Costco store draws a crowd to pre-opening preview

Vehicles spilled out of the Costco parking lot and into the lots of nearby businesses Thursday evening as members got a sneak peek at the retailer’s first store in Baton Rouge.

“I’ve heard so many great things about Costco, I had to come tonight,” said Lisa Davis Bonton, who was snacking on a slice of red velvet cake. “I think it’s amazing.”

Alysse Montoya, a marketing and membership manager, estimated 1,600 people were in the store at one point.

The store, off Airline Highway at Interstate 12, is set to open officially Friday morning.

People who signed up for memberships with the warehouse store were invited to a preview.

Although they couldn’t buy any merchandise, the guests were able to browse what the store had to offer and dine on an array of food that will be available for purchase, from tri-tip sirloins to andouille.

The 148,316-square-foot warehouse store carries everything from jewelry and electronics to tires and pet food. Customers have to buy a membership to shop at Costco; annual memberships range in price from $55 to $110.

“My sister lives in San Diego, so she’s got me Costco-trained,” said Mary Wroten, who was visiting the store with her husband Wayne.

“There’s lots of variety; it’s very clean. They have pulled out all the stops to welcome us here to Baton Rouge.”

Thaddeus and Kristyn Sechrist said they thought there was a better variety at the Costco store than at Sam’s Club.

“They have more of a variety of snacks,” Thaddeus Sechrist said, standing in front of boxes of baked snack chips.

“I’m glad that we chose Costco over Sam’s,” Kristyn Sechrist said.

The company is the second-largest retailer in the U.S., behind Wal-Mart.

Costco has won acclaim for the quality of its merchandise and the generous salaries paid to employees. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the average hourly Costco worker earns nearly $21 an hour and 88 percent of employees have company-sponsored health insurance.

Members of the local media were able to tour the store Tuesday morning. While some employees received last-minute training, other workers were arranging stacks of merchandise.

General Manager Ken Tinkham said the store started receiving merchandise for its opening about a month ago.

“In five days, 52 trucks came in,” he said. “These were full-sized trucks. We took a lot of freight real fast, but the advantage is that the freight was here for us to massage and sort.”

The merchandise that came in early included dry goods and nonperishable items, such as clothes and soft drinks.

Perishable items, such as fresh vegetables and meat, arrived closer to the opening.

About 220 people will work at the Costco store, split evenly between part-time and full-time employees.

Fifty-four of the employees transferred in from other Costco locations; the rest are locals.

Tinkham said he was pleased with the number of people who applied for jobs and the quality of the workers.

“There are a lot of highly educated people in Baton Rouge,” he said. “We’re fortunate a lot of them came out looking for work.”