own tasting panel in Needham. When the buyers return from their travels to Europe, South America and Asia, they bring back new items. Then the panel gets together a few times a week to taste them.

"We introduce 10-15 new items a week," said Dumper. "Often, they're unique to Trader Joe's, with their own recipes." For instance, the store offers a 14-ounce bag of mango tortilla chips with no artificial colors or flavors, preservatives or trans fats, for $1.99. And one of the new products it's offering for the holidays is cranberry panettone.

The Centreville store has about 50 employees and, besides groceries, it will also sell beer and wine. And its festive decor will combine Trader Joe's traditional, cedar-covered walls with a historic theme carried out via four paintings of Cabell's Mill, Newgate Tavern, Mount Gilead and St. John's Episcopal Church, as well as two large murals featuring Bull Run and Sully Plantation.

Knowing that this area's significant growth means more potential customers for the new store, Dumper said, "We're hoping to see lots of people Friday morning [for the grand opening], and we're looking forward to meeting all the new customers and hearing what they have to say about the store. We rely mainly on word of mouth, so we love it when people talk about us."

Actually, they've been buzzing about the Centreville Trader Joe's for quite awhile. Paul Zehfuss, president of Ravensworth Management Co., which manages the Newgate Shopping Center, said that long before the new store's name graced the building's exterior, people were calling him to ask if it was true that Trader Joe's was coming here.

THAT WHOLE shopping center has recently gotten a facelift to make it look more modern and appealing and, said Zehfuss, "to attract new customers and keep the loyal ones we have." And in November, he said, "Trader Joe's decided Newgate served them best."

Also pleased is Randy Minshew, the managing member of Westview Associates, which owns that shopping center. "We're proud that we're able to bring Trader Joe's — one of our nation's preeminent grocers — to the Centreville community that we've been involved with for over 40 years," he said. "We've been impressed with their corporate ethics and their desire to bring a very special service to Centreville."

Agreeing, Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said watching the shopping center's renovation peaked residents' interests. Noting that Trader Joe's is perceived as "a specialty provider, and very trendy," he said people view its locating here as "sort of a coming-of-age of the Centreville market. And having more choices — and more upscale choices — makes for happy consumers, so I think the whole community's excited."