Friday, April 30, 2010

Costco in Spanish Harlem

I can't remember exactly when Costco became a part of my life. At various times, I've owned Costco (COST) stock. My daughter worked as a contractor for a company which demonstrated Borghese cosmetics at Costco. I'd often go visit her for lunch on the weekends when she worked, so I became well acquainted with the Costco food court fare. And for the past several years, my son-in-law has worked at Costco. Last year, I used Costco's financial statements to train credit analysts. Suffice it to say, it's been a long and varied relationship, Costco and me, and shopping there is always a treat, in spite of the $300+ spent at the end of the line.

Last fall, Costco opened a store in Manhattan. This must have been quite a feat as commercial space in Manhattan is expensive and hard to find. After taking a bus through Harlem, then walking a block, we arrived at the New York City Costco, in Spanish Harlem just off FDR Drive. Unlike the suburban Costco's I've frequented previously, this Costco had a paid parking lot and a view of the East River immediately outside the store.

To the company's credit, management realizes that each Costco's members are a unique market, so even though there is the staple fare found throughout Costco's network of stores, there are some items only available on a local basis. Case-in-point: my mom has to come to our Utah Costco to buy her popcorn.

At the NYC Costco, the cheese and pasta sections of the store were unparalleled. There were discount gift cards to local restaurants. Even the deli was a touch different ... the menu included an Italian sausage and pepper sandwich, which got rave reviews from my son. And the samples ... unlike in Utah, we didn't have to wait behind a mother feeding samples to multiple little kids to get ours.

My son sternly warned that he'd never use his Costco membership (I get two cards with my membership). "Okay, just check it out ..." I said. "Perhaps they'll have some items you want to stock up on." Bulk shopping and public transportation create unusual challenges. Plus - where to store bulk purchases in a NYC studio apartment? Well perhaps a case of beer or toilet paper with a slab of wood on it becomes a table. Even so, he's probably visited Costco a half dozen times since December, and found the cheese section to be especially delightful.

Since we were heading to Central Park next, our purchases were few ... movie tickets and cheese. At the door, the drill is the same: a friendly Costco employee draws a line on your receipt.

After we were done shopping, we walked through Spanish Harlem. The park was bustling on that beautiful spring Saturday with children playing soccer, and there was a street festival happening. We ate at a Spanish steak house.

I'm fascinated by business generally, but particularly by Costco, because the company has been so successful. In all, our visit to the new NYC Costco and the surrounding neighborhood was a very intriguing experience, to say the least.

Photography courtesy of Phillip Bastian

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