Pulse: Social Diary: Join The Club

How Costco is giving Neiman Marcus a run for its money

“Everyone knows I’m a Costco-aholic,” said my friend Maurice. “They have the best cashmere sweaters there,” he added, and then handed us glasses of champagne and presented a plate of rosy-pink smoked salmon. We could only guess that the fish was from — where else? — Costco, even though the vibe at Maurice and John’s house is very un-Costco; this brunch was a Monet-like spread of the most beautiful fish, gleaming raspberries, and scrambled eggs so fluffy they could have floated off their silver platter and wafted up above Conshohocken State Road. If Maurice and John liked Costco, we thought, it had to be seriously fabulous. “Our grill is from there, and so is our printer, flat-screen, sound system, milk, eggs and butter,” Maurice told me later.

I’d never heard much about the place until the late socialite Robert Montgomery Scott mentioned during an interview a few years ago that he’d gone to the King of Prussia Costco with his Ardrossan neighbor Susan Gutfreund. At the time, it seemed hard to imagine the elegant Scott and Gutfreund wandering past the $39.99 down jackets and $7 logs of goat cheese, but lately it seems everyone in Philly and the ’burbs has a Costco habit. We were eating deliciously crispy, sweet, spicy ribs at another friend’s house, imagining her chopping garlic and basting for hours, when she announced they’d come from the warehouse superstore, bought pre-marinated and ready to roast. “They have the best orchids, and they’re great for parties,” says our friend Gina. “You can get flowers, spanikopita, food warming trays, even tables and chairs.”

“I’ve seen a few chefs shopping there,” adds a friend who consults for restaurants. It turns out Costco is hardly swathed in secrecy — the store, which costs 50 bucks to join and offers absurdly low prices on everything from pajamas to car leases, grossed almost $60 billion last year, and it has more than 500 locations worldwide. “Someone serves you a meatball in Peach Bottom, you know where it came from,” says my friend Chris, who lives in a tiny hamlet in Lancaster County. But who knew that suburban Philly fashionistas and serious home cooks were stuffing their SUVs full of veal chops there? And actually talking about it?

On the negative side, it turns out that for some people, Costco produces a dangerous, heroin-like buzz. “My dad thought Costco was an absurd idea, all this bulk crap, but then he bought a McMansion in Jersey,” says a co-worker. “His basement, the full size of his house, is crammed with cases of bread crumbs, paper towels, wedding-present crystal and mailing envelopes. He couldn’t possibly go through this stuff by 2010.” Plus, having giant portions of delicious foods at hand can present a health hazard: “Have you ever seen the caramel-apple pies they sell?” Chris asks. “They’re huge, and too tasty to stop eating until you’ve been hospitalized.”

Anyway, if friends or relatives stage a shopping intervention, you can always lug back the stuff you bought, since the store has a generous return policy. The only complaint Costco-aholics have is that the place just isn’t open enough hours. “Most days, they don’t open until 11 a.m., which can be a pain when you want to get in early,” points out one friend in Wynnewood. It seems it’s only a matter of time till Costco goes 24-7.