Trading freely!

  Ahhh, Trader Joe's.  That unique grocery store chain, with some rather unique offerings, where the Hawaiian-shirt-clad employees are referred to as "crew" and the managers are "captains".  Most of their food selections are yummy, healthy, and responsibly produced.  Their own website explains the philosophy better than I can, and is worth a read.  The nearest store to me is a little out of the way of my usual travels, so I hadn't been inside one for a long time, but in the meantime I'd read some strong hints that the company is also barefoot-friendly as a whole.  It was time to go test that.  A friend and I went in to pick up some supplies for a social gathering later that afternoon, and confidently left our backup "appease the ignorant" foot coverings in the car.

We got about halfway down the first aisle, scanning the bewildering selection of trail-mixes, when I suddenly heard that fateful and wholly unwelcome "excuse me, sir!"

Trader Joe's sign

  You know that little twist you get in your guts when threatened or verbally assaulted, especially when you know you've done nothing wrong and someone is simply out to bully you?  Well, guess what.  A crewmember apparently was convinced that the local *town health code* prohibited bare feet in food establishments, and took it upon himself to play judge and jury toward us.  There are only a very few towns in Massachusetts where backward blue laws would lend that any shred of truth, and we weren't in one of them.  Health department regulations in most towns here simply incorporate the FDA Food Code and the Massachusetts 105 CMR 590 extensions by reference and that's the end of it.  Neither of which make any mention of feet or shoes, other than one guideline that *shoes* may bring contaminants into prep areas.  So this guy was clearly off in the weeds, and rather than try to directly convince him of that I simply suggested that this might be a matter that his captain would be more suited to discuss.  Using TJ's own terminology may have made more of an impression on him, and off he went to find a commanding officer.

Soon enough, Captain Katie showed up for a chat, and was much more understanding than her subordinate.  She proffered the typical concerns for our safety, but in a nice way, not treating us like unruly children and ordering us to immediately don some footwear.  We had in fact just come up from a nice morning hike in the Blue Hills reservation, shoeless over all the rough ground it has to offer, in contrast to which any grocery store aisle is completely pristine.  Katie actually seemed intrigued by our assertions, and knew immediately that she was dealing with fairly hardcore barefooters who would be absolutely fine in her store.  She wasn't sure if there was a corporate-level policy about this one way or the other, so I told her what I had come to understand and surmised that lack of shoe policy had simply not gotten propagated to all employees.  Obviously it would be prudent to not only check, but request chain-wide clarification if needed.  I handed her an Outbarefoot card to guide her in further online research, and we finished our shopping mostly unhampered.  On our way out I got a *really* sour look from an older woman staffing one of the registers, although she didn't say anything.

As it was the weekend I had to wait until the following Monday to reach TJ's corporate in Monrovia CA, but in the meantime a quick check of the town website showed the typical federal/state regulatory structure with no relevant local extensions.  I printed that page as supporting evidence, and on Monday called the corporate headquarters to follow up.  Confirmed: Trader Joe's does not discriminate against patrons, end of story.  The consumer-advocacy person added that they usually wind up fielding such questions from west-coast locations, and rarely if ever from the Northeast.  I assured her that (at least!) the Boston area actually has a strong and growing barefooter community, and that we're about the last group of people who would be out to make any trouble -- we just want more places where we can confidently shop and not have our lifestyles impugned.  I also encouraged getting reminders about their "no-policy policy" out to all of their locations, which nowadays should be quite easy to do via emailed memos or the like, to help head off confrontations with unaware employees before another situation arose.  They seemed receptive to that idea.

So, yay.  A day or two later I stopped by the same location and related all of this to Katie, who was still quite welcoming and seemed relieved that everything had been hammered out in an equitable manner.  I showed her my "(feet) OK" sign examples as an optional clarification tool, but she echoed Monrovia's point that they actually try to minimize or even eliminate the amount of reading material posted at their entrances.  Fair enough.  Either way, I was happy to throw more money at them for some additional items while I was there, and still try to generally include TJ's in my rotation of where I shop even if it's not on my most well-trodden paths.

_H*   170705

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