Joe Coulombe, Founder of Trader Joe’s, dies at 89

Mark Wood Mar 01, 2020
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In 1967 Joe Coulombe visualized the need for people to acquire healthy and high-quality food at affordable prices. Coulombe fulfilled his dream after opening the first Trader Joe’s store in California that today brings together more than 500 stores that make it one of the most beloved supermarket chains in the United States.

Joe Coulombe


Coulombe passed away Friday at the age of 89 at his home in Pasadena, California, after suffering a long illness.


CEO Dan Bane said in the announcement that Joe had been the perfect person at the right time for Trader Joe’s. He had been a brilliant thinker with a mesmerizing personality that had simply galvanized all with whom he had worked. Joe had been not only his founder, and he had been his first spokesperson. He had starred in captivating radio ads for years, always signing off with his unique, ‘thanks for listening.’ Joe had developed a cadre of leaders that had carried on his vision and had helped shape Trader Joe’s in the beginning years.

Joe said in an interview with BBC that all Trader Joe’s had been located near centers of learning. Pasadena, where he had opened the first one, had been because Pasadena was the epitome of a well-educated town. Joe Coulombe explained. He said that he had reframed that: Trader Joe’s was for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, journalists, museum curators. That was why we had always had good press, frankly!

Joe Coulombe


Joe also said that he had read that the [Boeing] 747 [aircraft] would radically reduce the cost of travel. And he had come up with the term ‘Trader’ to evoke the South Seas. The first stores had loaded with marine artifacts. Joe had gone down to the docks in San Pedro. He had bought flags, chains, all that stuff. Joe [put] walk-in boxes in the shape of ships with cannon in the middle of the stores. That had been a terrible idea.
Joe said in an interview with Coriolis Research that he had accidentally created the world’s largest assortment of Californian wine. He had been the first to give shelf space to what later had become known as boutique Californian wineries.

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