Is Costco Taking Over Maui?

Coming soon to Maui...

By Anthony Pignataro

A friend of mine here on Maui recently tried to get a post office box. To do this, she needed to show two forms of identification. She first tried to give them her driver’s license and her Social Security card. They accepted the license, but not the Social Security card (it lacks the photo and physical description that make it a legal form of identification). In despair, she handed them her white Costco membership card, which on the back contained her name and a small, fuzzy black & white digital image of her face.

That worked.

The top story in todays’ Maui News details how the Maui Planning Commission gave the unanimous go-ahead for Costco to expand its Kahului outlet to include a larger warehouse as well as a new gas station and carwash. That’s actually a small matter when compared to the revelation in the story’s fifth paragraph that Costco officials estimate that there are, presently, “as many as 91,000 Costco cardholders on Maui — almost 90 percent of the island’s adult population.”

This, I’m sure, surprises no one who has spent more than 30 seconds in a Maui grocery store. Still, I’m fascinated by the math here: 91,000 cardholders times a minimum $50 annual membership fee equals… roughly $4.55 million in annual fees alone Costco collects of island residents — and that’s assuming everyone opted for the cheapest membership package, which I’m guessing they did not.

So yeah, I guess holding a Costco card is like a special Maui ID. And yes, I too am a Costco member. But are we, in our zeal for low, low prices, moving that much closer to the terrifying future imagined by that great futurist Mike Judge, who in his ground-breaking film Idiocracy envisioned Costco as a kind of super societal hub, offering literally everything (including law degrees) anyone might want?

Then again, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. Costco may be a giant in the retail industry, but it also appears to be a fair employer. According to this Money & Business article, Costco pays its employees so well when compared to other retail giants that critics say it hurts the bottom line. The story, however, points out that Costco sees things very differently:

“However, Costco CEO, James Sinegal, views things differently. He believes that by paying employees higher wages than other companies in the same industry, he’s building a strong company that will last for years. His philosophy attracts and retains workers; Costco has a low turnover rate when compared to other companies, and employee satisfaction is generally high. This saves the company money in the long run, because they have to search for and train fewer workers.”

So there you go. I suppose we’ve had worse overlords in the past.

PHOTO: Broken Sphere/Wikimedia Commons