01 June 2009


Ten years into suburban living, I'm just going to come right out and say it. I like Costco!

For many people, suburban, and even urban now, the big box store is an inescapable part of life. Unless you are extremely wealthy, or extremely stupid, or perhaps both, everyone is looking for a good deal, especially in these troubled times. And that is where Costco comes in.

When we first moved back to New Jersey, my in-laws gave us a membership as a housewarming present. I avoided it like the plague, sending David whenever possible. It seemed so overwhelming; so cavernous, and intimidating! They sell so many unrelated things! I could get lost in there, in the netherworld between the dry goods and the best sellers and batteries, and no one would ever find me.

But as the years have gone by, and our the size of our family has increased, it seemed selfish of me to save the trip to Costco for the weekends, when David was available. The ability to run errands such as this is part of the reason why I chose to stay home with the kids.

So a year or so ago, I began to brave Costco on my own, and...it wasn't so bad. I've found it is one of those instances where looks can be deceiving. I don't think I will ever relish the thought of going, but I no longer dread it.

I do not do the bulk of my shopping there, not by a long shot. A lot of what I buy there is non-food items: diapers, wipes, vitamins, contact lenses, batteries, etc. Their trash bags are good, and a box of them will last about a year.

They are forward-thinking in their merchandise; you can get many organic items, and I noticed today that they now have their own brand of environmentally friendly laundry detergent, and dishwasher detergent. The next time I run out, I will try them.

I don't go in for the pre-packaged foods; I'm sure some of it is good, but I enjoy cooking too much. Plus, with some items, the quantities are so large that I don't think we would have the storage space, let alone get through things before they went stale. True, I could lay in a supply of oregano to last a decade, but would I really want to use it for that long?

I have tried their meat and their fish, and was not impressed. The price may be right, but to my taste, the flavor is just not there. But for certain items, the quality is excellent,
and a very good buy. I get Parmigiano Reggiano there, as well as organic milk, and eggs.

But what I am most impressed with is how well it is run. Even when I have to wait on line to pay, and it looks I'm going to be there a while, it moves quickly.

Most importantly, the staff are really, really nice. They seem to enjoy working there, which means they are being treated nicely from on-high. I remember reading, during the ill-fated John Kerry Presidential bid, that Costco gives to Democratic causes, which made me more inclined to like them; knowing where Wal-mart spends their philanthropic dollars, when there was an idiot in the White House, did not encourage me to shop there. But Costco gives to causes I believe in; perhaps this has something to do with the pleasant environment?

Today, when I was waiting on line to pay, there was a slight delay because the cashiers were helping the person in front of me look for her baby's binkie!

When it was my turn, the woman working the line showed me a picture of Sergio—the cashier at the next register—in his youth. He was considerably slimmer then. I said, diplomatically, his face looks the same. And the cashier replied, bluntly, but empathetically, "Yes, but look at his body. You don't have to be shy. He needs to take better care of himself. We keep trying to tell him he needs to watch what he eats, and get some exercise." Then, she added, ruefully, "He doesn't listen to us."

It's true that you can get lost in there, and the temptation towards impulse purchases is high. (David and I joke, when one of us is going, "Oh, I'll get diapers, floss, Cheerios...and a flat-screen tv...and, a hot tub.") But if you can stay focused—I look at it as a meditative exercise; stick to your list, get what you came for—you can get good items, for good prices, while shopping in an atmosphere where the staff are kind, happy to help you, and genuinely seem to enjoy each other's company.

And did I mention they sell wine? And that they are the top wine retailer in the country?

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