Trader Joe's Founder Dead at 89

Joe Coulombe, who started quirky grocery store chain, died after a long illness
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 29, 2020 6:30 AM CST
The 'Joe' Behind Trader Joe's Dead at 89
This circa 1985 photo shows Joe Coulombe, the founder of the Trader Joe's market chain, at his home in Pasadena, Calif.   (Image by Esme Gibson via AP)

Joe Coulombe, the "Joe" behind the Trader Joe's name, died Friday at the age of 89 at his home in Pasadena, Calif. His son Joseph confirmed his death after a long illness to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Coulombe had been the owner of a chain of convenience stores in the Los Angeles area in the mid-'60s when he became concerned about competition from 7-Eleven. Looking for his own niche, Coulombe stumbled upon some readings that indicated more people than ever were getting a college education, and that a new Boeing plane (the 747) would soon be taking flight and reducing the cost of air travel. That led Coulombe to his target demographic—well-educated, well-traveled consumers with not terribly deep pocketbooks, but who enjoyed diverse food and drink—and he opened his first Trader Joe's in 1967 in Pasadena.

What also made the store stand out: its South Seas trading post theme, with friendly employees wearing Hawaiian shirts and using maritime bells to communicate on the job. Trader Joe's soon started focusing on affordable organic and natural foods, and the AP notes Coulombe also made sure to stock his shelves with wine, the most famous of which was its $1.99 Charles Shaw offering—better known as "Two-Buck Chuck." Coulombe sold the company in 1979 to Theo Albrecht, co-founder of the Aldi supermarket chain, though he stayed on as CEO for 10 more years. Today, per the Trader Joe's website, there are more than 500 stores in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Coulombe is survived by his wife of 67 years, three children, and six grandchildren. (Read more obituary stories.)

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