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What It Really Means When a Bell Rings at Trader Joe's

The late Joe Coulombe founded the first Trader Joe's in Pasadena in 1967, and the nautically-themed grocery store was run by people who were described as "traders on the high seas.” That theme set the stage for the bell ringing, which is how employees at the registers tell each other they need help.

Instead of using a blaring PA system like a big box store, employees use bells like a rudimentary Morse code. Apparently, back in 1975, an employee rang a decorative nautical bell to get another employee's attention, and the tradition was born.

A single bell means that another register needs to be opened, and two bells means that questions need to be answered at the register. If you hear three, someone is calling for a manager, and four bells means “all-hands-on-deck.”

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