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Crowds pack Costco for Columbia grand opening

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Parking spaces were at a premium and a steady stream of shoppers filed in and out of Costco’s first Columbia location during the retail club’s grand opening today.

The 153,000-square-foot warehouse, located at the intersection of Piney Grove Road and Fernandina Road near the I-26 interchange, held a ribbon cutting at 7:30 a.m. before opening its doors at 8 a.m.

Shoppers streamed into Costco's new store near the Piney Grove Road and I-26 interchange for Wednesday's grand opening. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)It was bedlam from the start, said marketing employee Melanie Walters, as she passed out sign-up forms and answered would-be members’ questions under a tent in front of the store entrance.

“It’s been crazy the whole time,” Walters said, adding that the lines appeared to be getting longer as the day went on.

Walters, a resident of Forest Acres, owns her own business but needed a job with benefits. She heard about the potential new Costco location last September and began contacting the company soon after.

Yoram Rubanenko, senior vice president of Costco's Southeast operations, said the Columbia store has 190 employees. The majority are new hires, though some did transfer from other locations, he said. 

In 2016, online jobs site ranked Costco as the 40th best company to work for in its annual survey of employees in North America and parts of Europe. Costco cashiers average $14.68 an hour, the survey found. 

Costco, the world’s second-largest retailer, first flirted with a Midlands location in December 2013, but those early talks fell through. In April 2015, Costco submitted plans for the same Piney Grove site, but those plans were denied because they did not meet landscaping and engineering requirements, according to the Richland County public information office.

“We finally found the right place to be,” Rubanenko said. “We’re thrilled to be here. It’s a major market in South Carolina - the only major market in South Carolina that we’re not in. I think it’s going to be a great market for us.”

It certainly looked that way as cars circled the parking lot with locked-in drivers stalking full shopping carts headed to one of the 1,020 parking spaces approved in Costco’s building permit.

“It’s nice,” Cynthia Boone of Columbia said after locating her car. “I’ve been in a few (Costcos) before. My in-laws are devout members.”

Boone’s cart contained grocery staples, but she had her eye on bigger prizes.

“I’m looking to make some major purchases in the near future,” she said. “I just think they have a little better furniture quality.”

Inside the store, some of that furniture was being put to use, as shoppers lounged on couches. Checkout lines, two to three carts deep, moved smoothly as customers milled about, many with food samples in hand.

Lexington resident Sarah Henderson happily informed passers-by about a mix of honeyed cashews, almonds and peanuts and offered them small cupfuls to try. Business was booming: Henderson had gone through seven gallon-sized Ziplock bags of product by 10:30 a.m.

“It’s my first day, and I’m already in love,” said Henderson, hired in mid-July. “I’m really happy about it. Time’s flying by.”

Shoppers also browsed clothing, including Patagonia down jackets available in both garnet and black for $199.99. University of South Carolina fans could also purchase a Gamecock logo 60-quart rolling cooler for $39.99, and then cross the aisle to stock it with $7.39 bottles of Apothic red blend wine.

Costco, a members-only warehouse club with merchandise ranging from deli items to automotive products, reported revenues of $116.2 billion for fiscal year 2015. It has 706 locations worldwide, including 494 in the United States, and S.C. locations in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Greenville and Spartanburg.

Individual and business memberships cost $55 a year, with an executive level membership that includes additional perks available for $110.

The Columbia store will be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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