Friday, May 18, 2007

What if Costco Came to Town?

Our Town downtown
May 7, 2007

I’ve got a buddy Joe who lived here for awhile. He’s got this saying that seems to apply to so many things. We might have been talking in a bar about the increasing number of women getting face lifts and boob jobs and how many of them were going back for more work. Joe would just say ‘The biggest distance is between zero and one’. He’d say that about all sorts of things. Once you get started at something, the rest of its attendant pitfalls or exaggerations or addictions seemed to follow. Naturally, inevitably, according to Joe’s law.

I thought of Joe the other day when I read about Martha Stewart gearing up for a line of foods next year in Costco. It scared me that she’s teaming up with them. Her cachet will prompt more people to stop in the store for the first time and that will be their Joe’s-zero-to-one moment. They’ll get hooked. You know they will. They’ll be buying those big Kirkland brands, telling themselves that they aren’t at all like the Wal-Mart shoppers they read about. ‘Costco’s different. They sell wine more than any place else does. Did you know that? You should see the fish they sell. And their wages are very impressive. The only reason we keep that Escalade and don’t go to a Prius is that we need the space for when we come over here to Costco. Or when we go to Target. We buy in bulk. Did I tell you about the wine selection?’

I went to a Costco a few years ago. I was in South Florida at my sister’s and a buddy who moved down there came by for breakfast one morning; when we’d finished he asked if I wanted to ride over to Costco with him. I’d heard some kind of buzz about the place but didn’t really know what it was, so I said OK. It turned out to be pretty cool. I liked the lighting in the place. It was very bright, but that may have had to do with the bright sunshine outside the windows and the big doors. I don’t know if all the stores are like that. My friend bought a bunch of stuff. I grabbed a very big bottle of Kirkland Omega-3 fish oil tablets for cheap. But I got out of town before I got a real chance to get to ‘one’.

I could be vulnerable in a big way to any kind of chain store. I grew up so far out in the sticks that we had to go toward town to go huntin’. (That’s not my line. It’s John Cooper’s the old Ohio State football coach’s. I always wanted to use it.) My western New York hometown was very rural and very small. Try 2,003 people. We couldn’t even field a football team. We played soccer, as did a lot of the small towns around there. Main Street was only a block long, with a few shops on the highway that went by one on end of the street, down by the Mayflower restaurant, where the Greyhound bus stopped. Jim’s Diner was at the other end of the block, across from the post office, next to Stanley Niles’s 5 & 10 where you could buy a gold frame with a picture of Kim Novak in it. I bought caps for my cap gun in there. If you wanted BB’s for your BB gun you had to go up the street to Percy Shetler’s Gun & Tackle shop with a note from your parents that it was OK for him to sell you BB’s.

But we didn’t have a McDonald’s and there was no place to buy Levis. Oh, you could get Dickie’s at Homer Schaefer’s men store and all sorts of work pants and boots with steel toes, but we wanted Levis and to get them you had to go to an hour to Rochester, like you had to go there to get a Wilson baseball glove or the new Trini Lopez album with ‘If I Had a Hammer’ on it. We’d have killed for a Wal-Mart.

They have one about 20 minutes from town now. And the once-childhood-lively Main Street is pretty empty.

What’s my point? There’s no Costco here, you’re thinking. There will be. There’s a Home Depot. We sometimes go to Chipotle’s for lunch. You should see the line. Joe says it’s that way everywhere. It was no doubt such lines forming at the spanking-new airline terminals that allowed Penn Station to be taken down.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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