(Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. This column first appeared on Aug. 23, 2015.)
The biggest event in Manteca?
It isn’t the Pumpkin Fair nor is it dropping by the Crossroads Street Fair. It’s shopping at Costco, or more precisely, shopping there after church lets out on a Sunday.
If you doubt that, go there sometime on a Sunday at 11 a.m. Finding a shopping cart is touch and go while virtually every checkout line is open with customers 10 to 12 deep.
Going to Costco is not the same as going to a grocery store. It’s more like stocking up on provisions to make a cross-country journey.
The nuances of shopping there are much different than a supermarket or a Target.
It starts with how people maneuver in the aisles.
A trip to Costco — especially on the weekend — qualifies as a family outing for many. Often times a family will walk four or five abreast down Costco’s wide aisles. You can’t do that at SaveMart. You also can’t get around them quickly either if they are doing sightseeing.
Perhaps the wide aisles also explain another phenomenon you won’t see at Wal-Mart or Safeway — the tendency of a lot of people to stop abruptly in a middle of an aisle and abandon their cart momentarily to take a side trip looking for a specific item.
And nowhere is it more congested in Costco than around the meat cases. Obviously, a lot of members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals aren’t card-carrying Costco members.
You also don’t get a lot of lookie loos at most other stores where people meander around pushing carts as if they are out for a Sunday drive.
Of course, that’s what Costco wants you to do among the every-changing items on the pallets in the center of the store. After going to Costco for decades, I’m still stunned how people will pick up everything from leather couches to mattresses while shopping for bread, milk, and chuck roast.
Costco also carries items that are amazing to be found stocked in a store in Manteca and in large quantities. Did they really sell the dozen kayaks they had for $500 or so apiece? Not trying to be a snob, but if I was interested in a kayak I’d head to Bass Pro Shops or REI.
Last month I made a comment in passing to a fellow Costco shopper who was eyeing the kayaks. He said seeing them got him to thinking how cool it would be to have a kayak. He added he was debating whether to buy one that day.
That conservation should quell concerns of investors who worry Costco doesn’t know what they are doing with what often times appears to be a miss-mash of offerings. Here was a guy going to Costco to stock up on toilet paper who was on the verge of shelling out $500 for a kayak he didn’t know he wanted until he saw it.
Costco is good when it comes to that — too good, in fact.
Years ago, I happened to come across brie on a shopping trip. Mind you, it’s not on my top 300 list of things that I would eat. But that didn’t stop me from buying it. And since it was Costco you just don’t buy brie, you have to buy a package large enough to feed the Sierra High football team with enough leftover to become a science project in the refrigerator. You know this as you’re contemplating buying the 3-pound package of brie but you rationalize it’s at such a reasonable price. Where else can you get a year’s supply of brie for less than $10?
Then there are the people who go to Costco for lunch. I don’t mean the store’s fast-food set up but the samples strategically placed throughout so that the crowds that inevitably line up for the free samples can block other shoppers from maneuvering down the aisle.
I always thought it was an urban myth that people make a meal out of the samples at Costco. That was until 15 years ago. Cynthia said she was starving and wanted to go to a Mexican restaurant after we hit the Modesto Costco. Ten samples and $160 later — I defy anyone to leave a Costco and spend less — she was no longer hungry. The problem was I hadn’t touched a single sample.
As for spending less than $160, I find myself feeling out of place when I do that. It typically happens when I go to Costco to buy two containers of Ambrosia apples and nothing else. Those alone can put you back $20 but that’s chump chain for a typical Costco shopper who stocks up on more food in one trip than immigrants in wagon trains loaded up when they left St. Louis for California.
If I have one complaint about Costco it is on Sundays when every cash register is going and they only have one person checking carts at the door.
Of course this gives you more time to contemplate whether you want to get a new car on your next shopping trip or else remodel the entire kitchen.
The folks that created Costco are geniuses. What other retailer could get away with bare minimum of displays, placing stock for sale on large pallets, eliminating having to handle 40,000 items and anything not in super-sized packaging, sell everything from bread and computers to kids’ swing sets and then charge you for the privilege of shopping there?