Despite chatter, a Trader Joe’s here is a no-go… for now

Maybe you heard the buzz last week about the possibility of a Trader Joe’s grocery store coming to Vero Beach.

Turns out, the noise was nothing more than wishful thinking.

According to City Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries, the California-based chain has no plans to open a store here – not in the foreseeable future, anyway.

“I don’t know where she came up with Trader Joe’s,” Jeffries said, “other than a lot of people have expressed a desire to have a store here.”

The “she” to whom Jeffries was referring was Irina Woelfle, a Vero Beach resident, founder of a local boutique public-relations and marketing firm, and creator of the “Let’s Talk Vero” website, which she uses to conduct surveys on high-profile development issues in the community.

On June 3, Woelfle posted on her website a 10-question survey under the headline: “What kind of retail would you like to see in the future for Vero Beach? Trader Joe’s tops the list – that we know. What else would you like to see?

That was followed by the survey’s first question:

“We’ve been told one of the things Trader Joe’s takes into consideration when contemplating a new location is community demand. So here’s your chance to register interest. Do you want to see a Trader Joe’s in Vero Beach?”

There was no mention of Trader Joe’s in the remainder of the survey, which went on to ask respondents to identify the types of retail establishments they’d like to see in downtown Vero Beach, how often they shop downtown and whether “upgraded and improved shopping, dining and strolling experiences” would increase the likelihood that downtown would become a destination for them.

The survey also asked what scale of retail development would they like to see downtown, along Ocean Drive and at the planned Three Corners site, then requested the names, addresses and email addresses of the respondents.

Woelfle planned to share the survey’s results with Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno and make them public this week, then send them to nationally acclaimed urban retail planner Bob Gibbs, whom the city has hired to conduct a retail market study.

Jeffries said Gibbs’ findings and recommendations will be presented to the City Council in August and will be used in Vero Beach’s efforts to devise a master plan for future development of its downtown area.

Gibbs’ study will encompass all potential retail sites in the city, including the Ocean Drive business district and Three Corners project.

“He’s collecting data citywide,” Jeffries said, “because as we develop different destinations, we need to make sure they don’t compete with and cannibalize each other.”

Ideally, Jeffries said, the offerings in downtown Vero, along Ocean Drive and at Three Corners should be different enough to attract people for different reasons.

How does Trader Joe’s fit into Gibbs’ study? It doesn’t – at least not yet – but Woelfle remembered the public support expressed for the wildly popular grocery store chain during the Three Corners charrette process in 2019.

“Everybody wanted a store at the old Post Office annex site,” she said. “It was a constant refrain.”

Woelfle knew that putting Trader Joe’s atop her most recent survey would grab attention and generate a greater response.

“I led with Trader Joe’s for three reasons,” she explained.

“One, because if I hadn’t led with it, everyone would have said, ‘Trader Joe’s,” and we already know that. I wanted to acknowledge it and then get them thinking about, ‘What else?’

“Two, to get a more accurate read on the percentage of people who want Trader Joe’s,” she added. “Three, it can’t hurt to share that data with Trader Joe’s.”

Her main objective, though, was to collect information – as to what the community wants and doesn’t want – that she could share with Gibbs in the early phases of his study.

As of Sunday, Woelfle said, she had received 1,300 responses to the survey, and she expected at least another 200 before the final tally today (Thursday). She said 97 percent of the respondents want Trader Joe’s to come to Vero Beach.

Several hundred respondents checked the “Other” box, with Aldi’s also a popular choice.

“What they don’t want in downtown Vero Beach is big-box,” Woelfle said. “That’s pretty close to unanimous.”

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