Trader Joe’s Okemos sees long-awaited progress after challenges

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EAST LANSING, Mich. – The long-awaited Okemos Trader Joe’s is now halfway through installing the steel and exterior walls after supply chain and building permit issues stalled what has been in the making since 2021.

“They finished the parking lot before winter hit, so they could build during the winter and obviously a lot of exterior stuff to do in the spring, but they’re moving right along at this point,” said Tim Schmitt, Meridian Township community planning and development director.  

On Dec. 8, 2021, Meridian Township held a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. In the agenda packet, there is a variance application supplement requesting to exceed the maximum allowed parking spots for the “specialty grocer.”

The variance application supplement used a high volume of sales, a large amount of fresh products that have to be replenished daily and a large number of team members as arguments for the need for a larger parking lot. The “specialty grocer’s” staff would take more parking than a typical “large-box grocer” on a per-square-foot basis that the township’s code of ordinances allows for. 

“Strict interpretation and enforcement of the literal terms and provisions of the chapter would result in this use being significantly under parked resulting in an unsafe parking facility, frustrated consumers, and compromised operations,” the variance application supplement stated arguing for more parking to be approved.

It was also argued that additional parking would not impact surrounding businesses and the actual building would shield most of the parking from public view. 

“This is a unique site, and the applicant is proposing a retailer with unique parking demands,” the variance application supplement stated. “It is in the public’s best interest to have a popular retail use with a safe parking facility, sized in accordance with the actual parking demand.”

It wasn’t until Feb. 12, 2024, that Strathmore Real Estate Group announced on its website in a statement that it completed a sale to resolve the parking issues for Trader Joe’s Okemos. Strathmore closed two real estate transactions with Trader Joe’s East, LLC. 

“Given the extraordinary site requirements for a typical Trader Joe’s, Strathmore was initially tasked with the land assembly to accommodate the unusual parking requirements of a specialty grocer,” the statement said. “Strathmore worked cooperatively with community stakeholders to secure several variances and approvals, relocate several businesses, in order to mitigate the impact on the adjacent residences.”

There have been discussions about putting a Trade Joe’s in Okemos for years and years, but delays from the previous developer have caused stoppages and the corporate side of the process has taken over at this point, Schmitt said.

The typical process for a business to be built in Meridian Township is for the site plan to be approved then the building plans. After those are approved, construction can begin. As construction moves along, Meridian Township will inspect it and then at the end, they will issue occupancy and the owner will be able to move into the space and have people in it. 

Adding a Trader Joe’s would benefit the Okemos community by giving another opportunity for groceries and the niche market of Trader Joe’s will fit well into the community of Okemos, Schmitt said. 

Michigan State sophomore Ali Burlingame looks forward to having nostalgia from when she would go to her hometown’s location with her mother at the new Okemos Trader Joe’s. 

“I have so many fond memories of going there with my mom at home,” Burlingame said. “ I will be filling my freezer with Trader Joe’s because, after a long busy day of school, they’re healthy and quick options.”

Burlingame is excited about the opening of a Trader Joe’s close to campus because she feels that it has more organic options than other organic advertised stores. 

“It is affordable, which is a big difference between Trader Joe’s and other organic options,” Burlingame said. “I love Trader Joe’s, they have amazing Mochi. Literally anything in their frozen section will be great. It’s all amazing.”

Meridian Township has never been given a tentative opening date, so it is still unclear when it will be open for business. Looking forward, construction will progress with the building being closed up in the next couple of weeks with weather being a major factor.

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