About ten years ago, they built a Costco in Long Island City, right on the East River and across the street from the Naguchi Museum and adjacent to the Socrates Sculpture Garden. I was aghast at the use of that marvelous space to house a giant box store, and never once considered shopping there.
After all, I am the quintessential New York food snob, one who worships weekly at the cheese counter at Fairway market and whose idea of an orgasmic experience is a good olive. Someone who eschews prepackaged convenience foods as if they were poison, who would rather starve (well, actually, order in) than eat what the rest of America eats. I am not an American, after all. I am a New Yorker. (That’s practically a Parisian.) And I do not shop like Americans do.
At least not until yesterday.
You see, last weekend, at my musical theater class party, I had a piece of one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever tasted. I was surprised to learn that it was from Costco, as were all the wonderful appetizers. That was interesting, but then I found out what Costco charges for the cakes.
That was it. Like a kid being given their first hit from a schoolyard dealer, all I could think of since then was going to Costco. And yesterday, that’s what Mr. TBTAM and I did.
Mr TBTAM enters Costco
I am still reeling from the experience, which was, in truth, a bit overwhelming in a way that I don’t yet entirely understand. About halfway through the store, at a point when our cart was filled to the brim with paper towels and toilet paper and cases of beer and diet coke, and butter and two giant Nutellas and god knows what else, I just froze.
I was paralyzed and completely overwhelmed. I could buy nothing more. From that point, Mr. TBTAM and I sort of just wandered through the fresh food section, glassy-eyed, until we found our way to the check out counter, where we learned that we should have brought our own shopping bags. We paid with our debit card (they take no plastic except Amex), packed up the car and drove home. I rearranged my pantry to fit everything we bought, and now am sitting trying to understand the experience. Not unexpectedly, I have a few comments and some questions.
1. Does everything have to be so big? I understand if what you are getting is actually large (like the 30 rolls of toilet paper we bought) but why are the SD cards (which in truth are about an inch square) packaged to appear as if they are 20 times that size? The I-Tunes gift certificate package was a full foot square! I don’t understand…
2. Why do you have to pay to shop there? I would have gone long ago if there was not that $50 membership fee. Make the visit free, and you’ll suck in lots more folks like me, I promise…
3. Does one shop there on some regular basis? Or is it just a one time experience, like going to Disney World or Las Vegas? I’m a little worried about going back – I’m afraid of all the money I might spend. Between the membership fee and what we bought, we spent $350 yesterday. I keep telling myself that I saved over $100, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way right now.
4. Does anyone buy the perishables? that’s a rhetorical question – I know they do, because everything looked so fresh. But how do they do it? Does everyone but me have giant freezers? Can you really use that up that many lemons (or oranges, or red peppers) before they go bad? I figured out that for families like the one in Cheaper by the Dozen, this place makes sense. But unless I was having 100 people over for dinner, I don’t know that I can really buy quantities that large for anything perishable.
I could really use some advice here. It occurred to me that I might get together with my neighbors and friends and buy in bulk, then split the stuff up. If anyone does this, maybe you could give me some tips on how to do it smoothly.
5. The prices were so LOW. The shock factor on this was enormous for me. On average, prices were 50% less than what we are paying in the supermarkets. (Example – College Inn Chicken Broth – 50¢ compared with a dollar at the supermarket, and $1.29 at Fresh Direct.) How do they do it? I hope that my price is not ridiculously low because Costco’s employees wages are also ridiculously low. I would certainly be willing to pay another 25% in price if it meant a living wage for these folks. FYI, Most of the workers handing out the food samples did not speak English.
6. They didn’t have my toothpaste. Or my body oil. Or a small enough can of Nina tomatoes for me to ever buy. But I hear the inventory is ever changing – is that really true? If so, is the fact that the inventory changes a factor in keeping us addicted to returning? (Never mind, I just answered my own question.)
7. But they had this really big jar of honey. So, how do I use it? Right from the bottle? Or do I buy something smaller to pour it into? That would be really messy…
8. They do not carry nearly as much variety as Fairway does. Although my wallet was disappointed, I was relieved. I love shopping at Fairway.
9. Is it possible to stop in and buy milk and eggs, and not end up spending $300? I have this idea that we’ll run over once a week, and that once we have all the big bulk items in stock, we won’t be spending as much. Or am I just getting sucked in?
10. I want a big plasma screen TV.