Marilyn Regier was one of dozens of Wichitans who arrived before the opening of the area’s first Costco store Wednesday morning – and was rewarded with entry into the store before its official 8 a.m. opening.
“We came at 7:30 and they were already letting us in,” said Regier of Wichita. “It’s so exciting.”
After months of waiting, area shoppers checked out what the 150,000-square-foot store at Kellogg and Webb in east Wichita had to offer.
The store is the third in Kansas for the Issaquah, Wash.-based warehouse retailer.
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Costco is a membership retailer, which means it requires people to buy a membership to purchase its goods. Annual memberships start at $55 and go up to $110.
“Wichita’s been very welcoming to us,” Carlee Wunderlich, Costco’s Wichita warehouse manager, said Wednesday morning. “We’ve done well with our pre-opening memberships. And we hope to bring a lot of excitement and good things to the people of Wichita.”
Construction of the more than $20 million project on nearly 17 acres of former Beechcraft property began in November 2014, following more than two years of speculation that Costco was coming to Wichita.
The store, at 9700 E. Kellogg, offers brand-name and private-label merchandise including groceries, clothing and jewelry. It has a number of specialty departments that include meat, produce, photo and optical departments – with an independent optometrist – as well as a bakery, deli, food court, pharmacy, hearing aid center and tire center.
A liquor store run by an independent company is also on site. And there is a fuel station in the parking lot.
The Wichita Costco employs 240 people, at least half of whom are full time, and the company said its minimum starting hourly wage is $11.50.
Its merchandise mix includes some high-end brands such as Burberry purses and Cartier watches.
“When I walked in and saw the $1,000 purses, I was a little nervous,” Regier said.
Shoppers’ opinions were mixed about Costco’s prices.
Theresa Gaines of Hutchinson said, “the prices are great. … Now that I know where this is, I think I’ll be shopping here every two or three weeks.”
But Mary Sutcliffe of Wichita said, “We’re just comparing some prices, and some are cheaper and some are more expensive than other options. I’m a member at Sam’s but I will probably use this store simply because it’s closer to me. What would be cheaper somewhere else wouldn’t equal out my driving there.”
Many of the Costco shoppers on Wednesday morning said they were also members of Sam’s Clubs, which until now has has been the area’s only warehouse club since 1985. It has three Wichita locations. Wal-Mart-owned Sam’s opened its third warehouse store less than a year ago at 3084 N. Maize Road.
Jeanne Mehl of El Dorado said she’s a fan of Costco and has shopped its stores in California when she was there. But she’s also a Sam’s member. She hasn’t yet decided if she’ll forgo one membership for another. “We’ll just see,” Mehl said.
Her friend, Earlene Bogart, who’s also from El Dorado and was shopping at Costco for the first time, said she’d probably keep both memberships, “because you want them both to survive in the community.”
Shoppers said they’ve been waiting a long time for Costco to come to Wichita.
Mehl said she consistently asked Costco staff in California when the company was going to come here.
“Every time I was out there I would say, ‘When are you going to come to Wichita?’”
Marjorie and Bruce Walton of Wichita said they’ve shopped Costco in San Diego and Seattle, and bought a membership the first day the company opened its membership office in Wichita.
“We couldn’t wait until they got here,” Marjorie Walton said. “Their stores are clean, well-organized and have quality products.”
“We love everything about it,” added Bruce Walton, “until we get to the cash register.”
Contributing: Alyssa Scott of The Eagle