I considered the five-pound bag of frozen peas to be an investment, as I stood, double-masked, in a Costco aisle. And I still do. Buying frozen foods and nonperishables in bulk has saved me both time and money, but there are more reasons that I find myself braving the big-box warehouse during a pandemic.
I grew up on Costco. My family sent me away to college with a 12-pack of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese. My father’s love language is buying me three 36-count variety packs of Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars when I once briefly mentioned I liked them. My mother constantly asks if I have “checked Costco?” for all product needs—a winter coat, a weighted blanket, sunscreen.
My father’s love language is buying me three 36-count variety packs of Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars when I once briefly mentioned I liked them.
Costco's store brand, Kirkland Signature, makes me feel—quite frankly—safe. At a very young age, I recognized it as a staple on family groceries, to the point where it’s difficult to iterate just how nostalgic a 2.5 lb jar of “extra fancy” mixed nuts makes me. I am suddenly six years old again, sitting criss-cross applesauce on our scratchy basement carpet and diligently picking out only the cashews, while my father watches football. Now I’m standing in the middle of a massive retail store contemplating buying a sweatshirt with the Kirkland logo.
Costco has an atmosphere you don’t really get from any other grocery store. When you go, you embark on a whole endeavor. Ten years ago, my family routinely packed eight people into a blue 2007 Toyota Sienna, complete with vehement objections to sitting in the middle and stagnant resistance to being buckled in a car seat, just to drive 20 minutes to our nearest Costco. Said best by one of my younger sisters, “Costco is like a themepark.” We rode on the back of shopping carts when we probably shouldn’t have, and dared each other to enter the refrigerated “Fresh Produce” room in shorts and a T-shirt.
While at the store, sly deliberation with my siblings led to sneaking products into the cart and hoping our mother wouldn’t notice until she resigned at the checkout. Babies, however, can be more bold. My youngest sister’s obsession with petite madeleines, the little French cookies—or cakes if you would like to call them that—was difficult to manage at times. My mother exasperatedly permitted us to open the box in the store and then paid for it with six missing.
“Costco is like a themepark.” We rode on the back of shopping carts when we probably shouldn’t have, and dared each other to enter the refrigerated “Fresh Produce” room in shorts and a T-shirt.
A visit to the food court was consistently promised as an award for best behavior in a seemingly infinite checkout line. The fries, I remember, have an incredible texture but a questionable aftertaste, and finishing the soft serve as a seven-year-old felt like a gold medal accomplishment. Returning to the parking lot, the 16 oz cup of ice cream froze my stubby hands while I stood on burning asphalt, waiting for my parents to play Tetris while fitting groceries in the trunk of our car.
Now, however, I often find myself overwhelmed in grocery stores. The overstimulation, combined with a fear of COVID, gives me a reason to stay home, where having someone accidentally step too close doesn’t trigger a fight or flight response. I don’t feel that pressure at Costco. Although some days and times are busier than others, the wide aisles and familiarity allow me to catch my breath under my mask and contemplate a bag of frozen peas. The chaos of a “themepark” now provides me solace.