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More than 17 years after opening its first Delaware location, Trader Joe’s has plans to expand in the First State.

The grocery store chain is preparing to open a new store in place of the former Saks Off 5th in the Christiana Fashion Center, according to New Castle County permits.

The move ends years of speculation regarding whether Trader Joe’s would open any more stores in Delaware – its only existing location is off Concord Pike near the Delaware-Pennsylvania border. Nearly every time a big-box store closed in the past several years, a chorus of loyalists made the case for Trader Joe’s to take its place. 

Allied Properties, the owner of the Christiana Fashion Center, declined a request for comment. Trader Joe’s officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

It’s unclear how long it will take for the store to open. From outside the building it does not appear that significant construction work has taken place.

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With more than 30 stores across the region, Trader Joe’s has generated a cult following, specializing in produce, high-quality frozen foods and an array of domestic and imported artisanal products. Items produced under the store’s own name are also very popular.

Some have contended that Delaware’s restrictions on who can sell liquor kept Trader Joe’s from expanding in the state. At its Concord Pike location, Trader Joe’s can’t offer its collection of wine, beer and spirits.

Last year, Wilmington put out a call to residents to ask Trader Joe’s through its website to build a store downtown. At the time, John Rago, deputy chief of staff for the mayor’s office, said Trader Joe’s would be “a good fit for a growing and prospering city” like Wilmington.

There’s no indication the company responded to the plea. Its new location will be about 10 miles south of the city in one of Delaware’s newest shopping destinations.

The Christiana Fashion Center, which opened in 2015, features a variety of companies from traditional big-box stores to “experiential” businesses, a growing trend as landlords try to draw customers from e-commerce to brick-and-mortar retailers.

Trader Joe’s, the first grocery store in the shopping center, will join businesses like Edge Fitness and the Main Event entertainment center in the non-clothing store category. The center also offers multiple restaurants such as Chili’s, Turning Point and Shake Shack, in addition to stores like Best Buy, Homesense and Nordstrom Rack.

Saks Off 5th, the outlet brand for Saks Fifth Avenue, closed its lone Delaware location in October, becoming the first big store to close in the Christiana Fashion Center. It was one of about 10 stores to open in the center’s first phase in the fall of 2015.

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The shopping center is almost leased to capacity, but most storefronts are dark due to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, grocery stores are struggling to keep products on the shelf. Many have resorted to shorter hours to allow time to restock and sanitize while implementing new protective measures like plexiglass shields at registers.

Other options in the area to pick up groceries include Costco and Target at the Christiana Mall.

Follow Brandon Holveck on Twitter: @holveck_brandon.

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