Trader Joe's looks to build in the Forum on Peachtree Parkway

NORCROSS - Trader Joe's, the eclectic and economical grocery chain with a cult-like following, is setting course for Peachtree Corners.

The Monrovia, Calif.-based company has filed plans with Gwinnett County to build a 12,000-square-foot store in the Forum on Peachtree Parkway, an upscale outdoor mall.

Trader Joe's would help anchor a new three-story retail and office building rising on one of the Forum's out parcels.

Famously tight-lipped, the company did not return calls about its opening date. Recent Trader Joe's openings in other states have drawn droves of shoppers seeking store products such as Sir Strawberry Juice, Chocolate Flavored Tea and Charles Shaw wine.

The 48-year-old company started as a convenience store chain in Southern California known as Pronto Markets, but founder Joe Coulombe changed the name to Trader Joe's in 1967, decking out his stores in cedar plank walls and his employees in Hawaiian shirts.

Since then, the chain has expanded to more than 250 stores in 19 states, including Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia on the East Coast.

It would be Trader Joe's first entry into the Southeast market, though its close cousin the Aldi Group launched stores here a few years ago. Trader Joe's is owned by a trust that Aldi co-founder Theo Albrecht created.

Although the two chains follow a similar philosophy - low overhead equals low prices - Trader Joe's devotees know it as an upscale boutique, and it's often linked with an affluent customer base.

It found one in Peachtree Corners, known for $400,000-plus homes and high-tech jobs.

Before Trader Joe's can dock in Gwinnett County, one detail must be worked out: delivery hours.

To minimize disruptions for nearby homeowners, trucks can only deliver goods to tenants at the Forum between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The restriction was placed on the retail center by county commissioners when the land was rezoned in 1998, and it stemmed from lengthy negotiations between the developers and homeowners who feared the project could harm their property values.

Trader Joe's is asking that the restriction be changed so large trucks can deliver merchandise between 4 a.m. and 11 p.m. County officials have indicated the request will be rejected, and an influential homeowner's network in the Peachtree Corners community has said such a change is unacceptable.

A Trader Joe's vice president recently met with the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association, and the specialty grocer and the homeowners are trying to craft delivery hours that are agreeable to both. The "change in conditions" requested by Trader Joe's is scheduled to be considered by county planning commissioners tonight, but will almost certainly be tabled to allow further negotiations, said Planning Commissioner Rico Figliolini.

Trader Joe's will be a good addition to Peachtree Corners, but consideration must be given to the Amberfield subdivision that backs up to the Forum, said Wayne Knox, who tracks development issues for UPCCA.

"It's a good fit and I think most of the people here are excited that Trader Joe's is coming, but you can't have one benefit at the other's expense," Knox said. "What we are looking for is that happy part where both benefit." Figliolini, who is one of two planning commissioners that reviews rezonings in the Norcross area, said the delivery hours originally sought for Trader Joe's will have to be scaled back.

Whatever delivery hours are approved will apply only to Trader Joe's and not to any other business located in the Forum, said Figliolini, who visited the site Monday so he could see its proximity to Amberfield, where homes cost $400,000 and up.

The Forum has become like a town center for the unincorporated Peachtree Corners area located between the Norcross city limits and the Chattahoochee River, Figliolini said.

Residents mingle there while shopping and eating, with neighbors bumping into one another, he said.

"The Forum is almost considered to be like Peachtree Corners' main street,"

Figliolini said. "That is how a lot of neighbors treat it."