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Published: Thursday, 8/30/2007

Costco clients converge as deals delight

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Shoppers wait in anticipation of the bargains inside on Costco s first day at Westgate Village Shopping Center.
Shoppers wait in anticipation of the bargains inside on Costco s first day at Westgate Village Shopping Center.
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Beth Savino was among Westgate-area residents who were skeptical about how the arrival of Costco Wholesale Club would affect a shopping center that was once among Toledo s toniest.

But leaving the giant warehouse on its opening day yesterday with a cart loaded with merchandise, she was full of praise for the store s appearance and merchandise mix.

It s a great thing and it brings something to this end of town we haven t had, Ms. Savino said.

Costco, the nation s sixth-largest retailer, officially entered the metro Toledo market yesterday with a new store in the redeveloped Westgate Village Shopping Center at West Central Avenue and Secor Road.

When the doors were unlocked at 7:45 a.m. 15 minutes earlier than the special first-day opening time of 8 a.m. lines of customers filed in.

Mariah Cryderman, left, and her mom, Mary Cryderman,
leave with a full cart. Mariah Cryderman, left, and her mom, Mary Cryderman, leave with a full cart.
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People clapped, said Mark Facemire, assistant general manager. It was great.

By 9 a.m., traffic jams that some people expected had not materialized. Parking spaces were available, but they were in far-flung sections of the store s lots, equivalent to a stadium s nose-bleed seats.

Inside, nine cashiers kept lines to a minimum.

The crowd s picking up, Mr. Facemire said. We expect a large influx from 12 on.

Among those surveying the situation from inside the store was James Sinegal, co-founder and chief executive of the Issaquah, Wash., chain that is shaking up retailing in cities nationwide. Costco has $64 billion in annual revenues.

By early afternoon, he was on his way to Grafton, Wis., for a store opening there.

Those unfamiliar with the store s concept who came expecting bargain-basement merchandise were in for a surprise.

There were cheap items for sure: groceries; two giant bottles of shampoo for $6.99; 330 antacid tablets for $9.29, and four pounds of pistachio nuts for $13.99.

Jim and Carole Ray sample the free breakfast the store offered for early bird shoppers.
Jim and Carole Ray sample the free breakfast the store offered for early bird shoppers.
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But there was also high-end blue jeans for $99; hand-knotted Oriental-style rugs for $1,460; large-screen, high-definition plasma TVs for $2,000; an 88-key digital piano for $500, and a $200 bottle of wine.

Sylvania resident Barb Sallows left the store with a cart filled with cleaning products, plastic cups, and other supplies purchased for her hair salon.

I will shop here regularly, she said. It s good for this part of town and I hope it will bring businesses back to Westgate.

Part of the appeal of the store for her was the attitude of employees. Everybody was so nice, she explained. The people who work there seem happy to be there. Analysts attribute that, in part, to wages and benefits that are higher than at typical discount chains.

Several shoppers interviewed outside the store said Costco is similar to Sam s Club, which operates a warehouse store in the Spring Meadows Shopping Center in Holland.

It s just like Sam s, but it s a lot closer, Sylvania resident Jennifer Liebrecht said.

Hugh and Shirley Callahan s cart included a large salmon fillet, wild-caught, not farm-raised, she pointed out.

Prices are similar to those at Sam s Club, the Toledo residents said. The question is, Will the quality be the same? Mrs. Callahan said. I ll be interested to see if it holds up.

Some homeowners in higher-income neighborhoods surrounding Westgate vowed not to patronize Costco because they had hoped for a more upscale anchor tenant for the redeveloped shopping center.

But like Ms. Savino, many apparently have set aside their objections. She lives in Ottawa Hills, whose households have some of the highest median incomes in Ohio.

I saw a lot of my neighbors there, she confessed.

The store, part of a $35 million project to rebuild the 50-year-old Westgate center, has 114,000 households within 5 miles with average income of $57,806, according to U.S. Census data.

The building is 150,000 square feet, has about 4,000 items, and, analysts say, is expected to generate about $125 million in sales a year. Basic membership, which is required to buy items in the store, is $50 a year.

The store is expected to draw about 350 more cars each hour to the Central-Secor neighborhood and it is expected to draw customers from Wal-Mart, Target, Sam s Club, and others.

The siting of the store was controversial. Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and several residents from Westgate-area neighborhoods complained in 2005 that Costco s big-box format ran counter to keeping Westgate villagelike and more walker-friendly. With some modifications, the project was approved.

The store s regular hours start today. It will be open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. (10 a.m. for businesses and individuals with higher-priced memberships) to 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays from9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Contact Gary Pakulski at: gpakulski@theblade.com or 419-724-6082.



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