What It's Like To Shop At The Smallest Trader Joe's Store In The World

There's something magical about tiny spaces. Fairy tales and mythology have long imbued minuscule nooks and crannies with an air of mystery. From the mystical genie's lantern in tales from "The Arabian Nights" to A.A. Milne's description of Winnie the Pooh's cozy digs inside a hollowed-out tree, they hold the promise of treasures hidden in expected places. If tiny spaces pique your interest, there's a real-world market in Boston that fits the bill. We're talking about the city's fun-sized Trader Joe's, a place where it's easy to imagine the pint-sized Lilliputians of "Gulliver's Travels" fame would feel right at home.

Okay, that's an exaggeration — it's not that tiny — but it is officially (according to a sign posted near the entrance to the subterranean space) the "smallest Trader Joe's in the known universe." And yes, it's subterranean. The street-level door opens directly to an escalator that whisks patrons one flight down, past walls covered with Boston-centric murals, before depositing them front and center at the entrance to the shopping emporium's floral section. Avoid getting so caught up in the creative murals and kaleidoscopic blossoms that you forget where you are. Remember to step off the escalator and move to the side or risk getting mowed over by shoppers coming in behind you. With the floral display directly in front of you and the checkout registers (no self-checkout, though) just around the corner to your right, it's best to keep moving until you can tuck into a nook to get your bearings.

What lies beneath?

Once inside you'll notice the low ceilings that reinforce the feeling you've entered a secret abode, except it's not so secret. The small space, reportedly just 5,200 square feet compared to the average Trader Joe's store size of 15,000 square feet, is usually packed with shoppers. In fact, the line to the aforementioned checkout registers can be so long that it snakes through the store, up one aisle and down the next. So much so that shoppers in the know grab a basket and get in line before they start shopping, then they pick up items as they move toward the registers ... seriously. It's a strategy that works especially well in this particular store because there's only one checkout line. Relax; there are plenty of registers. Patrons just wait in a single line until the next available clerk gives them the nod. The good news is that, despite its size, the smallest Trader Joe's in the known universe has a reputation for being well-stocked with everything from tried-and-true fan favorites to newly introduced products.

Despite its secret-nook appeal, the miniscule Trader Joe's located at 899 Boylston St. isn't for everyone. Successfully maneuvering the tight space during peak shopping hours requires a delicate balance of curiosity, patience, and diplomacy. That said, word on the street is that Trader Joe's is in the process of opening a new — much larger — Back Bay store less than five blocks away at 500 Boylston St.