Film Strange as this sounds, there was a time when Costco, the large wholesale retailer on the Dock Road in the same retail park at Toys R Us wasn't as well known as it would seem to be now having done a quick Twitter survey. When I first gained a card back in the late 90s due to tangentially working for the University of Liverpool on the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association project, it really did have that whiff of being handed something special, being inducted into a club.
Trying to describe Costco to locals as a retailer in which large quantities of supermarket products could be bought at wholesale prices made it sounds somehow quite illicit, like breaking across the natural order of things. It wasn't unheard of, if you were really lucky you might know someone with a Macro card, but Costco's entry requirements are far looser and it was even closer to Liverpool to Kirkby, were the former wholesaler still resides.
The novelty never does quite go away, of being able to buy trays of Kirklands water for about three pounds or massive packages filled with chicken breasts.
But what inevitably excited me most about visits to the shop was the film and music section which often carried unusual editions of videos and later dvds not seen at other retailers and amazingly cheap prices. In the time before really being able to take advantage of discounts online, this was an expressively useful way to purchase films and I'd spend whole minutes working my way through the pallets trying to decide what to buy each time. It became a ritual.
Costco clearly knew it was a draw for customers. I remember vividly visiting during the week that Titanic was released on VHS and seeing them piled up at the entrance and throughout the shop and almost every customer having a copy in their trolley as they went through the till. Apart from me of course. Although I knew that James Cameron had specially prepared this full screen version by shooting a lot of the film in a square frame, by then I was already a widescreen purest.
Which is why I was surprised a few years later to find widescreen copies of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on sale at some loopily budget price. Having only ever seen a rubbish tv version I was delighted about finally being able to watch it in something approaching the correct aspect ratio even if on my then 4:3 television set that was something of a squintable experience. You'll remember that widescreen films weren't anamorphic and so lacked a lot of visual information.
As is the way with so many things, Costco slowly cut back its audio-visual section, first the cds, with their unique package that separated the inlay from the cd box in a large plastic packaging, then the VHS and finally the dvds, the internet having superceded them somewhat. They might have carried some blu-ray just as they were being introduced, but the prices were pretty close to RRP and I didn't have a player in any case.
Why offer them in the first place? As far as I could see they didn't sell them in bulk. Unlike groceries, it wasn't as though a cafe was about to also purchase a hundred copies of The Full Monty on VHS (another big seller) to mark-up and sell on. Perhaps it was simply that shoppers bought them so they sold them and when shoppers stopped buying them, they moved on. There's still a huge selection of books, which does, in a way tell its own story.