Shopping at locally run, independently owned businesses strengthens communities by retaining jobs and circulating dollars.
But if one wants to seek out a discount warehouse for the variety and experience, Costco Wholesale has long been considered the most progressive place to shop. It’s known as the “anti-Walmart” because it pays its workers an average of $20.89 an hour, plus health insurance.
Until a couple of years ago, the nearest Costco Wholesale to Buffalo was in Cleveland. Then, one of the popular, member-only discount warehouses opened in 2014 in a suburb west of Syracuse. That was followed this past June with a store in Rochester.
Buffalo Niagara sites were scouted by Costco in 2013, according to Buffalo News reports at the time, citing local real estate sources.
But unless or until Costco comes here, , the nearest branch for shoppers is in St. Catharines, Ont., just 28 miles from the Peace Bridge.
Like at other Costcos, a huge variety of products are offered in the 125,000-square-foot warehouse, from frozen foods, big-screen TVs and casual clothing to vacuum cleaners, industrial-sized cans of condiments and diamond rings.
Many of the items are stacked in bulk on pallets either on the ground or on warehouse racks nearly 20 feet in the air. They’re immediately noticeable upon entering the shopping area. Photo, optometry and pharmacy stations are also near the front of the store.
Most sections are clearly identified, but there’s also a big wild-card factor: On a recent visit, duvet covers were sold several feet from portable gas grills, reading sunglasses, toys and foosball tables. Football helmets were next to shelves of aspirin.
The arbitrary locations keeps people on the lookout for the unexpected.
“I shop here because of the good value and the different products,” said Delle Green of St. Catharines. Her shopping cart contained items for personal use and a holiday gathering. “There are a lot of things you can get here you can’t get anywhere else.”
Greene also likes the variety of prepared food for when she didn’t feel like cooking, as well as the broad array of items sold in bulk.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” Greene said.
Ashley Forget of Welland likes the convenience and savings she finds buying large quantities at a discount.
“It’s easy to buy stuff in bulk and not have to worry about running out,” Forget said.
What Costco does, it does big. There are giant freezers. Tall racks. Large displays. Wide aisles. Even the egg cartons contain 30 eggs, rather than a meager dozen.
Pop-up tasting areas also are popular. A server busily handed out mini cream puffs with vanilla cream, enticing people to go to the freezer and take a box home.
Then there’s the snack bar, where a hot dog and a soda have stayed the same $1.50 almost since Costco’s beginning, which was in 1983, in Seattle.
“These guys are always excited to come for the hot dogs,” Dan Chrastina of Welland said, motioning to his children.
The St. Catharines Costco is one of 89 in Canada as of November, far behind the 474 open in the United States.
Despite the large inventory, one item no longer available at the second-largest retailer in the world (next to Walmart), are the barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey that once sold for $8,499.99.
But not to be undone, Costco still sells coffins online.
Directions: Take the QEW about 28 miles to Exit 46 in St. Catharines. Turn right onto North Service Road, and right again to stay on it. Costco’s just ahead.
Membership: $55 for annual Gold Star Membership; $110 for annual Executive Membership (allows purchases for businesses, an annual 2 percent reward on purchases up to $750, and additional benefits and greater discounts).
Duty-free: Be aware that customs officials collect a duty assessed for sales over $200. The duty-free amount rises to $800 if the trip is more than 48 hours.