I, like most people, I imagine, have a love-hate relationship with the big bulk stores — you know, Costco, Sam’s Club, the stores so large that they usually sit on a street named after them, the stores with shipment garage doors so massive they must have ordered them used from a UFO hangar at Area 51. There is much to love and hate about these bulk businesses. On one hand, they are always so crowded that I’m confident I’ll be arrested for ginormous-cart-related manslaughter — or at the very least find myself on the receiving end of a class action suit on behalf of the hundreds of people whose heels I accidentally ram into. On the other hand, 75-pound bags of peanut M&M’s? Yes, please! Freezing-cold monolithic concrete building? Bad. Free samples? Good. Being forced to spend no less than three hours of your weekend pushing, pulling, weaving and yelling to get three years’ worth of toilet paper? Bad. Never having to leave the house with a wet bum because you ran out of said toilet paper? Amazing.
It’s a constant internal battle. When I first had babies and was living in Los Angeles, I found myself at the bulk stores biweekly — buying diapers, wet naps, paper towels, disinfectants and muffins (so I actually remembered to eat something). It was survival. And survival is something very different from pleasure or ideology.
When I moved to the edge of the wild, I learned my new town had a bulk store, but I refrained from membership. In fact, I refrained from even learning the exact location of the fortress of fruit snacks, televisions and random pool toys. Sure, it would be the best place to hide during a zombie apocalypse, but it didn’t represent the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be the shop-local girl, the CSA vegetable girl, the co-op girl. So I put my head down, in fear I’d discover the whereabouts of the building monstrosity.
But now I’ve started planning my husband’s 40th birthday party. The call of the wild is strong, but apparently, the call of wild-caught salmon burgers sold in packs of 30 is stronger. In one week’s time, 60 people are going to descend upon my home. I frantically told myself, “We need cups. We need plates. We need silverware, ice, coolers, foldout tables, speakers. There is food to buy and booze to buy and serving spoons. We will need trash bags set up and recycling bins. There are lights to buy so people don’t trip outside and party tents to purchase for the expected rain. Friends coming and staying from out of town will need linens and shampoo and breakfast. And I don’t even want to think about how much toilet paper we will need.”
There was only one place to go to buy all these things for all these people.
Alexa, where’s the nearest Sam’s Club?
It was a moment of weakness. Of overwhelm. If Alexa were all she’s cracked up to be, she would have said, “Aw, honey, you don’t mean this. Just go down to your farmers market and buy out all the celery stalks and local honey. I’m sure that’s all a party of 60 needs.” But she didn’t. Instead, she gave me the address.
I walked into the cold, drafty building at 2:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. The first people I saw were young moms still on maternity leave. I recognized the weary eyes, the shuffle steps, the smiles turned on to get reactions from the babies they had in tow. Now that I’m not the weary one, the sight of a new mom makes me coo a bit. I asked a worker whether I could walk around a bit before paying for a membership, just to make sure the store had what I needed. I was clearly lying to myself. Of course this place had what I needed; this place could end world hunger! But it was my last chance at not giving in. I pushed my cart, reluctantly filling it with cups and plates and then, not so reluctantly, filling it with foldout tables and lounge chairs. Then, with a bit of pep in my step, I added a rotisserie chicken, and… Ooh, is that shrimp gumbo? Next thing I knew, it was, Why, thank you, kind salesperson. I will try a sample of green Jell-O! This place is the best. Membership acquired.
Katie Langrock is a nationally