Joe Coulombe, who opened his first Trader Joe’s grocery store in California in 1967, died on Friday following a long illness.
Joe Coulombe envisioned a new generation of young grocery shoppers emerging in the 1960s, one that wanted healthy, tasty, high quality food they couldn’t find in most supermarkets and couldn’t afford to buy in the few high-end gourmet outlets.
From the time he opened his first store in Pasadena, California, in 1967 until his death, Coulombe watched his namesake business rise from a cult favorite of educated but underpaid young people to a retail giant with more than 500 outlets in over 40 states.
A giant yes, but one that across more than half a century has never lost its reputation for friendly services.
Coulombe’s son said, “He wanted to make sure whatever was sold in our store was of good value.” He said his father died following a long illness. “He always did lots of taste tests. My sisters and I remember him bringing home all kinds of things for us to try. At his offices he had practically daily tastings of new products. Always the aim was to provide good food and good value to people.”
“He sold a lot of better wines too,” his son noted with a laugh, recalling trips the family made to France to seek them out.
Coulombe loved to travel, did acknowledge over the years that he had a fascination with the South Seas and put Trader into the name and a nautical theme inside the stores to lend that exotic appeal to customers.
In addition to his three children and wife of 67 years, Coulombe is survived by six grandchildren.