Our little community of about 21,000 has suffered through … or simply ignored … the lengthy and often heated debate regarding a new store in town: Costco. Which emotion depends on how you look at this cosmic shopper event.

Location for the Roseburg outlet of the very successful Seattle area warehouse discounter has been the subject of many public struggles in our neighborhood for several years. Zoning issues, wetland issues, federal flight safety issues and increased traffic issues have been debated – drunk and sober – since the name “Costco” was first whispered locally.

But now … now all the hurdles have been hurdled and we have daily access to rows and rows and stacks and stacks of things we need. Or think we do. If you want to buy your bar of bath soap in 12 count packages, go for it!

Barb and I have stood silently on the sidelines during this community debate. With just the two of us for a family unit, Costco hasn’t been a big deal. We’ve gone to Eugene or Medford a few times to shop Costco but only if we had other needs that took us there and justified half a tank of gas at $3.00 a gallon. Our shopping needs are pretty plebeian. When we need a bar or two of soap, we pick ‘em up with groceries during the weekly shopping. Same with tissue: a box or two rather than a sealed pack of eight.

It isn’t that we don’t like Costco. We do. Their meats and much of their bakery goods are about the best we’ve found. When smaller stores shop there, then take the big packages home, split up the contents and repackage them for resale, other people must like the quality, too. If you like the oatmeal raisin cookies as much as I do, you’ll recognize them in some of the little coastal groceries.

Costco has built its success doing business in a way that fits other people’s shopping needs more than ours. Bulk quantities and large package buying is more suited to people with families still at home. The company has also been wise in what sorts of merchandise to stock. And not. You can shop a good selection of televisions but need to go somewhere else for sound systems to make a complete home theater. Good selection of computers but fancy peripherals not so much.

Costco seems to survive if not dominate similar outlets in large and small communities. Not many merchandisers do that using basically the same store design. Walmart and similar chains tend to size their stores to the community served: some super; some smaller. Costco is more “one size fits all.”

I was frankly surprised when the decision was made to build a store in Roseburg; 65 miles from an existing outlet north and 90 miles south. In terms of distance, most regional communities outside Douglas County are closer to the other stores. But you can be sure the marketing department did all the necessary homework and I’d bet sales will be close to projections.

Based on my recent reading, our little family may make more of the larger Costco purchases. New research shows expiration dates on some products can be safely ignored. At least for awhile. What changes are there inside a tube of toothpaste, for example, two months after the printed date? Same thing for a pound of butter or margarine if kept properly refrigerated. The expiration date on products is required by federal regulation. But lab tests seem to show some end dates aren’t necessarily so.

Barb is the shopper at our house. I go into a store, quickly find the pants in my size and check out. She, on the other hand, will find several pair and closely examine.. if not try on … each one. And maybe won’t by any! How can people do that? She’s also a “taster.” Costco food samples can be her lunch. Not me. Mom taught me not to take food from strangers. I’ll have one of those good hotdogs. From an employee stranger.

The Costco experience is upon us at last. Like beauty, the import of that is in the eye of the beholder. There is no down side, it seems. Only benefits in varying degrees. To those that see the dawning of a new era, congratulations. To those just welcoming an alternative place to shop, our best wishes.

For those of us who still buy bars of soap or our boxes of tissue one or two at a time, what’s the big deal?

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