When Nesh Patel first moved to New York City three years ago, picking up groceries and a few bottles of wine from the Trader Joe’s in Union Square was a ritual.
A deal at the time allowed shoppers to mix and match six bottles and get a discount from the total price. “That was what made it super affordable,” he recalled.
But last week, he walked by the store and was surprised to see that it had been shuttered: “It came out of kind of nowhere,” he said, calling it a sort of “institution” for the area. “It’s kind of unbelievable that it’s gone.”
Trader Joe’s only wine store in New York State closed without warning last week, sending some shoppers of the grocery store chain with a cult following into a minor tailspin.
“We have been operating our small wine shop in the Union Square neighborhood for over 15 years, and we thank you for your business and support throughout the years,” a posted sign read. Theories about the reason for the closing abounded: the impacts of the pandemic, the end of a lease, a new location.
The sign read: “It is now time for us to explore another location that will allow us to optimize the potential of our one and only license to sell wine in the state of New York.”
The company said it planned to “offer an even better wine shop experience” to New York customers, and added that staff members at the location would be paid through Aug. 28 and presented with opportunities to move to another store location in New York City.
A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s declined to specify what the next iteration of the store might look like.
The Trader Joe’s store and its adjacent wine shop in Union Square was among the cheapest options for both food and alcohol in a city neighborhood that includes a mix of New York University dorms and high-end apartment buildings.
The store opened to much fanfare in 2006, the first of many to come as the California-based chain, known for its quirky house-brand products and sweet deals, expanded into the New York City market. The wine shop soon became a staple for a thriving residential area where it made more of a splash than the typical wine and liquor store.
In addition to customers who created recipes and pairings from the store’s creative food options, devotees of the so-called Two Buck Chuck (a wine bottle from the store’s Charles Shaw line that costs around $2, depending on where you live) and other options flocked there for its deals.
Trader Joe’s typically carries wines from the California wine country but also from New Zealand, Italy, France and beyond. Many are from its private label.
On many a weeknight, the line to the two stores could be seen extending out toward Union Square park or wrapping around the building in that bustling corner of Manhattan.
Mr. Patel, 28, who works in private equity, said he now shops at wine stores with more selection, but there is still a “nostalgia factor.”
Because of New York’s alcohol sales rules, the chain could only hold a license for one wine store in the city, and it chose a building directly next to the Trader Joe’s grocery store there.
Still, many customers lamented that, without warning, they were suddenly unable to stock up on some of their favorite blends.
Trader Joe’s is based in California, where most grocery stores can sell beer, wine and liquor. Regulations vary state by state, with some allowing supermarkets to sell wine and beer. But in New York, grocery stores can sell only beer, and chains like Trader Joe’s can only have one location, typically separate, for the sale of wine or liquor.
The Whole Foods in New York City, similarly, has one wine store, next to a location on the Upper West Side, also housed separately from the grocery operation.
Though the notice posted at the Union Square shop implied that Trader Joe’s would soon have a new location for wine in the city, that didn’t make devotees feel much better this week: One TikTok video showing the closed door was set, mournfully, to the tune of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”