Pressure Packed

Gina Traniello, a Falconer native, will have her hands full on Sunday as she competes in a national grocery bagging competition in Las Vegas.

Traniello, 24, an employee of Tops Markets on Maple Road in Amherst, advanced through three qualifiers to become the New York state bagging champion and earn herself a spot at the National Grocers Association’s 27th annual Best Bagger Competition. At the Mirage Hotel and Casino, she will face off against 22 other state champions with the possibility of winning $10,000 and an appearance on CBS “Late Show with David Letterman.”

According to Traniello, winning would be an amazing experience because New York state has never had a winner, which puts her under a little pressure, but she is also incredibly excited.

“Some people are saying that they really want me to win, or tell me that they know I’m going to win – which makes me feel good,” said Traniello. “I’d be really happy if I won, but I don’t want to let anybody down. I guess it’s not even really about winning, it’s just about having fun. But, I’m hoping I do come home with a win, and that I get to go on David Letterman because he’s a cool dude. That would be out of control.”

Traniello started working for Tops Markets on Washington Street in Jamestown more than six years ago.

“I started at the Washington Street Tops when I was 17, and worked there for three years before transferring, for school, to the best Tops I could find,” said Traniello. “I started off as a cashier and moved around to different departments. Then when I transferred to the store I’m at now I started cashing again. At the end of July my manager asked me to bag some groceries in the in-store competition, and I ended up winning that. They told me, ‘If you win you could go to Vegas,’ and I said, ‘Oh, well that’s cool, but I’m not going to get far,’ so I was kind of doubting myself.”

She followed that win up with two more: one at a district competition against 13 other stores, and another at the statewide competition near Albany that was hosted by Price Chopper.

Since Traniello started working for Tops Markets she has gained experience in many aspects of the grocery store business. Although it turned out that she’s a great bagger, she hasn’t been focused on that one position. So, she’s been doing a lot of practicing in order to hone her skills in preparation for the competition.

“It’s not really that much about skills – it’s kind of common sense,” said Traniello. “When I’m bagging I try to bag how I’d want my groceries bagged. I’ve never had a complaint about my bags being packed wrong.”

At the Best Bagger Competition, participants will be required to use three reusable bags during the preliminary and final rounds. The top five scorers of the preliminary round will advance to the final. Traniello and the other contestants will be judged on speed, weight distribution, technique, style, attitude and appearance.

“We don’t know the items that we will be using, and that makes me a little uncomfortable,” said Traniello. “All three bags are weighed, and you take the difference between the highest and lowest. You get more points for how close the bags are in weight, which is one of the hardest things to do. Those are the only two things I have doubts on, because I’m a pretty friendly girl, and I’m confident about the style, attitude and appearance.”

The prize Traniello received for becoming state champion includes a paid trip to the competition in Las Vegas. While there, Traniello will stay at the Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino. She will be joined by her boyfriend, Chris, and his mother and father, who will root for her at the competition. She’s never been to Las Vegas before, so she is very excited to experience the city, she said.

“I’m looking forward to the sights,” said Traniello. “I’ve seen so many pictures of the bright lights, the Paris Hotel, MGM Grand, and there are apparently lions somewhere. And, the Bellagio has the water show, which I’ve heard is really cool. I was also told to go visit Old Vegas. It’ll be really cool.”

If Traniello wins, she will use the money to help pay off some of her education.

“I could definitely use the help to pay for all my college loans, books and living expenses,” said Traniello. “When I won the $1,000 from the district competition I bought a snowboard and got a personal trainer, so I spent that money really fast. So, this time I’ll probably just buy some new teaching clothes.”

Traniello graduated from Falconer Central School in 2007 before attending Jamestown Community College for two years, graduating with an associate degree in elementary education. While attending JCC, she participated in both volleyball and softball. Traniello now lives in North Buffalo and is attending Medaille College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 2012. She is currently working on her master’s degree and is still playing volleyball. If all goes according to plan, Traniello will graduate in December with a master’s degree in literacy for first through 12th grade.

“When I was really little, I first wanted to be a grocery lady, but my mom was a teacher as I grew up, and you always want to do something that your parents do,” said Traniello. “I love kids, and I want to do anything I can to help them. So, I’m hoping to either find a classroom that needs me, or become a literacy coach because there are tons of kids who need a lot of help with reading, writing and developing.”

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