Luring Trader Joe's to Lake Highlands

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on July 5, 2011 at 7:14 PM

DALLAS - People in Dallas’ Lake Highlands neighborhood are rallying together to convince a trendy grocery store chain to build in the neighborhood.

Members of the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association hope to lure a Trader Joe’s to a vacant corner at Skillman and Walnut Hill Lane.

In May, the California-based grocer announced it would expand to Texas and build ten stores in the state. The first Dallas store is expected to open within the year.

After the announcement, Lake Highland neighbors printed signs and started collecting signatures.

"We just felt like time is of the essence to get our message to Trader Joe’s," said Risa Tompson. 

The Lake Highlands realtor helped launched the petition drive. On Sunday, dozens of homeowners stood with signs on the street while others collected signatures from passing drivers.

Darice Rutledge has never been to a Trader Joe’s, but she joined close to 4,000 people to sign the petition.

"We need it in this area," Rutledge said. "This area right here would just thrive with a new store!"

There are already several grocery stores in the area, but neighbors insist Trader Joe’s is different.

The specialty grocery chain has a national following and is known for selling organic foods from around the world at a discount. Among its most popular items is $2 bottles of wine, known as "Two Buck Chuck." At about 15,000 square feet, typical Trader Joe’s stores are smaller than a traditional 50,000-square-foot grocery store.

"We don’t even know what it is," one neighbor said after he signed the petition, "but we hear from all the people that do know what it is that we want one!"

Residents want the store to anchor a new mixed-use development at the proposed Lake Highlands Town Center. The land has been vacant since 1,300 aging apartments were torn down in 2007. Streets were added as was a DART rail station, but nothing else.  The city of Dallas is considering chipping in at least $27 million into the project with the hope it will jump start development.

"We want this town center to make it," said Beth Hanks.

Insiders say Lake Highlands is not an obvious choice for the chain but could be a contender.

Real estate numbers collected by Pitney Bowes Business Insight and provided by the Weitzman Group show that nearly 400,000 people live within three miles of the site.  The median household income for that area is more than $51,000.   

Insiders also say the grocer typically looks for high-density sites in wealthy, educated areas.

Supporters realize Lake Highlands may be tough sale. The area has a mixture of low income apartment complexes along with middle-class subdivisions.

"On paper, Lake Highlands demographically doesn’t look very good," Tompson said, "but we wanted to show (Trader Joe’s) what our spirit of our community is all about. We’re all just biting at the bit to try and make it happen." 

Email: jbetz@wfaa.com

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