the Costco effect
I have a complicated relationship with Costco. When I was young, my brother and I would spend Saturdays there with my parents, shopping for food and cigarettes for the smoke shop that my parents owned inside a tall office building called the Pacwest Center. A smoke shop is a convenience store that sells food and cigarettes and lottery tickets. A lot of smoke shops are owned by Koreans. We spent every weekend unloading inventory on the loading dock where the trash bins are kept, and I spent a lot of hours working the cash register and selling Snapples to lawyers and architects who often looked down their nose at my family and talked really sloooowly to us while buying their Powerball tickets. Two years after my dad died, the property managers decided they wanted a change, and kicked my mom out of the store to which she’d given more than ten years of her life. That’s a real immigrant story. I became a lawyer so I’d never have to feel that powerless again.
Anyway, spending time in Costco reminds me of those years of my parents’ backbreaking labor, which put me through four years of an Ivy League education. In case it is not evident, I feel a debt to my parents that I know I can never repay. The point of all this history is to explain why I don’t enjoy shopping at Costco, when I am capable of enjoying shopping almost anywhere else, including GNC and Hot Topic.
Personal stuff aside, I also don’t enjoy shopping at Costco because it has been my experience that it is not possible to leave that store without spending at least $300. I’ve tried it, and failed, repeatedly. Eventually I cut myself off completely, and didn’t step into a Costco for years. But recently, my family’s vast consumption of fruit got me thinking about Costco again. And when my friend Suzanne told me that she treats Costco like her grocery store, and can get out of there on her weekly visits without paying more than $100, I decided it was time for a reappraisal.
I’ve gone twice since I got a new Costco card. And here’s my reappraisal, with all due respect to my dear Suzanne: it is still not possible to get out of a Costco for less than $300. It was exactly as I remembered. Now, as then, Costco makes me do some crazy ass sh*t. Like this:
I eat garbonzo beans like ten beans at a time. At that rate, I will get through this bounty in approximately four years, during which time these cans will take up a lot of valuable pantry space. I like garbonzo beans. I do. But liking has nothing to do with it. When I see a flat of eight cans of garbonzo beans being sold for less than $6.00, I feel that it would be morally wrong not to buy them. I feel this emotion often at Costco. I call it the “Costco Effect.” When other people see things being sold for extremely low prices, they think: bargain. When I see things being sold for extremely low prices, I feel the extreme guilt associated with stealing. I mean, how is it possible to pick, process, and can eight cans of garbonzo beans and sell them for $6.00, and still make a profit? It can’t be. And though it is completely irrational, the only way to assuage my feelings of guilt is to buy the product, and lots of it. It’s how I play my part in a completely messed-up capitalist society. My role is to buy. And so I do.
At Costco prices, you just keep loading up your cart, because everything seems so damn cheap. And everything they sell is so damn good. The insidious thing about Costco, of course, is that it doesn’t take that many items at $12 or $15 each to add up to $300. There are few shopping experiences worse than the feeling you get at Costco when all your items are on the conveyer belt and the cashier is scanning all your items, and as you watch the tally, you feel the urgent need to start removing things from the conveyer belt. When I was younger, I was too self-conscious to do anything about it, but now I have a mortgage to think about. So this time around I pulled off a whole fillet of salmon, a flat of Vitamin Water, and Tom’s Fusion razorblades.
It’s sad, but if something’s gotta give at Costco, it’s usually gonna be Tom’s stuff. Especially if the item is a package of razor blades that costs $45. You can buy 50 cans of garbonzo beans for $45. That’s a whole lot of hummus. While I’m on the subject, what is the deal with Gillette razor blades? Unless each of the five blades on each cartridge is hand-sharpened by some blacksmith in some forge in Scotland, I fail to see how Gillette razor blades can cost as much as they do. You can get a KNIFE for $45. Like, a Wusthof. I just don’t get it. Which is why, until Tom can justify the expenditure, he can enjoy some Bic disposables.
Anyway, Costco. For cheap. I say it can’t be done. If you think it can, please share your tips, for the benefit of all.