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An Awkward Conversation About Trader Joe’s

You’re out to dinner with friends when the conversation turns to politics, football, economics, or movies. One friend shouts above the rest without a hint of cynicism, “You know—Herbert Hoover installed policy that ultimately led to prosperity; that Andy Dalton is clutch in the playoffs; feudalism really is the best economic system; Sharknado 2 is an underrated piece of cinema.” And everyone else at the table agrees.


Do you say something? It’s just an opinion and that’s fine, but when there is an abundance of supportable evidence to the contrary, should you say something?


Norbert Schwarz, a University of Michigan social psychologist, has been exploring this issue for years and released a study showing the difficultly associated with altering misconceptions, even when factually based information is provided. He wasn’t studying the important things like football and Sharknado, just major public policy issues. The result of his study (and others like it) found that attempting to replace bad information with correct information is largely counterproductive and often serves to strengthen the false belief. Silence, though, is worse—although not by much.


The reason this is such a difficult task is because the brain, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t generally absorb information in a deliberate manner, but instead, relies on subconscious rules of thumb most readily described as biases. That is, our brain takes shortcuts, and as is the case with most shortcuts, it causes us to miss key points resulting in the acceptance of misinformation. When put into practice, we rely on unrelated past experiences and biases to make assumptions for future expectations even though one has no bearing on the other.


So refuting the statement and silence don’t work. What has some success is simply reframing the argument. So, let’s transition briefly to a different topic.


Assume you were on a game show with an endless row of slot machines to your left and to your right. The machines on the right provide 100% guarantee of paying out a prize of $1 million. The machines on the left provide a 69% chance of paying out a prize of $500,000. There is no trickery; these are the odds and payouts. Which do you choose?


You’d be crazy to choose anything other than a machine on the right every time you could.


Trader Joe’s chooses the machine on the right.


At their current location in Charlottesville, there are 92,516 people within five miles of the store. The best available location in Harrisonburg has 64,332 people, or approximately 69%, within five miles.


Within that same five-mile radius, there is $2.6 billion of total household income in Charlottesville. Harrisonburg offers roughly 50% of that amount.

There are a lot of roasted plantain chips and cookie butter sales in that income differential.

This, of course, isn’t the complete reason Trader Joe’s (or some other popular brands) hasn’t entered the Harrisonburg market yet, but it’s a pretty big one. There are a myriad of reasons certain retailers don’t enter certain markets even though there is popular demand among consumers. Corporate strategy, available resources, real estate costs, demographics, site requirements, and timing all play a role (see It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hope or the time won’t come. Although, expectations and desires have a funny way of changing when that thing we’ve longed for finally arrives.

The City is the fastest growing in the Commonwealth of Virginia with terrific economic drivers .The metro area is managed by local government officials that have made the decision to invest in the infrastructure projects that maintain the health and further the economic development of the area. New development projects and continued outside investment serve to make others aware of an area in which we are fortunate to live. Simply, we have a good thing here that is improving each day. As our odds and payout continue to grow—others will join in—maybe even Trader Joe’s.