Best journey into a Big Box




Pass the 42-inch plasma monitor, dude!

Or howabouta 48-pack of red bell peppers, a pair of diamond hoop earrings, a 3-gallon vat of Picante salsa, a Spiderman DVD, house plants, a Kirkland down comforter, a super-sized cargo of tampons, a flat of Progresso Chicken Noodle soup, a tank of gas or, for only $149.95, a Sanyo Stainless 3.6 cubic ft. refrigerator!

Cry havoc and unleash the dogs of consumerism!

It’s a terribly hot day in August and I find myself en route to the most hyped monument to raw capitalism that exists in the city proper. I’m up I-80, left on 116, right near Cal Expo and straight into the parking lot of Big Boxism, with its celebrated low-discount prices. Yes, I enter Costco, through its enormous, airplane hangar-style doors, and am immediately overwhelmed by the rush and whirr of commerce. I’m drawn to the arena-sized enormity of the place, the towering stacks of collateral, the jumbo size or larger quantities of everything and I mean everything.

We are first met—of course!—by Costco security guards in their red/blue stripes and walkie-talkies. These sentry-guys stand by talking to each other (about who knows what?!) checking “passports” on your way in and receipts on your way out. After clearing security, we join the hundreds of eager shoppers rolling down aisles with their huge banging carts. I have the feeling, as I’ve had entering this place before, that to describe what goes on in here is to describe the entire world.

Now let me hasten to add: I am familiar with the view that Costco is an immoral place, a permanent consumer orgy wherein people buy stuff that they mostly do not need. Ultimately, this buying is disastrous for the planet. And yes, it’s difficult to balance the existence of Costco with the fact that more than half the human population lives in rural villages without this stuff.

On the other hand, lots of us are simply here to buy stuff we need on the cheap. Are we and the other mostly working class people who shop here really the ones to blame for the gross injustice of the world?

OK, from the global domination perspective, so far in 2002, Costco reported net sales of $34.97 billion. This company operates 393 warehouses, 289 of them in the U.S. with scattered boxlets in Mexico, Canada, Britain, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. But in a single Costco, you’re on your own. They don’t believe in customer service. How did this come to be? CEO Jim Sinegal says its because his box is able to offer lower prices “by eliminating the frills and costs historically associated with conventional wholesalers and retailers, including salespeople, fancy buildings, delivery, billing and accounts and receivable.”

Yeah, but why doesn’t he say how it really works?

As we near the check-out line (with two flats of Crystal Geyser mineral water, a six-pack of Meridian wine, a six-pack of Epson printer cassettes, a 32-pack of AA batteries) my husband and I consider if we’re being philosophically consistent by making occasional trips here for cheap, non-Co-op items. We wonder what it might signal about us, about America too? After all, how much money does one really need to spend on stuff?

Quickly, these thoughts are answered with a quote from a famous language, now stone dead, that goes Tantum quantum! In Latin, this translates “so much as needed.” That’s exactly how much we’re meant to spend.

1600 Expo Pkwy., (916) 648-1178 and various other locations.