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COSTCO - A Real Difference Among Stores?

I read here some time ago, and have heard elsewhere, that my local COSTCO (Richmond) pales when put up against other COSTCOs in better neighborhoods. Is this true? If so, where are the "good" COSTCOs in the Bay Area and is it actually worth it to drive 15+ miles to get there? Is their stuff THAT much better?

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  1. I have read that the wine selections can vary quite a bit at COSTCO locations. I don't know about other items. There was a discussion about this on the LA board.

    1. I've noticed a swankier cheese selection in SF than in Richmond, but I haven't paid much attention (think I've been in the SF store a grand total of three times over the length of its existence).

      1. I regularly shop at the Richmond Costco and find it very nice. I'm from So Cal, and I can definitely say the Richmond store is nicer than most So Cal stores. I've never been to a SF store, so I can't comment on that.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chemchef

          Richmond and San Leandro are my usuals. They're both fine w/ me.

          1. re: lexdevil

            Mine, too. Richmond seems the swankier of the two. There's definitely a difference among stores. For example, one item I wanted at Xmas was at the San Mateo store and the Richmond store, but not San Leandro (I asked, they weren't out, they hadn't stocked it at all -- they very nicely did and search and told me which stores had it and how many they had in stock). San Leandro doesn't carry their Kirkland organic kibble (although they do have the "free range, grass fed" bully sticks for dogs).

        2. There seems to be a good deal of localization in each branch. And a lot of it is based on how big each store is, which can vary significantly.

          A couple of years ago there was a good article in the Wall Street Journal about Costco's wine sales. As I recall each store had an individual buyer, so there can be significant differences in each store.

          The lead buyer for the entire chain (I believe) was based in Santa Rosa, and that location is reputed to have the best selection.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Calvinist

            Costco is headquartered in Washington State.

            1. re: Calvinist

              At the time of the WSJ article, David Andrew was wine director and based in WA state. Here are couple links to previous discussions about Costco's wine retailing,
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/41011
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/16773...

            2. San Francisco has a lot of stuff that Richmond doesn't.

              People sometimes report wines in the Vallejo branch that I don't find at either.

              I did find Spanish saffron for $28 an ounce the other day.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I bought one of those mondo jars of saffron as well. Now trying to figure out how to use even half of it. I'll be happy to mail a ziplock baggie full to 'hounds in need.

              2. I noticed the Novato store has much better cheese than Vallejo or Fairfield!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Earl Grey

                  I understand some Costcos have roasted Chickens. Novato does not.

                2. I once met a Costco wine manager/buyer. If I recall he handled 3-4 stores which might explain some differences or not. I always figured the differences in available items were sort of calculated to get you to buy something or else it will be gone next time.

                  1. Yes, there are differences between Costco's in what items they carry, but I can't generalize that one always carries better items. For example, the South San Francisco one at one time last year carried imported Japanese Koshihikari rice from Tochigi prefecture -- very costly at $25 for 2.5kg (11 pounds) -- and it was the best rice that I have had in ages, significantly better than Tamaki Gold and other U.S.A grown varietals of Koshihikari rice. None of the other Costco's that I visited in the Peninsula seemed to carry it at that time. Another example is that the Novato Costco is known to have USDA Prime beef from time to time -- but I don't think the other Costco's including South S.F. ever do. Certainly for liquor, the selection varies by store. For example, not all Costco's carry Johnny Walker Blue.

                    So I guess it's part of the fun to shop at various Costco's to see what high end food items you can find.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: peacemeal

                      I've bought Prime beef at the Richmond Costco. I asked one of the butchers about it and he said it just comes in at random. Usually they have only Choice.

                    2. In regards to the roasted chicken --- if you go to the costco website and do store locator and click on a location, it will tell you what services are available at each costco - such as pharmacy, rotisserie chicken, optical department, bakery, photo, etc.

                      There are definately different things available at different costcos, sometimes based on the clientele at that particular location. The south san francisco location has lots of Asian customers, so they carry things that cater to that - such as the rice that peacemeal mentioned. I personally go to a few different costcos, depending on what is easiest to get to that day.

                      1. As a dedicated Costco shopper for the past 20+ years (my parents owned a business, so we had Price Club & Costco memberships until they merged), I can attest that there are moderate differences between every Costco. I can't say there are significant differences, b/c the bulk of the items available at one Costco will be found at another. However, here's where you usually see variation:

                        1) Wines - generally the higher the annual household income in the surrounding area, the greater the availability of premium wines as well as foreign varietals. San Francisco & Novato locations are more likely to carry the harder to find bottlings of smaller domestic/foreign producers as well as larger producers' more limited bottlings (e.g. Beringer Bancroft Ranch merlot). Now that I have a client in the Santa Rosa area that I'll have to visit in the next month or so, I'll be sure to check out the Costco there to compare.

                        2) Ethnic foods - this applies to both packaged as well as fresh foods. Areas in Northern & Southern California that have a high percentage of ethnic groups will have Costco's carrying foods that are familiar to those groups. Packaged dried base noodles you'd normally see at Asian markets (e.g. egg noodles, rice noodles and vermicelli), fresh chorizo and tilapia are some of the items that will be at certain Costco's and not others.

                        3) Furniture - logically, Costco's with larger square footage than others will have a better selection.

                        4) Jewelry - the better the area, the better the selection of jewelry and watches (particularly on the high-end).

                        1. I remember hearing a story on NPR about Costco, where they discussed how surprisingly high-end items make temporary appearances in Costco stores. It's all part of the CEO's "treasure hunt" theory, that customers are thrilled to make such surprise discoveries and grow more loyal as a result. Of course, they only do so for things that will sell, but the story suggested that since most stores draw customers from a widely dispersed area rather than just the immediate vicinity, the fancy stuff should show up in Richmond (as validated on this thread) as much as at the others.

                          1. Costco is also the nations largest retailer of loose diamonds? Go figure........?

                            The Richmond store also has a dept. that has "prep.'d" food (prepared such as chopped, marinated or compiled but still uncooked) which the Novato store does not have.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: MSK

                              Where's that? I shop there all the time and never noticed it.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Back near the meats. It's not the prepackaged stuff, it's prepared right there in the store, probably in the meat department/kitchen.

                                They have things like uncooked lasagna and stuffed shells, marinated meats, stuffed flank steak rolls, prep'ed fish for baking or grilling and chicken enchiladas.

                                They're not as good as mine own dishes but better than the stuff in the frozen aisle. Sometimes, when I can't be home to start preparing dinner until late, it's an option for a fresher meal for the family than Pizza.

                            2. The stores that are distribution centers are normally larger and have a better selection of furniture etc. Here in the East Bay, there is a big difference between the Danville store and the Livermore store. The one in Livermore is much larger and has a much better wine selection. I'm sure that it is due to the location right in the middle of the Livermore Valley wine country.