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Article updated: 2/28/2013 7:23 AM

Libertyville finally snares Trader Joe's store

By Mick Zawislak

A long, anxious wait for Libertyville officials and residents ended Wednesday with the announcement that Trader Joe's is coming to town.

The California-based chain known for its inexpensive quality wines, welcoming atmosphere and tasty store brands will open at 1600 South Milwaukee Ave., a vacant site where a Frank's Nursery & Crafts stood years ago and another grocery store venture failed in mid-construction and was demolished in 2007.

Village officials have had indications for some time, but verification was not forthcoming until recently. Trader Joe's made it official Wednesday, saying a lease had been signed to open a new location in Libertyville this year.

"That is what people have asked me about for years," Mayor Terry Weppler said. He added he's been asked about Trader Joe's more than any other issue since he was elected four years ago.

Hints surfaced last summer, when Paragon Real Estate LLC of Oak Brook sought village approvals to develop a 12,450-square-foot specialty grocery store and an adjoining 8,100-square-foot retail center on the 3-acre site.

The unnamed store was described in documents submitted to the village as being based in California, with about 400 stores in 32 states and $8 billion in sales -- the profile of Trader Joe's.

"We selected Libertyville because it's just a wonderful community," said Alison Mochizuki, director of public relations. "There are a lot of foodies."

The company operates 19 stores in Chicago and the suburbs. The Libertyville store would be the second in Lake County, following one in Lake Zurich. Groundbreaking is scheduled for April, Weppler said.

The site is across the street from Mariano's in Vernon Hills, which has put a dent in village sales tax revenue from other grocers, including Jewel-Osco just north of the site and Sunset Foods on the other side of town.

"It's certainly going to be a notable competitor for both Jewel and Mariano's," said Jon Hauptman, a partner with Willard Bishop Ltd., a supermarket industry analyst in Barrington. "They have a unique niche. People seem to like having them around."

The company describes its stores as having a "lighthearted air" and a festive decor.

Walls are covered with cedar, and employees known as "crew members" sport brightly colored Hawaiian shirts. The chain is known for high-quality, low-priced items that include more than 1,000 Trader Joe's private label products.

"They're all about fun, telling stories, engaging shoppers in that way," Hauptman said. "It certainly is a different store."

At a fraction of the size of the nearby competitors, Trader Joe's isn't expected to be a stock-up store but is expected to draw from a wide area outside Libertyville.

"They're going to be a complement to the existing grocers in town," said Heather Rowe, Libertyville's economic development coordinator. "We've gotten regular calls almost daily -- 'Is it true? Is it true?' I think there's a lot of pent-up excitement."

The development including the other retailers is considered a big deal for Libertyville.

Preliminary estimates last summer showed it could generate nearly $675,000 in sales tax revenue for the village in 2013.

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