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Kermet Apio's Laugh Corner

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August 2007


Hawai`i's Own


Last week the Seattle Sunday paper had an article about the Hawaii Costco stores. To be honest I did not know about the piece because it was not in the sports section. An alert reader informed me of it (and by “alert reader” I mean “my wife”). The article was written by Monica Soto Ouchi, the Seattle Times retail reporter. I did not know there was a retail reporter. I did not know there was a need for a retail reporter.

EDITOR: “We got a call that somebody just bought something! Monica, get your clipboard and get out there! I want this story yesterday! MOVE!!”

And theoretically, shouldn’t the Costco story be covered by the wholesale reporter? You see, writing jokes isn’t easy. Please don’t try this at home.

The story followed Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal as he visited the store in Iwilei (pronounced “kinda by Nimitz”). The article said that he normally visits every year the week after Christmas, which is the first rule of running a national company: Don’t visit the Wisconsin store until May.

Just in case you’ve been in a cave or rehab for 20 years, Costco sells items in bulk at discounted prices. Their motto is “You’ll have more tartar sauce than you’ll ever need, but at $4, why not?” They also sell deli items at cheap prices like a huge hot dog and soda for $1.50, a big slice of pizza for $2, and chicken ceasar salad for whatever loose change you might have in your pocket. How are they able to sell this stuff so cheap? Money laundering. Or volume. Probably volume. The Iwilei Costco is one of their top three biggest branches in the country. I have no idea if anything in this paragraph is true, but once I add it to Wikipedia, it will be.

Costco is very popular in Hawaii for two simple reasons. First, when the median price of a home is $620,000, chances are most people are looking for a deal on milk. Second, the idea of more food is, quite simply, the way Hawaiians think.

My Mom makes one (and only one) size of beef stew. It is enough to feed the whole family, despite the fact that none of their kids have lived in the house for 8 years. They eat beef stew for five straight meals (beef stew omelets, beef stew sandwich, beef stew wrap, etc.) and then store the remaining two buckets in a freezer that is bigger than the car. So you see, Costco is not just a store but a means of advancing the culture. Why would two retired empty nesters buy huge amounts of food in bulk? Pride, my friends. Hawaiian Pride.

Hawaii Costco’s have Hawaiian bulk foods like Lau Lau, Lomi Salmon, Spam and Poke. Yes, poke sold by the pound. One time I hadn’t been home in a while and decided to do a research project. I wanted to find out how much raw fish and poi a grown man could eat before he couldn’t recognize family members. Sure it wasn’t pretty but for a few fleeting moments it was truly wonderful, and all in the name of science. They also sell cases of macadamia nut chocolates. These are mainland gold. I am convinced that a few people have held on to friendship with me purely because when I get back to Seattle they may get candy. These chocolates are also very useful in small bribes and boss butt kissing.

Once in Costco I saw a keg-sized bottle of Ibuprofen. Is there really a huge market for this? That’s a lot of headaches. Is there a “Three Stooges” taping going on nearby? If you need this much Ibuprofen now, you need to quit your job.

I know Costco sells tires, but I’ve never bought any because I believe you have to buy them in packs of twelve. I do, however, love the Kirkland Signature Caviar in the gallon jar. Once again, all this will be in Wikipedia.

Jim Sinegal makes a salary of about $440,000 a year. It is a lot of money but many CEOs make that while on the potty. He believes in sharing the wealth. The average pay at Costco is $17 an hour, more than 40 percent higher than Sam’s Club employees. Also, Costco’s health care coverage is very good. When a Costco worker gets injured he goes to his doctor and gets it treated. When a Sam’s Club worker gets injured he waits 14 hours in an ER and then goes home and rubs aloe on the area, hoping the broken shin heals itself by the next business day. Hey, I just realized who the keg-sized bottle of Ibuprofen is for.

Costco and Hawaii are a perfect match. Very few Hawaiians want to buy just one (or a little) of anything. So I have to get the kids ready and head to the Shoreline Costco. Today they have a lot of nice older ladies giving out free samples of everything from meatballs to hummus. You know what my wife and I call that? Date night.

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