When Melissa Woods heard that Costco could be coming to the Buffalo Niagara region, it made her whole week.
Woods, who got her engagement ring from the wholesale club, fell in love with Costco when she lived in Colorado.
Though the company does not yet have a single location in upstate New York, she has renewed her $55 membership every year, trekking over the border to St. Catharines, Ont., to get her discount fix.
Kallee Reynolds, who moved from Idaho and Utah to East Amherst, has done the same. She has traveled “all over” to shop at Costco and is delighted she might soon have one in her own backyard.
“I am more than excited,” Reynolds said.
Costco has garnered a passionate following around the world for its upscale shopping experience, discount prices, high-quality goods, ever-changing inventory and pleasant customer service. It’s the kind of place shoppers can find everything from cold cuts to televisions to a Cartier diamond watch, at discount warehouse prices.
The company has been looking at potential sites in the Buffalo Niagara area, real estate sources said, though a decision is not expected anytime soon. And it was reported this week that Costco is building a store in the Rochester area.
Western New Yorkers are giddy at the prospect of the membership-only warehouse club’s arrival here.
“People like Costco because it has great stuff at great prices,” said Jody Rohlena, deputy editor at ShopSmart magazine, published by Consumer Reports.
To hear devotees tell it, that is the understatement of the century.
“A trip to Costco is more of an event than it is a shopping trip,” said Abby Kozara, who lives outside Chicago. “It is the one errand the whole family enjoys. We can wander around the store for hours, looking at the merchandise and munching on samples.”
For starters, Costco routinely lands at the top of consumer satisfaction surveys and independent analysis in terms of quality, selection and price.
Its Kirkland store brand, which makes everything from diapers to cookware, is beloved. Its quality regularly trumps other store brands and even national brands in product tests, and the items are very competitively priced.
The store is considered more upscale than Sam’s Club and BJ’s, offering a better overall shopping experience.
“It’s like the difference between walking into Macy’s or walking into Walmart,” Reynolds said.
The Costco stores planned for Syracuse and Rochester are about 40,000 square feet larger than local BJ’s stores.
Costco is known to offer many product samples and product demonstrations throughout the store, and it has a liberal return policy.
Costco’s customer service is also routinely singled out for excellence. Costco’s employees earn an average of $17 per hour and have employer-paid health insurance, so turnover is low, and service is friendly and efficient.
Local real estate sources said Costco Wholesale has looked at a range of sites in the suburbs, from Tonawanda and Amherst to Cheektowaga. The retailer is working with Northwest Atlantic Realty, sources said.
The sites include the former BJ’s Warehouse site on Young Street in Tonawanda; the former Wegmans and other sites on Walden Avenue near the Thruway Plaza between Union Road and the Thruway; two sites on Transit Road, near Wehrle Drive and near Klein Road; and a site on Millersport Highway. Ellicott Development Co. has pitched a couple of properties as well, sources say.
But the company doesn’t appear close to a decision.
“There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been presented, and almost everything’s been rejected,” one source said. “I don’t see an announcement coming soon.”
Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle reported Wednesday that Costco has committed to building a 150,000-square-foot store just outside the Town of Brighton. Costco just broke ground on a new store on the west side of Syracuse, but so far that’s the only location in upstate New York.
All of the company’s 15 locations in the state are downstate, including Long Island. There are other locations in nearby Connecticut and New Jersey.
But it has upstate New York surrounded, with at least 20 locations in Ontario, including one in St. Catharines; 10 in Pennsylvania, including three in Pittsburgh; and seven in Ohio, including three in Cleveland. That means it shouldn’t be too hard to open up here, said Robert Strell, president of Robert P. Strell Real Estate Advisory Services.
“They have their distribution network set up,” he said. “It’s not that hard to open up the stores if you have the locations.”
And that’s likely to impact rivals like BJ’s Wholesale Club or Sam’s Club more than others.
“They’re just cutting the pie thinner and thinner,” Strell said. “The population isn’t changing. Just a new store, new model. They’ll probably take a good slice of the pie from somebody else.”