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An Ode to Costco

If you’ve read this blog before, you may have gotten the impression that I’m a wee bit obsessed with a little store called Costco, and if so, well you were absolutely correct. I do a lot of my shopping there, and since moving to the suburbs I have an even greater appreciation for it. If you don’t have a car, Costco can seem pretty darn worthless, trying to fit a 2 pound box of cereal in your purse and then carry it home on the train, it’s not easy and not elegant. You also have to be a member to shop at Costco, or have a friend who will take you (I’m always willing to bring someone along with me into this wonderful world). Regular membership is $50 for a year, and for $100 you get an impressive “executive” membership which means you get money back on what you spend. If you’re like me and do a majority of your shopping at Costco, the $100 is totally worth it—for sure.

In order to give you a little insight into Costco, what it’s all about, and why I have a (maybe unhealthy) love of it, I attempted to document a typical trip to the magical superstore. It was kinda hard since I’m scared of people, and hate getting yelled at for taking photos in stores. We tried to be real covert—so please excuse me if the pictures are kinda lame. Like this one for example, I almost dropped the camera in the fish freezer when someone walked by, which would have been all kinds of gross.

Costco has come under fire about selling over-fished fishes, especially cod, so I’ve stopped buying it there. I’ve been sticking to salmon and flounder, and I’m hoping that they get themselves together and stop selling those poor cods. Bad form Costco.

Costco is a big ol’ warehouse where you can get most anything. Eyeglasses, tires, office supplies, underwear, shampoo, prescription drugs, meat, a huge tub of cheese-puffs—and so, so, much more. There is an optometrist, pharmacist, baker, photo lab, and butcher all on the premises. I think when most people think about discount clubs they think of items like this one gallon jar of mayonnaise. It kind of makes me sick just looking at it.

And while, yes you can purchase most condiments in gallon sizes at Costco, I assume (and hope) most of the people who buy them own restaurants, or have a lot of extra space in their fridge. The majority of people who shop at Costco are buying more practical items in bulk, like granola bars or paper towels. There is also some great produce; five huge avocados for $6, six heads of Romain lettuce for under $4, two pounds of blueberries for under $6 and dozens of other fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, meats, and cheeses, all at unbelievable prices. Alright, I know I sound like an advertisement, but I am continually blown away by the price difference between Costco and the supermarket.

Costco also treats their employees pretty well, at least compared to other superstores like Walmart and even Target. 85% of Costco employees have health insurance (compared with less than 50% at its competitors), and they renegotiate employee contracts every three years which provide things like paid vacation, bonuses and benefits. They also have an insane return policy, I mean they will take anything back, even years later. I’ve seen people bring in moldy fruit, used clothing, and broken electronics only to receive a cash refund without any hassle—truly astonishing. I can’t get into the impact that Costco has on small businesses but I’m sure it can’t be good, I try to buy stuff at the farmer’s market, but when you’re broke, Costco gives you the ability to eat healthy foods on a budget.

As much as I love Costco I can’t deny that it can be incredibly wasteful. Chips go stale, cheese becomes unrecognizable, you get so sick of cheerios that you never want to look at that stupid yellow box again, and don’t even get me started on some of the packaging. I mean does spinach that’s already in a sealed bag really need a huge plastic case clamped over it? No, it really doesn’t.

There’s also a stigma (and joke) about buying crap in large quantities, but sometimes it’s not crap it’s healthy stuff, and when you buy in bulk you’re forced to eat more of it. Of course that’s not always a good thing, and a certain percentage of the time you end up with a rotting pile of something in your crisper that you feel guilty about. I used to never buy fruit, it was so expensive at the grocery store, and then I felt precious about eating it, and then it rotted in my fridge. Buying large quantities of fruits and vegetables can be wasteful if you don’t eat them regularly, but at the same time, when they’re in your fridge you’ll find a way to consume more of them, and they don’t feel like a luxury.

Speaking of luxury, Costco has some fabulous luxury brands, perfumes, cosmetics, and of course, my beloved Fekkai shampoo. I’m so glad they re-stocked it.

One more problem with buying in bulk is storage. I’ve been routinely hit on the head with falling boxes of cereal, nearly cried when everything in my freezer shoots out and attacks me (nothing hurts more than a pound of frozen chicken cutlets), and I’ve found myself thinking “maybe the 10 pounds of oatmeal wasn’t such a great idea” when I can’t fit anything else in the cabinets. If you have space, it’s wonderful, if you don’t, it seems totally ridiculous. What I’ve learned is that you choose wisely. Stick to buying things that can sit around for a long time, don’t have to be refrigerated, and are used on a regular basis, like laundry detergent or of course cheese-balls.

Look at me with my loot, see how happy Costco makes me? Actually I used to have panic attacks when I went there due to the crowds, but I’ve learned not to go before big holidays, or on weekends or Thursdays (the orthodox community does a lot of shopping here, especially for shabbat).

I’m sure you’re just dying to know what I bought on my trip, so I’ll end with a little graphic for you to enjoy. Click to make larger.

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