Updated: February 15, 2014 at 6:26 am
Jonni McCoy of Colorado Springs didn't camp out to be among the first to experience Trader Joe's in Colorado, but she made sure to get there plenty early. She woke up at 4 a.m. Friday to make the 60-mile journey north to finally see one of her dreams come true.
The California native has lived in the Pikes Peak region for 18 years and said she has been writing to Trader Joe's management all that time in hopes of bringing the specialty grocery store to her new state.
"It's a West Coast thing," said McCoy. "People who don't get it, they just don't get it."
But a lot of people in Colorado apparently do get it, as evidenced by the throngs that attended opening day Friday at Trader Joe's first Colorado stores: one in Boulder, one in Denver and one in Greenwood Village.
Overjoyed shoppers - some of whom drove at least three hours - shared their experience on Twitter, rhapsodizing about their food finds and party-like atmosphere. "The line today at #TraderJoesCO was insane. With this kind of cult following the bar is set pretty high. Anticipating religious experience," one shopper Tweeted.
"What has a longer line: Trader Joes on opening day or Disneyland in summer? Answer: #TraderJoesCO," Tweeted another.
McCoy was the fifth in line when she arrived at 5 a.m. at the Greenwood Village store on South University Boulevard. By the time the store opened at 8 a.m. Friday, there were more than 100 people in line, she said.
She shopped for about 45 minutes, gathering her favorite items. She would have stayed longer, but she saw the crowds and decided it was time to pay up and leave.
"The checkout line was starting to get so long that it filled up every aisle and you couldn't move around to shop," McCoy said.
In Boulder, friends Ann Stewart Zachwieja, Jan West and Susanne Peach were all smiles as the store neared its 8 a.m. opening. Zachwieja, 53, arrived shortly after 6:30 a.m. to grab the first spot in line outside the Boulder location.
Landlocked from the specialty grocer in recent years, the trio of unabashed Trader Joe's fans said that whenever they traveled, they each would visit Trader Joe's stores and bring back items for the others.
After seeing the news that Trader Joe's planned to open in Colorado, they counted down the days.
"When my husband woke me up this morning, he didn't say, 'Happy Valentine's Day,'" Peach said. "He said 'Happy Trader Joe's Day'"
McCoy said she grew up enjoying the specialty items that she could only find at Trader Joe's. She missed the sourdough bread, antibiotic- and hormone-free fish and chicken, reasonable prices and "Two Buck Chuck" wines so much that she frequently made trips to Santa Fe - formerly the closest store to Colorado Springs - to "load up and come back."
The Mountain Shadows resident said employees Friday were coming out about every 15 minutes in their leis and Hawaiian shirts to serenade customers and dance around. They greeted shoppers with a "tunnel of love" and put leis around everyone's necks.
McCoy stressed, however, it's the products and prices that make people fall in love with Trader Joe's.
"You almost need a guided tour and need to be given certain products to try," she said. "Then you'll never be the same."
Two more stores are under development - one in Fort Collins, and another across from Governor's Park in central Denver. Both of those locations are expected to open later this year. A spokeswoman for the company said last year that Colorado Springs was not in the retailer's two-year plan, meaning no store will be built in the city before 2015, at the earliest.
The Denver Post contributed to this report.