Over the weekend, I was alerted to this nasty Facebook group that sprung up in mid-July: Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans. So naturally, I had to see what all the craziness was about because I’m both shocked and disgusted by this kind of thing. This is a very strange form of discrimination and I just don’t think there’s any place for that. I can’t believe this page has over 4,500 ‘likes’ on Facebook, that makes me sad.
So, it turns out that this is all about Canadians driving to Bellingham, Washington to shop for things like milk, gas, and other items that are considerably cheaper in the US. For instance, a jug of milk at the downtown Vancouver Costco is listed for $4.60, while the equivalent at the Bellingham Costco is $2.50, a 1,000-gram block of cheese is $13 in Vancouver but $4 cheaper in Bellingham., a 230-count case of Huggies diapers is $48.99 and about $10 cheaper south of the border. Who wouldn’t want to avoid spending more money than they had to? Isn’t that why we all shop at Costco in the fist place? And as long as the exchange rate is in Canada’s favour, I imagine there will be lots of cross border shopping for many things.
It seems that the milk buying is a really huge part of this, with claims that Canadians are buying all of the milk. The milk is cheaper in the US because of government subsidies of the dairy industry. But really, how do they know that it is Canadians? It’s not like we’re all wearing team jerseys with our national flags on them when we go shopping. I’ve always seen people at every Costco I’ve ever shopped in, loading up their carts with gallons of milk. I saw it happen in Austin, I see it here in the UK, and it happens in the Kansas City Costco locations too. I’ve never assumed that they were foreign nationals buying up all of our milk so that we would be calcium deficient and unable to have a bowl of cereal in the morning. There are many commercial shoppers at Costco, let’s not forget, since that is who they were first geared towards. So, maybe some of those people buying all that milk are from restaurants or nursing homes or nurseries or pre-schools in the US. Or maybe they’re just a big family with lots of big milk drinkers. And undoubtedly some of them are Canadians. My point is, having someone buy a ton of a particular product at Costco is in no way strange or unusual; that’s the whole purpose of bulk shopping. I saw some people at our local Costco this weekend with their TWO carts stacked high with a particular juice and thought “I wonder what they’ll be doing with all of that juice” but didn’t see any call to get mean and rude about the situation.
My other favourite complaints from some of the Bellingham people are about long cashier and gas lines, bad parking jobs, and rude behaviour in the stores. Sounds just like every Costco store I’ve ever shopped in on the weekend. I’ve not been to Bellingham but from what I can tell it is a smaller town, so maybe the people there aren’t used to crowds, is that it? Costco on the weekend is a madhouse – no matter where you are located or what nationalities are shopping there. The lines will always be long. As far as rudeness goes, well, you can find that anywhere from any group or culture, can’t you? Same goes for bad parking. To me all of that is part and parcel of shopping anywhere and you need to just accept that some people are creeps and lousy drivers.
There are a lot of financial benefits that come to the area because of the Canadian shoppers. Bellingham’s mayor says the city’s rate of growth of taxable retail sales was almost double the state average from 2010 to 2011, much of it due to shoppers from Canada. Kep Oplinger, president and CEO of the local chamber of commerce, says that at first they were a bit surprised by the Facebook page, ”And then as we read some of the postings rather appalled that people would say some of the things that they have on the page. Whatcom County’s economy really is reliant upon Canadians coming and shopping and recreating here,” Oplinger said. “We shouldn’t be limiting access to retail stores based on nationality.”
To me, it seems like the store, which was built in 1991, is probably small and needs to expand. I have read that there is no way to expand the current store or parking lot in the present location. However, the mayor in Bellingham, Kelli Linville, has talked with Costco about relocating the store to another area in the city so that they can expand. The mayor wrote Costco a letter in July with a list of steps the city suggests to help Costco build a new store along West Bakerview Road across from Fred Meyer. The mayor’s letter also covered plans for road changes in the area that would make it more feasible for Costco. There is a proposal to have the city take the lead in building Dover Street, which would go north from Bakerview Road near Fred Meyer and act as a driveway into Costco and a connector road through the area. Costco and the city could share the costs, according to the mayor. The letter also said the city is currently planning to extend Horton Road, which would likely reduce congestion at Interstate 5 and Bakerview Road, and it would commit to building the Division Street connector in the next five to 10 years, a project that would provide direct access from Dover Street to Pacific Highway. Naturally, Costco will not make public comments on new locations or expansions until they are well into the process. So, we will all just have to wait to see how the possibility of a new, bigger store unfolds.
Until a new store is built, Costco has begun paying the Bellingham police for an off-duty officer to handle the parking lot crowd two days a week. I’ve also read that they have expanded store hours (but I can’t see anything about that on the Costco.com site) and have more staff on duty to try to mitigate some of the problems with long lines. There is also a store in Burlington, Washington (about 20 miles away) that people might want to try shopping at to avoid the situation at the Bellingham warehouse. But one thing Costco will absolutely not be doing is instituting American only shopping hours or changing it’s policy that anyone with a Costco membership can shop at any Costco location in the world.
Luckily, another Facebook page has sprung up that puts a better face on Bellingham/Whatcom county. This page, Bellingham Businesses and Residents Welcome Canadian Shoppers, has much nicer comments and sets a far better tone than the other page.
For more about this topic, see the following:
- Market Watch: Got milk? Canadian shoppers get it at U.S. Costco
- Seattlepi.com: Costco shoppers want ‘American only’ hours
- Fox News: Border war: Costco customers in Washington blame Canada for shopping hell
- Edmonton Journal: Take a chill pill, says Costco shopper over cross-border kerfuffle
- CBS News: Blame Canada: Border battle over Costco in Wash.
- Bellingham KOMO News: Bellingham Costco shoppers take to Facebook to ask for ‘American Only’ hours
- ABC News: Americans Fed Up With Canadians Taking Over Local Costco
- The Bellingham Herald: Mayor Linville: Letter to Costco outlined potential citywide policies
Just one final note, if you make a comment on this post, please keep it civil and free of foul language or hateful words.