My Unlikely Homecoming at Costco

I have a long and complicated history with the Costco enterprise. I suppose you could say that I was born into the Costco family, and in retrospect, I can see that the grooming began in my youngest years—aimlessly wandering the industrial isles and collecting pears and meatballs from sample booths are among my earliest memories. In fact, I still wonder from time to time whether or not Costco’s Platinum membership was created specifically for my dad, who frequents the “Big C” (as he calls it) more than the gym. I think that my dad, originally from Germany, views Costco as a sort of landmark or a staple of the American cultural experience. He often has international customers come to visit his company, and when they ask him to show them the sites, he is more than proud to present to his visitors one of America’s finest attractions: Costco.

For years, I developed a marked criticism of my father’s attachment to what I viewed as a large dumpster vaguely resembling a wholesale supermarket. It was the place where I had to spend my Saturdays and pretend that I wanted to bring my friends there for playdate.. And I will admit, I was not above dramatic outbursts to “subtly” convey my situational frustrations to my parents.

More often than not, large cups of “chocolate-vanilla frozen yogurt twist” and topping-heavy pizzas were offered to me by my parents to sweeten the deal and quell an impending public tantrum. As my mom so vividly recalls, there was one time when I took the childish antics a step too far. Rather than performing one my clichéd spectacles and attention-grabbing outbursts, I took the opposite approach, quietly disappearing from the frozen meats section and into the depths of the warehouse aisles. I was pleased with this choice until I realized that not only were my parents unaware of my whereabouts, but I had no idea where to find them. After a moment of sheer panic, I turned myself into a Costco employee and was retrieved by my now-hysterical parents. I was not a happy camper in my early days at Costco.

My disdain for Costco only grew stronger with age, as I began to see the impracticalities of buying food in bulk quantities for three people. The problem with Costco seemed to be that the food was sold in disproportionately large quantities that far surpassed the intake needs of my tiny family. We simply could not eat a 15-pound container of potato salad by a reasonable deadline. There was an expiration date to my patience as far as Costco was concerned, one that I developed after many years of fridges filled with spoiled Kirkland “good deals.”

I began to distance myself from the Costco community, rolling my eyes when I was informed that the dinner that I was enjoying so much was a new Costco find. For me, it was never really about the wholesale style or the coupon frenzy,. Costco had always been my dad’s thing, something that I now realize may have been an underappreciated part of my upbringing that I was destined to rebel against. How does the saying go? You can lead a girl to the wholesale supermarket, but you can’t make her shop…? I knew the way to my dad’s Costco like the back of my hand, but I had to find my Costco on my own time.

As a college student, time is limited and supermarkets are expensive. I exhausted my resolve to be a City-Co “regular” during finals last semester. If only there was some kind of magical place where the food selection was abundant and the quality was verifiable. Somewhere to escape the underwhelming “deals” of niche supermarkets and still garner enough groceries to last a month … I know just where to go. Bubbling with anticipation, I start down the road en route to the only place that comes to mind.

I take out my card and hold it up eye-level for the security guard to see as I approach the entrance with my cart. The friendly gatekeeper gives me an affirmative nod, and I instantly feel like a member of an exclusive club. I cross the threshold, the dividing line between the outside world of normalcy and the kinder, brighter world of discounted produce and unlimited samples. My face suddenly softens and my shoulders relax. I feel a calm air wash over me as I take in this safe space, overcome by the familiar smells of fresh rotisserie chicken and Kirkland brand chocolate-chip cookies that flood my senses. Everything around me seems to say, Welcome to Costco. Welcome home.