The Good, Bad and Ugly of the New Trader Joes at Third and Fairfax

The grand opening of the new Trader Joe’s near the famous Grove and Third Street Farmers Market took place in mid-May.  The intersection is now a welcoming site! The grocery market certainly pleases the eye more than what stood on the site previously: a vacant lot, and occasionally Christmas tree field.

All pictures by Alexander Friedman

Los Angeles is flourishing with new developments, transforming the once-blighted spots into upscale, walkable, family-oriented communities, and promoting pedestrian and transit usage, ultimately leading to healthier lifestyle. This pattern is often referred to as “Smart Growth” or “Sustainable Developments.” However, did the new Trader Joe’s truly follow the guidelines of “Smart Growth?” If not, what did the developers and city neglect?

Last week, I photographed the site, now also including a restaurant.  Here is my “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of the new Trader Joe’s development.

The Good

As you can see, the developers did a good job on Fairfax Avenue: widened sidewalk, planted trees (and those trees are planted correctly, i.e. between the walking area and the roadway, to serve as a “buffer zone”), and attractive landscaping.

Bicycle parking has also been provided, although more racks are needed to meet the growing demand.

Additional bicycle parking has been provided on a convenient, pedestrian friendly walkway that connects Fairfax Avenue with the Trader Joe’s rear entrance and parking lot. Again, more racks should be installed, as most times all racks are filled to capacity. But – as they say – a few racks is better than none at all.

The Bad

While the developers gave full attention to Fairfax Avenue, 3rd Street has been neglected. No trees, barely any landscaping, and narrow, primitive concrete sidewalk.  No wonder you don’t see people walking on 3rd Street.

At least, a “buffer zone” between pedestrians and the vehicle traffic could have been created by planting those greeneries on the right side.   3rd Street in the Farifax area is a busy street.  This design pattern does little to encourage other users.

The Ugly

The western end of the Trader Joe’s development has nothing except a primitive concrete sidewalk – with no trees or landscaping that would attract pedestrians. Not a single human being was seen on this naked unwelcoming sidewalk during my visit.  This area also features a typical old-fashioned parking lot.

This is, where the developers messed-up. By now we have learned that Los Angeles is facing open-space issues, and we have to build upwards to economize space (not sprawl outwards).  The most economical way to provide parking is to build a subterranean garage, as most new developments do.

However, the Trader Joe’s developers, chose the cheaper and faster method, by just creating a primitive ground-level parking lot, small enough to fit only about half of the store visitors. As they say, “Penny-wise, pound-foolish,” and sadly this proverb is applicable to the developers in this case.

Building a parking lot next to a new development is becoming a thing of the past.  Parking lots are an eyesore, a very wasteful use of space, and induce car usage. While an underground parking would save tons of street-level space, something that could be utilized for a much better need, such as another market or a residential complex, and is never an eyesore to pedestrians.

I also noticed the parking was completely full, costing Trader Joe’s many customers. I saw cars circling around in search of a parking spot. Again, a two-level underground parking lot could fit at least twice the number of vehicles as the current design.

This is another view of the parking lot just west of the Trader Joe’s. This scenery is all too familiar to Angelinos: lack of any landscaping or aesthetical appearance, no architecture, but just lots of concrete, lots of cars, and no human beings on the street.

Is this “Smart Growth”?


The developers have yet to learn that times in Los Angeles have changed.  We are now in an era of the city’s major transition: from being Car City to becoming a transit-oriented city, with vastly improved bicycle and pedestrian conditions.

Building the same old-fashion parking lots the same that they were built in the 1960’s, while providing barely any conditions for pedestrians, will bring us back to square one: car dependence, continuous urban sprawl.  This will lead to even more road congestion, degradation of our social lives, and our declined health due to sedentary lifestyle that car usage promotes.

That is why we all have to work with cities to encourage approval of projects that improve our quality of lives.  While a vast majority of new developments have indeed demonstrated a big step away from favoring the automobile, there are still some exceptions exist.  This new Trader Joe’s is an unfortunate example.

The community certainly embrace the new Trader Joe’s.  The market offers healthy, nutritious, natural food.  It’s rather ironic that the configuration of the development lures us back into our cars.  This busy corner (3rd Street and Fairfax) is a major transit connection, where buses stop every few minutes throughout the day, seven days a week.  The soon-to-bebuilt subway station at Wilshire & Fairfax will further increase pedestrian and transit usage.

Finally, The Grove is a major tourist attraction and a family-friendly, pedestrian destination.  It’s only logical to build a large transit-oriented development at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. It’s a shame that instead of creating an upscale multistory mixed use project at this popular location, only a single-story retail project has been built with a single story parking lot.

Nevertheless, we shall be thankful for what we have.  The new Trader Joe’s, along with a restaurant, looks way better than an empty parking lot that sat vacant for years. Perhaps, in the near future the City could look into the site, and a major mixed-use development (with a large underground garage) could replace the current street parking lot. Knowing that our city is going in the right direction, I shall stay optimistic and look forward to additional developments in this popular location!

  • Ubrayj02

    I can’t believe that the Nature Bandaids in the front of this yuppie food warehouse are being described as “good” on this blog.

    The only good thing about this place is that it will be flattened by its own inability to be re-used for anything other than grain storage in the future.

    When Trader Joes collapses under whatever financial calamity is coming its way in the future, what will this building be used for? I can’t see anything other than big box retail – something that I doubt we’ll have much of in the future.

    Those Nature Bandaids on the street are great … for using as a pissoir on a late night walk or for stashing flaming hot cheetos bags when you’re waiting for the bus.

  • After I turned my Xootr scooter into the parking lot from 3rd street on opening day to enter the store, a motorist in his car approached me from the line of parking and promptly slammed on his horn, yelling at me to get out of the way. Lovely. 

  • Anonymous

    “I also noticed the parking was completely full, costing Trader Joe’s many customers.”

    If you’ll recall from Econ 101, a “demand curve” proves that a shortage like this is a result of setting the price too low. That’s easy to fix.

  • You have some basic facts about the costs of parking wrong here. Underground parking is vastly more expensive than surface parking, and there is *no* consensus that underground parking is better for dense development. I do not want developers to spend tens of thousands of dollars accommodating cars. 

    I think you focus too much on the number of stories, and too little on the number of spaces and the price folks pay for them. I would like us to think more about how places function, and how people make choices, than about how things look. It’s ample, free parking that will keep us locked in car hell. I wish this development had been built with less parking, and some kind of a price on that parking. 

  • Alexander The Great

    the “number of stories” and “number of spaces” are directly related.
    The denser the development is, the more parking will be available.
    But in any case, underground parking (even a single-story) is always more flexible to fit a significantly higher number of cars than the limited above-ground parking.
    True, the initial cost of development the underground garage is higher, but… as they say, you get what you pay for.
    Thanks again for your feedback ;-)

  • Alexander The Great

    How is that “easy to fix”?
    To raise the price of parking? Remember, Trader Joe’s faces strong competition. It’s easy for a frustrated customer (looking for parking) to say “the hell with it”, leave the parking and go to another store (free Whole Foods parking, with much more available space, is just across the street; or just drive to the nearby Ralphs)

  • Irwinc

    Trader Joe’s won’t lease the space unless it has surface parking lot so as much as we like to blame the developer, the tenants are often the real problem. Trader Joe’s headquarter is in the suburbs and the entire company’s real estate development team hails from the school of strip malls and suburban sprawl. Trader Joe’s doesn’t really “get it” when their customers asks for bike parking.

  • Anonymous

     Yes, it’s easy to fix by raising the price of parking at peak periods so that customers don’t get frustrated looking for parking and go to another store. Especially those customers whose time is worth the most, who buy the most expensive (and profitable for the store) products.

  • PC

    “Los Angeles is flourishing with new developments, transforming the once-blighted spots into upscale, walkable, family-oriented communities, and promoting pedestrian and transit usage, ultimately leading to healthier lifestyle.”

    Would it be rude of me to ask for a few examples? Not for the assertion that development is “flourishing” in LA, which is about as controversial as stating that bedbugs are flourishing in New York, but for the bit about spots having once been blighted but now being walkable, family-oriented (which I assume has some objective meaning although it’s not provided), “upscale” (which I guess is supposed to be self-evidently desirable in every case), promoting transit use, facilitating “healthy lifestyle,” etc.?

  • Alexander The Great

    I will be happy to answer your question.
    How about opening your eyes, for a start?
    As you asked, here are a few examples: visiting Hollywood might help. Crime in Hollywood has dropped significantly, thanks to the new developments, e.g. Hollywood & Highland (now a major tourist attraction, formerly the center for drugs & prostitution), Vine Street – in its entire span between Hollywood and Sunset. Also, Santa Monica Blvd  & La Brea Target/Best Buy shopping center. Downtown LA (in the 80’s it was a ghetto, but now people are moving back to Downtown, which has now become a safe, walkable environment like any other city)… etc., etc.
    Or are you saying, it would be better to continue living in the 20th century, when LA “flourished” with blight, neglected areas, and ugly concrete old buildings that attracted gangs & graffiti?  LA still has a long way to go to catch-up to other major cities across the U.S., but we’re getting there. ;-)
    I believe it’s a no brainer that redevelopment, creating upscale communities, safe & walkable environment improves quality of life and safety for all. Frankly, I don’t see anything “controversial” in improving quality of life and reducing crime. And that’s what modern developments do. 
    Thanks for your feedback!

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, the bicycle racks shown here are the “wave” style, which prevents secure locking, unless you park your bike parallel to it, which prevents other people from locking to it.

    Is the parking lot next to the store, or behind it?

    One way to avoid this kind of sprawl is to make a portion of the property tax proportional to the linear distance the property occupies along the street. Suddenly storefronts will become much narrower, and streets will become much more walkable.

  • Tomrau

    TJ’s on Olympic in WLA did roof top parking which seems to be working just fine and no valuable real estate wasted on a surface parking lot.

  • PC

    OK, seriously? Hollywood and Highland? That labyrinthine megamall with the humongous underground parking structure that sucks in and spits out cars by the thousands day in and day out? The frigging Target and frigging Best Buy on frigging Santa Monica? These are your “family oriented” promoters of transit and healthy “lifestyle”? Jesus. I’m at a loss. Well, it explains a lot about the rest of the article, I guess.

    As for downtown LA, the only part of it where a significant resurgence in economic activity can be attributed to major development, rather than reuse, of real estate is the area around LA Live. Now, if you actually like Hollywood and Highland you probably love LA Live…but the only walking that place promotes is the walk from one of those parking lots on Figueroa with the guys standing outside waving flashlights.

    One last thing before I wander off, shaking my head in disbelief: if you’re going to throw around a loaded word like “ghetto,” learn what the hell it means first. DTLA in its most woeful years following the disaster of urban “renewal” was a lot of things, few of them good, but it was not a ghetto and that’s not a joke.

  • Alexander The Great

    This could truly be the best solution!
    Thanks for pointing out this fact.
    Yes, the roof-top parking, no doubt, saves plenty of street space,
    while also saving the investors tons of money by not having to build underground garage.

  • Alexander The Great

    It appears your point-of-view is in great way distorted by, most likely, by your “driver-only” mentality. Your denying of some of the most obvious facts (greatly improved areas and walkable conditions that are – by no comparison – are much better today  than they were 20 years ago) is quite surprising, I must say. Maybe, if you were to get out of your car once in a while, and take a walk, i.e. observing the world from the pedestrian’s point-of-view (rather than an avid driver), the perception of the world could easily change.
    Just a suggestion.

  • Michael Adberg

    How about if the City of Los Angeles built some parking garages in this area? West Hollywood and Beverly Hills both do so nearby and both have successfully enhanced retail. This gains those cities sales tax revenue and business tax revenue. I don’t know if it’s enough to justify the huge expense of a parking garage, but Third Street would really flourish with city garages.

  • Joe B

    Here’s an idea. Cut the parking lot in half. During peak periods, the “VIP” half of the parking lot charges market rate, so you can always park if you’re willing to pay. The other half continues to be free, so as not to offend those who’d rather burn gas driving in circles.

  • Joe B

    That was what I noticed. Parking for four bikes. Developers wouldn’t create parking lots for cars without any side-clearance; why is this somehow considered acceptable for bike parking?

  • PC

    My “driver-only” mentality? Get out of my car?

    I’m a bike commuter and a rider-by-choice of transit. In my previous comment, I specifically criticized Hollywood & Highland for its gigantic parking garage and anti-urban layout. I also tried to convey to you the extremely car-centric (not to mention gaudy, jumped-up, and consumerist) nature of the LA Live; and I did so based on my observations–from the seat of a bicycle or a Silver Line or 450X bus–of the throngs of people who cross Figueroa pretty obviously headed to or from those parking lots.

    None of the corporate big-boxes that so excite you are changing a thing about the way people use their streets or communicate with their city. These are 1980s suburban malls with the parking lot in the basement, or offloaded to private operators in the neighborhood. The presence of a bike rack doesn’t change this. Neither does landscaping.

    Your utter cluelessness about the built environment would be funny if somebody hadn’t actually empowered you to write articles for Streetsblog LA. As it is, I’m not sure this isn’t a troll.

  • Davistrain

    Regarding “undercroft” or “subterranean” parking:  Many people, especially women, are leery of these gloomy caverns when the sun never shines; they are perceived (sometimes with justification) to provide shadowy hiding places for criminals.

  • Mig

     Alexander… the number of spaces for retail is most closely related to GLA, not the # of stories.  There is certainly a relationship there, but one is not directly proportional to the other.  For residential the same would be true as minimum parking requirements are typically a function of DUs and not stories (not hard to imagine one story having five units and another story having 2 units).

    I don’t understand what exactly “the denser the development, the more parking will be available” means… the more units or square footage of retail per ksf the more parking one will find or the more parking that will be provided?  Not sure either one makes sense, perhaps you meant something else?

    I don’t know if this is true, but the statement that “underground parking (even a single-story) is always more flexible to fit
    a significantly higher number of cars than the limited above-ground
    parking” seems suspect.  I’m just guessing, but I would think that the number of parking spaces you get from the same number of stories of above ground vs underground parking will not be “significantly higher”.

    While I agree that this is some improvement and there are modest improvements going on around LA that cumulatively can effect some change, this seems a bit of a stretch.

  • Alexander The Great

    Ok, Mr. “PC” (is that your name?)
    I misjudged you by thinking you were an “avid driver”; my mistake.
    However, it’s easy to make this determination from reading your comments (which seem to be quite negative).
    I’m glad you’re a cyclist and transit rider by choice, which I truly salute; so am I.
    However, if you want to have a productive discussion,
    I would suggest refraining from personal attacks (as well as jumping to conclusions), but rather focusing on the topic.
    Moving along.
    Personally, I’ve been involved in urban development and transit advocacy for quite a few years, so your statement about “utter cluelessness” is quite inappropriate, to say the least.
    I still cannot comprehend how one can be so negative in response to the massive developments and transformations that our city has been undergoing!
    I’m not saying they’re perfect, but one has to be completely blind to not notice the major improvements for all: pedestrians, transit users, and bicycle riders.
    To be objective, let’s just compare:
    In 1980’s through late 1990’s Hollywood & Highland, being blighted and neglected for decades, was a magnet for crime (graffiti, gangs, prostitution). I was living close-by, and witnessed first-hand. However, now it is a completely different area. Tourism has skyrocketed and crime has dropped to an all-time low, thanks to the major transformation and a major development. Maybe this complex is not a bicycle heaven, however for pedestrians (both tourists and residents) this area is truly wonderful! The difference between the 1980’s blight and current upscale environment is like day and night.
    You also mentioned about Downtown. I also agree with you, more could be done to make it less car-centric but more pedestrian-friendly. However, again, remember what our downtown areas used to look like, and compare to what they are now. Do you prefer old, dirty parking lots with blighted corners, full of concrete and graffiti? Or would you prefer to see modern mixed-use developments, providing safe walking environment, with retail, outdoor dining, and landscaping? (I’m sure the answer is obvious).
    I could give you plenty of more examples, but you get the point. Again, LA (including the described Trader Joe’s) is not perfect, and neither are the developments in our city. But they are a sharp contrast to what we had just a few decades ago! Gradually many LA areas are transforming to upscale communities, providing safe, walkable conditions. I’m all for better bicycle facilities too, but… it will take time to make it happen. Let’s be patient.
    Once again, thanks for your feedback!

  • The bike parking looks terrible.

    As for the first pic listed under “the ugly” is that sidewalk new? No way it meets ADA standards.

  • Alexander The Great

    Jass, thanks for your feedback.
    No, I don’t think this part of sidewalk has been upgraded, or improved in any way. Which is sad.
    And – I totally agree with you, it does not, indeed, meet ADA standards.

  •  If the parking lot is full, the drivers will still just go to Whole Foods or somewhere else.  Charging for parking will only cost them customers if it results in the parking lot suddenly being substantially empty.  I imagine there’s some price they can find that will reduce occupancy to 90%, and therefore not cost many customers, and make things more pleasant for the driving customers they do have.

  • Sprague

    Although I am not familiar with this Trader Joe’s location, I question the author’s advocacy of more parking.  You’ve described a location with great transit access and presumably decent bike access.  If parking isn’t too readily available, shoppers are more apt to walk, bike, or ride transit to and from the store.  Trader Joe’s is always (?) a very popular store, even with a nearby Whole Foods.  Reduced parking availability tends to reduce car usage and increase use of “alternative” transportation.  Isn’t this something we want?

  • Alexander The Great

    Dear Sprague,
    thank you for your comment.
    In theory, I completely agree with you,
    however in Los Angeles public transportation network is quite inadequate and inefficient (for now, at least), especially when you compare it to other large cities (e.g. New York, Chicago, Washington DC, etc.)
    so if not enough parking is provided, many customers will be lost, as most shoppers prefer driving.
    Again, maybe in a decade, if/when another half-a-dozen metro-rail lines are built to provide better transit access, it might be a different story. However, currently Los Angeles is nowhere near the level of other cities’ mass transit quality, hence parking (unfortunately) should be provided to ensure good customer turnout.

  • Wildguyla

    There are a lot of misconceptions in this article.   I am a long time resident and watched the construction as well as am familiar with the previous use of the spot. 

    Surface parking isn’t great, but this is a city and people are coming here to buy groceries, which many often do by car since you can increase the amount of your purchase and in turn, generate less trips to the market.  Underground parking is very expensive, and rooftop parking isn’t as easy as adding a ramp to your roof- this is earthquake country, and cars trucks weight a ton or more each, vastly increasing the cost of your structure if you want to place that weight on your roof. 

    Both the Fairfax and 3rd street frontages are vastly improved (not to mention the public alley between the parking and the stores, which was re-paved).  The 3rd street sidewalk was re-paved and widened, it used to be very narrow between the meters & light poles and the iron fence at Mordigans, the nursery which uses to be on-site.  The landscaping and low wall on the 3rd street side is nice, and much more open & welcoming than the iron fence which used to be there or could have been reinstalled.

    Again, this development isn’t perfect, but certainly an improvement and another great development from the Gilmore company, which owns & built both the Farmer’s Market and the North Market complexes across the street.

  • Mrsfeldo

    Had they not wanted a couple of liquor licenses, this project would have been “by right”, which would have allowed Gilmore Company to build pretty much whatever they wanted at this location.  When they came to the local neighborhood council, we encouraged them to make the entire site more pedestrian-friendly, and we asked for a wider sidewalk and street trees along Third Street.  We also asked for underground parking or a structure to maximize parking and allow for something more interesting on Third, but they wanted to go the least expensive route.  Also, I asked that they have the same parking rules as the Farmers Market and allow for validation from either location to encourage people to leave their cars in one spot, but they chose to do a shorter “free” parking time than the Market, so the car trips are probably up due to that.  The Third Street sidewalk is actually wider than the one that was there before, which was terrible.  I am hopeful that there will be street trees planted in the near future, as a part of the Third Street tree planting project.  I just wish the City would replace the parking meters with parking stations.  That would mean a lot more space on the sidewalk for trees.  As for “smart development”, I live and work near this intersection, and I see a lot more foot traffic, with local residents making more small shopping trips on foot, rather than by car. 

  • Ford2014

    I, for one, LOVE the new TJs! Having grown up in that area (but living in New York for the past 25 years), it’s a treat to see a clean and new grocery store in an area where grocery stores are very scarce. I try to make it back to L.A. twice a year, and during my last trip I found myself at TJs several times per week! Yes, parking sucks – but even if Gilmore had built a parking garage, it STILL would suck (case in point, the TJs and Whole Foods in Westwood). Underground parking would have taken years and roof parking would be more of an eyesore. This TJs is not “perfect,” but I’ll take it…now I don’t have to drive to the West L.A. location on Westwood & National or the La Brea one.



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