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By Allison Jarrell

Dozens of joyous shoppers lined the sidewalk of the Mission Village Center Wednesday morning for the grand opening of the plaza’s new anchor grocery store, Trader Joe’s.

Store Captain Mike Rosales, a 22-year veteran of the grocery store chain, kicked off the Oct. 11 grand opening by greeting the crowd and thanking local city officials and community partners.

Rosales and his crew members opened the store’s doors with a traditional Trader Joe’s “lei cutting,” and as each shopper entered, they were given a lei of their own to wear accompanied by a warm, “Welcome!” from team members.

Traudl Taylor and her daughter, Renee Taylor, of San Juan Capistrano, were the first in line for the 7:55 a.m. opening—a position they claimed at 5:30 a.m. The duo is well-known in town for starting the CORAL65 nonprofit, which aims to help senior women with cancer.

And while she wasn’t the first to enter, Monica Avila, a 30-year resident of San Juan, was proud to report that she was the first shopper to check out, with her friend, Lorraine Hoon, coming in a close second. Avila said they had hatched the plan the night before.

“I’m such a Trader Joe’s fan!” Avila laughed. “I can tell my grandchildren that I was the first person to ever check out at the Trader Joe’s in San Juan Capistrano.”

Avila said she had employees laughing when she admitted to grabbing a random box and heading straight for the cash register. She had no clue as to what she was buying, nor did it matter.

Until today, the closest Trader Joe’s stores were in San Clemente and in Laguna Niguel, near the border of Dana Point.

On Wednesday morning, many shoppers said they were impressed with the spacious layout of the new grocer. The more than 14,000-square-foot store features murals highlighting San Juan landmarks and motifs such as Mission San Juan Capistrano, Capistrano Trading Post, Los Rios Street, San Juan Hills Golf Club, Regency Theatres, the train depot, the summer trolley, and, of course, plenty of swallows throughout.

There’s even a hidden swallow plushie waiting to be found, which Rosales said is mainly to keep kids entertained while their parents shop, but adults are welcome to join the hunt, too. Anyone who spots the swallow can tell a cashier and receive a free organic lollipop.

“One of the beautiful things about Trader Joe’s is we really try to tailor to our neighborhood,” Rosales said. “For us, why would we not want to celebrate the Mission and celebrate the swallows? It’s a beautiful part of the history of San Juan.”

Rosales, who was working at a Trader Joe’s in La Mesa prior to becoming San Juan’s store captain, said he and the store’s 70 crew members are eager to become a part of the community.

“We wanted to make sure it was the right spot and the right time, and I wanted to make sure I had the right crew, and all of it has come together,” Rosales said. “We really want to be part of this neighborhood. So we’re very thankful for this opportunity, and we’re going to do everything we can to show that.”

Rosales said he’s always looking for new crew members, seasonal or otherwise, and anyone interested in applying for a position is welcome to do so.

Trader Joe’s is located at 32151 Camino Capistrano. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

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