New Britain Costco shows what's in store for East Lyme
New Britain — Lamour Howell loves Costco.
Once a week, Howell, a nurse, drives the 20 miles from her Windsor home to the newest of the warehouse store chain’s six outlets in Connecticut to shop for clothes, food and whatever else is on her list.
“I like the variety of products, the ease of shopping and the prices,” she said, as she pushed her cart past a display of cut roses selling for $13.99 per two dozen, and bulk bags of Skittles and M&M’s for Halloween. “I like to be able sit and snack after I shop. I have a slice of pizza or the Italian sausage.”
Her favorite part of the 147,000-square-foot store, on a busy commercial road on Route 71 on the north side of the city, is the produce department, where she stocks up on oranges, grapefruits and “mangoes by the case.”
“And every week I get a fresh pineapple for $2.99,” she said, laughing.
The New Britain store, which just celebrated its first anniversary, won’t have the distinction as the newest Costco Wholesale in the state for much longer, now that East Lyme Zoning Commission has given its approval for a new store there. While the projected opening date for the East Lyme store hasn’t been set, the chain’s growing popularity around the country puts it in good position to quickly become a leading retailer in that town of about 20,000 people.
The chain, based in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, operates more than 700 stores across the United States and in seven other countries, generating $113.67 billion in total sales in 2015, according to the company’s website. More than eight new stores are slated to open across the country before the end of 2016.
The New Britain store, larger in size than the other five in the state, also has a different layout the East Lyme store will likely follow, Tom Daly, manager of the New Britain store, said last week. It includes a liquor store with a separate entrance that offers a wide selection of Costco’s own Kirkland brand wines, vodka and other alcohol, as well as name brand beverages, a tire sales and service area, pharmacy, hearing aid center, optician and eyeglass center, bakery, full-service deli and meat counter and snack bar. Arranged in rows of warehouse-style shelving are displays of some 4,000 items ranging from Christmas decorations to cell phones to flat-screen televisions, hardcover books, diamond jewelry, Ugg boots, cookware and groceries sold in bulk packages.
To buy at Costco, shoppers must pay $55 for a “gold” membership or $110 for an “executive” membership, the most popular option because it gives customers a 2 percent discount on all purchases, Daly said. About 35,000 people have joined at the new store, he added.
“Our sales are about 50-50 foods to non-foods,” he said.
At the store’s gas station, a major draw, regular fuel was selling for $2.11 per gallon and $2.99 for premium, with members receiving a 4 percent refund on gas purchases. With 16 filling stations, it sells about 135,000 gallons per week, Daly said. A gas station is also planned for the East Lyme store.
Chief competitors for Costco, Daly said, are other warehouse stores such as BJ’s and Sam’s Club, rather than outlets like the Target next door. Costco’s basic sales strategy, he said, is to offer only the one brand of a particular item that company buyers consider the best quality and value, to change inventory frequently and to “get in and get out early” on seasonal items.
“You won’t see any Christmas stuff out after Dec. 1,” he said, passing a display of artificial Christmas Trees and reindeer statues. "It creates a sense of urgency."
Karen Waltman of Rocky Hill said she prefers the selection at Sam’s Club, but comes to the New Britain Costco when she’s in town to care for her daughter’s dog. Costco, though, she noted, has a kosher section that Sam’s doesn’t, a feature she took advantage of in preparation for her family’s Yom Kippur meal that night.
The store, which provides health care to its 150 employees, has been a positive addition to the city, according to David Huck, spokesman for Mayor Erin Stewart. It was built on a 15-acre site that had been part of the municipal golf course.
“In the short time they have been open,” Huck said, “they have been an outstanding partner to our community by helping to sponsor community events and donating items, such as hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies that were given to local students.”
Daly said the company prides itself on paying better-than-average retail wages, starting workers at $13 per hour. The average wage at the store is $22 per hour, he said. About 40 employees are New Britain residents.
“Our turnover is very low,” he said.
With no bags for purchases, clerks at the checkout counters pack items in empty cardboard boxes or directly into carts. There are no self-serve checkout kiosks.
“We want to be able to serve the member,” Daly said.
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