Why Are There Bells At Trader Joe's?

There's no doubt about it—shopping at Trader Joe's is a unique experience. Customers rave about special items such as Chocolate Lave Gnocchi, Birthday Cake Popcorn, and the signature wine nicknamed Two-Buck Chuck. Some Trader Joe's products have a fanbase of followers dedicated to always having them on hand, and those same followers grieve when certain items are discontinued.

As you stroll through the store, you'll notice the employees, called crew members, wearing Hawaiian shirts. This tropical look comes from the company referring to them as "traders on the culinary seas" (per Business Insider), and every Trader Joe's store sports the tiki/nautical motif.

Part of this sea-faring theme includes the large ship's bells at every cash register—but those bells are not just part of the décor. They are an essential part of the store's operations.

Have you ever been curious about what it means when you hear bells ringing at Trader Joe's? Let's dig deeper to learn more about the significance of those bells.

All hands on deck

According to the FAQ page on Trader Joe's website, the bells you find at every cash register are a form of communication, just like how bells are used on a ship. However, the bells at Trader Joe's are rung to send messages between crew members stationed at the cash registers and the store's assistant managers and general managers—"mates" and "captains", respectively—to summon help.

If a crew member needs another register to open, they send a signal by ringing the bell once to alert fellow crew members that backup is needed. If the bell tolls twice, it indicates there are questions that need to be answered, and if the bell is rung three times, it tells the "captain" on duty to come up front and sort through a situation.

On rare occasions, the bell will be sound four times, sending a message to all crew members that all hands are needed on deck, according to the website Aisle of Shame. This practical bell system cleverly fits in with the store's theme.

A theme that works

Trader Joe's was named after its founder Joe Coulombe, and it's unclear whether he chose a nautical theme for his stores because of his fascination with the seven seas or Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride, or for another reason, AP News reported after his death in 2020. The article says that he sold the company to German-owned Aldi in 1979 but stayed on to work with them as Trader Joe's CEO until 1988, and this continuity may be why the stores' nautical theme remains to this day. If it works, it works.

The unique personality of the stores that started with Joe Coulombe can still be seen today, and the consistency you find in the décor and theming in every store is part of the appeal of shopping at Trader Joe's. Whether you're browsing the aisles at one of the almost 140 stores in California or the only location in Arkansas, you'll find the same bells at every register and the crew members trained to use them.