The Unique Trader Joe's Store Located In A Charming NYC Landmark

Tucked amid its myriad storefronts in strip malls across America, Trader Joe's has a few treasures worth finding, not just longtime fan-favorite foods like Mandarin Orange Chicken and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, but to experience the architectural gems that house some of the quirky brand's most unique outlets. We're talking about places like the 1939 Art Deco movie theater that's home to a Trader Joe's in Houston, Texas and the 1908 armory-turned-gymnasium-turned-sock-hop-venue that's now a Trader Joe's in Media, Pennsylvania. (The basement of the one-time armory is home to the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum.) One of the grocery store chain's most recent — and perhaps most iconic — locations is hidden in plain sight on the Upper East Side.

Opened in December 2021, Trader Joe's at Queensboro Bridge showcases the historic venue tucked beneath the bridge where it crosses over East 59th Street. A designated New York City landmark since 1974, original features of the structure include a soaring Guastavino-style ceiling. Developed in the 19th century by Spanish master builder Rafael Guastavino, the patented system utilizes interlocking tiles and thin layers of mortar to create gracefully curved self-supporting overhead space. The result is a cathedral-like ambience, making a shopping trip to this particular Trader Joe's seem more like a visit to Newport, Rhode Island's Gilded Age mansions than a chore to cross off a never-ending to-do list. In an interesting twist, the debut of Trader Joe's at the chain's Queensboro Bridge location is a return to the landmark location's roots.

What goes 'round, comes 'round

A few years after the bridge opened in 1909, a public market, part of a 1914 citywide initiative to combat soaring grocery store prices and suspected price-gouging at the start of World War I, began operating at the site. The public market survived, and thrived, through various incarnations, including the installation of walls to enclose the space, until it was shuttered in the 1930s. Sadly, that's when the architectural gem went dark. Closed to the public, the once-magnificent marketplace became a highway department dumping ground, serving as a storage facility, garage, and sign shop for decades until Bridgemarket Associates stepped up with plans to restore the 98,000-square-foot city-owned property. 

Following a $24 million restoration, Bridgemarket opened in 1999. Inaugural tenants included Food Emporium, an upscale grocery market, in addition to two restaurants and a high-end home furnishings retailer. Food Emporium closed in 2015, leaving the space it occupied vacant until Trader Joe's stepped up to the plate with plans that passed muster with the city. Currently, the quirky grocer has a lease to occupy the space through June 2026, with an option to re-up for an additional 10 years, through 2036.

Trader Joe's Queensboro location isn't the grocer's only interesting New York City property. About seven miles south in Brooklyn (25 to 30 minutes by subway), the Court Street Trader Joe's is located in a circa 1924 bank. Architectural highlights include marble accents, high ceilings, arched windows, and of course, the original vault.