These are strange days, Ace. I hear whispered rumors of a mysterious figure, a “grocery messiah,” coming in from the west, his hour come round at last, slouching towards Charlottesville to do business. Some call him Trader Joe. I’ve browsed every prophetic text I can find, but none mention him. Who is he? And should I prepare for Armageddon?—W.B. Falconer
Lest you fall apart with worry, W.B., Ace will reassure you that he went the extra mile with this question. Only one man in Charlottesville possesses the answers you seek. No grocer, no supermarket representative; none other than another Joe, our very own Shenandoah.
Also called Dave Fafara, Shenandoah Joe is known colloquially as a gourmet coffee guru, a java shaman of high standing. Ace visited his shop on Preston Avenue on a sunlit, misty Wednesday morning and was escorted by an apprentice into a warmly lit, aromatic brewery. There he found Shenandoah Joe, bald-headed and wise, sitting cross-legged at his workbench, preparing a pungent elixir. “Welcome,” Joe said.
Ace took a seat. “Tell me about Trader Joe.”
“I know only rumors. But when I was a child, I had a twin brother. He was restless, mischievous, and he loved to haggle. When we were still very young, he left the Shenandoah Valley to ply his wares out west, somewhere in Northern California. I can only imagine what sorts of trouble he created. Maybe he became Trader Joe.”
So what does Trader Joe want from us?
“Who knows? Perhaps he means well. Many who have met him refer to his bargain prices and quality goods as evidence that his intentions are pure. Then again, the only move he’s made to come here so far is to apply for a liquor license.” Shenandoah shook his head. “Sounds like the old Joe to me.”
In June 12, Trader Joe’s published a legal notice to sell wine and beer at 1080 Seminole Trail, between Hydraulic Road and Greenbrier Drive (there is not building there from which to purvey anything, however). According to his Web manifesto, Trader Joe aims to “travel the world in search of interesting, unique, great-tasting foods and beverages.” Witnesses have seen him hawking organic goods as close as Virginia Beach, where his sepulchral grocery fortress bears his name in jagged, blood red lettering.
Lowering his voice, Ace asked Shenandoah if Trader Joe’s appearance was a sign of the apocalypse.
“No.” A shadow crossed Shenandoah’s face. “It is not yet time for this age to end.”
If not now, Ace wondered, then when?
“When the Wegman comes,” said Shenandoah.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to email@example.com.