You people up north have no idea what a treasure you have in Costco. I am in in the Merida store at least once a week.
Before Costco opened here about ten years ago, I had to schlep down every special tool, towels, socks, and most of all, holiday gifts. Having the store here, even though they’ve cut back on imports, has made life almost too easy. But I do miss some of the imports, a consequence of the economic crisis.
For instance, I was devastated when they stopped carrying Starbucks coffee. To buy it in the Starbucks stores here, it costs double what it costs in Seattle. I used to buy big huge bags of French Roast at Costco at a reasonable price but now we’re back to carrying an extra suitcase back from the States – full of coffee.
And there are still essentials missing – peanut butter, apple sauce, baby food, so on. And they have stopped bringing in maple syrup. I don’t need it you say? Well, true.
The single most important reason I go to Costco is that they are virtually the only grocery outlet in Merida that refrigerates eggs. Yes, it’s true. In this tropical weather, eggs are always sold in their containers stored on a shelf or pallet outside of refrigeration. To this day. Even in Wal-Mart.
I can remember 25 years ago when I first started coming to Merida, before we had supermarkets, you would buy eggs in little teeny stores in your neighborhood. The eggs were sitting on shelves or in stacks on the flloor. No a/c of course. Salmonella, anyone? The stores would have the cokes in the refrigerator case and the eggs outside. I rarely bought them. Call me picky, but I don’t like to buy unrefrigerated eggs. In Costco I can buy them well-priced and really cold.
In many ways, our Costco is a Mexican store. All the books are alas, in Spanish and the prepared food contains Mexican favorites like cooked pork in red sauce, sandwiches with heavily mayonnaised contents, etc. And on weekends, there is a stand where they make and sell fresh paella – pretty nice.
The employees are helpful and cheerful and there are more of them than the American Costco stores. They all wear badges with their names and the number of years they’ve been employees. The optician place has the latest vision testing equipment in a quiet room, and a huge selection of frames.
According to a local friend who works there, Costco is known as hands-down the best employer in Merida. That makes me proud. They’re from Seattle. On the other hand, we have Wal-Mart here, arguably the most anti-labor employer in the US, but here they are comparatively benign. Their store on the grand Paseo de Montejo, although a fairly new structure, is built tastefully and doesn’t ruin the ambience of the area. Parking is underground and convenient. The employees, however, are not in the same class as those of Costco. The act like employees, not “associates.”
Right now, Costco is carrying seasonal gift packages of gourmet food in baskets. I haven’t seen that anywhere else here.
When the Costco store first opened, it was sparsely populated and I was afraid it was going to close. I understand it was the lowest revenue producing store in their chain. I think that was because people here weren’t used to buying things in bulk. We still had the tradition of buying food for the day, something left over from the not too distant past where homes didn’t have refrigerators. People went to the community markets early in the day to buy produce and meat from the producers of it. There were no refrigerators there either, so you always went as early as possible. The tropical heat does very bad things to unrefrigerated fish by about ten a.m.
In fact, you could see the unrefrigerated, open trucks carrying huge open piles of dead fish into the city from the coast. This is no longer true, but the memory prevents me still from buying local fish. I eat fish on the coast, fresh from the water.
Costco has changed the culture. Now the store is crowded, especially on the weekends. Families make a day of it, eating samples of prepared foods they aren’t familiar with, playing with some of the toys, and buying quantities of items they used to buy by one-zees and two-zees at greatly reduced prices. Going there is always an adventure. Right now they have four-foot-high plush toy dogs that move and bark and life-sized Santas with colored lights that sparkle intermittently.
An interesting difference between the American stores and the local Costco, is that sometimes among the sample carts, are sales personnel with alcoholic beverages. They pour brandies or whiskies into little cups, offering it to passers-by.
Unfortunately, the cost of the Costco membership excludes the people who would benefit from bulk sales the most, so what you see there are upper middle and upper income people and families. They even come to the food concession outside and get tons of cooked hot dogs or pizza slices to take home for the family lunch. What a deal!
I’m going there this morning. I’m buying flats of Pepsi for Jim, who is addicted, a box of Ghiradelli brownie mix to make for some kids who are coming over tonight, along with some all-beef hot dogs. Plus toilet paper, dog food, etc. Oh, I do make my own salads, but in Costco I can buy a huge plastic box of good mixed greens that lasts for a week. Most of the produce is grown in Mexico, but not around here.
One of the nicest things here, is that you never have to carry anything. The cashiers empty your cart – you don’t have to stack everything on the conveyor – and the instant you exit the store, there is a corps of guys in white jackets to help you to your car. They work for tips and do pretty well. I have a regular guy, Abraham, who always sees me coming.
Going shopping at Costco is a fun experience. I’m about to leave. I’m looking forward to the complementary cup of Kirkland coffee they hand to you at the front door, usually with some naughty delicacy.
Postscript: I just got back from Costco. They’d just received a big shipment of Douglas firs for Xmas trees and were in the process of unbundling them under a tarp roof in the parking lot. They smelled like the northwest. I went in there and just inhaled – it was wonderful.
Postscript 2: Costco has stopped importing a lot of products we used to buy regularly, like Starbucks coffee, so we’re back to schlepping it from the US like we did before. Also, no maple syrup. And they’ve never had applesauce. Give me Mott’s! And no English language books, although I’ve written and asked them. There are a LOT of English-speaking people here and I think the books would be snapped up.