Costco opens in Manhattan: Big box retailer for shoe-box living

Manhattan just got its first Costco (COST). The store on E. 116th Street opened on Thursday, making it the first discount club to open in the borough. The experience isn't entirely new, however, as many club members already live in the city. Now, they'll be able to enjoy a shorter jaunt to the nearest Costco.

The store boasts more than 105,000 square feet of selling space and 3,500 products, according to the New York Post. There's an optical department (with doctor), pharmacy and enormous fresh foods area, along with a photo center and food court ... basically, the Manhattan Costco has everything, as the rest of the country already knows, and it comes in one size: huge.

At first, it may seem counterintuitive for a Costco to open in Manhattan. After all, the borough is famous for small living spaces, which means there's nowhere to put your five-liter drum of olive oil or 40-pound bag of dog food. Even Manhattan refrigerators are smaller, so an oversized container of milk or jumbo pack of vegetables may not even fit.

Convenience is a concern, as well. In the city, a trip of more than five blocks is just that – a trip. Even for a "destination" retailer (such as Whole Foods [WFMI] at Columbus Circle or Union Square), the attraction will be counterbalanced by accessibility and logistics, like whether the items purchased can be carried home on the subway.

Nonetheless, Costco's Vice President of Operations, Yoram Rubanenko, tells the Post, "We've wanted to be in Manhattan for a long time, and we've finally found what we consider to be the right spot." He notes that there are many Costco club members in Manhattan already, and "they are shopping in Queens, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Brooklyn and Hackensack."

The demand for the discount club is clearly there, and when you think about it, the obstacles to a Manhattan Costco experience aren't so serious. The fact that there is only one store and it may not be in a shopper's neighborhood isn't a problem when that same customer has been willing to cross a river to get to a Costco in another borough, city or state. From Midtown, depending on the time of day, the cab ride to Costco's East Harlem location is only $10 to $15 each way -- likely cheaper than the cost to maintain a car to drive out to Hackensack to buy an oversized sack of potatoes.

Of course, space remains a problem in New York, but most city-dwellers find ways to cope with the lack of shelf and floor space, and the savings available at a nearby discount club will only make them more resourceful.

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