14 Things You Might Not Know About Costco

Chris Potter, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Chris Potter, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As one of the largest retailers in the United States, warehouse giant Costco has become synonymous with towering steel shelves full of toilet paper and peanut butter. Its cavernous sales floors are navigated by 79 million customers a year who pay a minimum annual fee of $55 to access some of the least marked-up products in retail.

You probably realize the stores are busy, hard to navigate, and could probably feed a family of four in free samples alone. You might also be curious to know more.

1. You don’t actually need a Costco membership to shop there.

A Costco membership card
dirtyblueshirt, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

Big-box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are able to offer low prices because of massive purchasing orders and profits that are subsidized by member fees. No membership card? No 12-gallon drums of mayo for you. But there is one loophole: If you know a member, they can purchase a Costco Cash (i.e. gift) Card on your behalf, which you can use at your leisure. Costco policy states you don’t need to be a member in order to use this payment method, but your success may be store-dependent: some employees get a little irate when you can’t produce your membership card at the door.

2. Costco likes to mess with your brain.


David McKelvey, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Brainwashing is an unadvertised membership perk. Costco often stocks a variety of large-ticket items—expensive handbags, entire barrels of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey—not necessarily because they expect to move those items, but because retailers know that the desire and excitement they cause releases dopamine. Now you’re shopping in a pleasure state and are more likely to splurge on items that grumpy and budget-conscious people avoid.

3. No ID? Airport security might accept your Costco card.

With the Transportation Security Administration’s strict security measures, you’d think a government-issued ID would be the only way you’re getting through a checkpoint. But KPIX 5 in San Francisco discovered the TSA will accept everything from utility bills to Costco cards as proof of identity. The catch: you’re more likely to get a pat down or a swab test than if you used your driver’s license. Just be aware that not every agent is going to want to play this game, so a government-issued ID is best.

4. Costco made Brad Pitt an unsatisfied customer.

Actor/producer Brad Pitt accepts the PGA Visionary Award onstage during the 26th Annual Producers Guild Of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on January 24, 2015 in Los Angeles, California
Mark Davis/Getty Images

Brad Pitt has called upon Costco to stop selling eggs produced from cage-raised hens. In July 2015, Pitt wrote to CEO Craig Jelinek, asking him to set a timetable for a company overhaul of its bird policy. “Many major corporations, from Burger King to Unilever, are getting rid of cages,” Pitt wrote, apparently hoping the shame of being less animal-conscious than Burger King would motivate them to action. It sort of worked. According to the company's "Animal Welfare" page:

"Costco is committed to procuring cage‐free eggs and continues to increase the percentage of cage-free eggs its sells worldwide. In the U.S., Costco has increased its percentage of cage-free shell eggs to 89 percent as of September 2018. In addition, Kirkland Signature™ Liquid Eggs are 100 percent cage-free. The transition to cage-free eggs will continue to increase with added availability and capacity of cage-free production."

5. The Costco rotisserie chicken has its own fan page.


Chicken Martinez, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The company moves 157,000 whole birds every single day, estimating they lose $30 to $40 million a year by sticking to a $4.99 price point in order to keep members happy and foot traffic high. Devotees trade recipe ideas for the chicken on a Facebook fan page.

6. One Costco store has horse and buggy parking for the Amish.

An Amish carriage driving down a road
Violetastock/iStock via Getty Images

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, anyway. The county is home to a large population of Amish, so the company decided to construct a livestock parking stall as a courtesy. There’s a rail to tie the horses to, and a roof shields them from inclement weather. Per the Addicted to Costco blog, the reserved space leaves an unanswered question: which lucky employee gets to clean up after the horses?

7. Costco once had to recall a punching bag filled with dirty underwear.


iStock

Through a manufacturing hiccup that may never be fully understood, Costco was forced to send out a public recall notice after discovering punching bags made by TKO, Inc. were filled with dirty men’s and women’s underwear instead of sand. In 2007, Fox reported that a Cincinnati family was distraught to find thongs, bathing suits, and bras inside of their new purchase. Anyone who bought the bag got a replacement and a shipping label to send the laundry back.

8. Costco considers shopping to be a “treasure hunt.”

An empty shopping cart being pushed down an aisle
hxdyl/iStock via Getty Images

Costco’s floor plan may seem haphazard, but like most things in retail it’s been very carefully designed to maximize business. The company regularly relocates necessities like toiletries, light bulbs, and other frequently-replenished items so the customer has to begin a search—or “treasure hunt”—for them. The strategy exposes shoppers to new areas of the store, and their wallets to new trauma.

9. Costco once labeled the Bible as “fiction.”

The Holy Bible sits on a book shelf
visi.stock/iStock via Getty Images

A Simi Valley pastor incited a minor Twitter flare-up in November 2013 when he was browsing in a Costco and noticed their copies of the Bible were labeled “fiction.” The company deemed it a labeling error, and there is some corroborating evidence that points to a wider trend: the following month, a “memoir” from fictional, imbecilic newscaster Ron Burgundy was filed under “nonfiction.”

10. Costco is America's biggest car dealer.

Car salesman discusses a car with some potential customers
michaeljung/iStock via Getty Images

Costco moved nearly 650,000 cars in 2018, making it the nation's biggest car dealer—but they don’t actually get a portion of the sale. In another attempt to provide value for membership fees, the company negotiates directly with a dealer for a set price, then acts as an intermediary for the customer.

11. Costco is secretly one of the biggest pizza chains around.

Because pizza is only one component of Costco’s food service, it doesn’t really qualify as a pizza franchise. Bend the definition a little bit, though, and they could make a strong case for industry dominance. With nearly 500 stores, they’re among the top 20 footprints of pizza chains in the country. To keep up with demand, their stores are usually equipped with automated sauce spinners like the one seen above.

12. A couple got married in the Costco frozen foods section.

The frozen food aisle of a grocery store
danielvfung/iStock via Getty Images

It’s the day every bride dreams of: walking down the frozen foods aisle to meet her groom. Robert and Meredith Bonilla were married atop a pallet at a Santa Maria, California Costco in December 2014, a year after meeting at the store. Management gave them permission to hold the ceremony after operating hours.

13. Costco has everything you need for a funeral.

A white coffin in a mortuary with a flower arrangement
RobertHoetink/iStock via Getty Images

Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean the savings have to stop. The retailer offers an entire array of funeral necessities, including caskets, urns, and flowers. The coffins are shipped directly to the mortuary of choice. For the easily confused, Costco reminds members that they are not a licensed funeral home and “may not offer or perform funeral services.” (At least not yet.)

14. Costco sells more clothing than Old Navy.

A clothing display is pictured at a Costco in Niles, Illinois in 2002
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

While some people might not consider Costco to be a fashion-forward shopping destination, they move plenty of clothes. The chain sells $7 billion worth of apparel every year, which is more than Old Navy or Ralph Lauren. Name brands like Tommy Hilfiger help drive sales, though there's one wrinkle: None of their stores have fitting rooms.

10 Historically Disappointing Time Capsules

eag1e/iStock via Getty Images
eag1e/iStock via Getty Images

Unearthing a time capsule should be an exciting affair, a chance to see mysterious items hand-picked long ago as apposite examples of a bygone era. Unfortunately, these buried tubes of old garbage rarely live up to the hype.

"Ninety-nine percent of time capsules will remain boring as hell to the people that open them," says Matt Novak, who runs Gizmodo's Paleofuture site. Novak is a self-professed time capsule nerd who has seen enough capsule disappointments to keep his hopes in check. "Time capsules are both optimistic and selfish," he tells Mental Floss. "Optimistic in the sense that they represent a belief that not only will anyone find them sometime in the future, but also that anyone will care about what's inside."

Time capsules as we know them are a relatively new invention that became famous in 1939 with the burial of the Westinghouse Time Capsule at the World's Fair. This highly publicized capsule, which is not scheduled to be opened until the year 6939, contains both quotidian items and extensive writings on human history printed on microfilm (along with instructions on how to build a microfilm viewer). It was an ambitious project, with engineers specially designing the capsule to resist the ravages of time. Most time capsules, however, aren't equipped to be buried underground.

"Burying something is literally the worst way to preserve it for future generations," Novak says, "but we continue to do it." Contents are routinely destroyed by groundwater, so most time capsules reveal little more than trash chowder.

Still, Novak holds out hope for "rare one percenters—those time capsules that not only have something interesting inside, but also survived their journey into the future without turning into mush." The following 10 time capsules, however, fall firmly in the remaining 99 percent.

1. Derry, New Hampshire comes up empty

Just this week, residents of Derry, New Hampshire gathered at the local library to witness what they hoped might be an important moment in the town's history: the opening of a 1969 time capsule, which they believed might include some memorabilia from famed astronaut Alan Shepard, who was a Derry native. Instead, they found ... nothing. Absolutely nothing.

"We were a little horrified to find there was nothing in it," library director Cara Potter told the media. While there's no written record of exactly what was inside the safe, we do know that the time capsule had been moved a couple of times over the past several decades. And that the combination was written right on the back. "I really can’t understand why anyone would want to take the capsule and do anything with it,” Reed Clark, a 90-year-old local, told the New Hampshire Union Leader. But local historian Paul Lindemann says that, "There very well may have been valuable items in there" (including something of Shepard's).

2. The past comes alive in Tucson

In 1961, Tucson, Arizona's Campbell Plaza shopping center—the first air-conditioned strip mall in the country—celebrated its grand opening. To make the event truly memorable, developers buried a time capsule beneath the mall, forbidding anyone from opening it for the achingly long time period of 25 years.

When 1986 finally rolled around, another celebration was held for the capsule's unearthing. Three television crews captured the moment when workers, accompanied by a former Tucson mayor, excavated the capsule and cracked it open. Archaeologist William L. Rathje was on hand, and he later reported its contents as "a faded local newspaper (in worse condition than many I’ve witnessed being excavated from the bowels of landfills) and some business cards."

3. Bay City makes peace with its waterlogged history

In 1965, workers at Dafoe Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City, Michigan buried the “John F. Kennedy Peace Capsule.” It was to remain buried for 100 years—until city council members got antsy in 2015 and ordered for it to be unearthed five decades sooner than originally intended.

When crews unsealed the giant capsule, they found it was totally drenched: The shipbuilders responsible for sealing the capsule couldn't prevent it from taking on water. Many of the items were paper ephemera that didn't survive their 50-year submersion.

Non-paper items that could be identified included, according to MLive.com, “an old pair of lace-up women's boots, large ice tongs for carrying blocks of ice, a slide rule with a pencil sharpener, a pestle and wooden bowl, a centennial ribbon, a coffee grinder, a filament light bulb, an old non-electric iron and lots of Bay City Centennial plates, a 1965 Alden's Summer Catalogue, papers from Kawkawlin Community Church, and booklets from the labor council.”

4. Westport Elementary's too-successful capsule

In 1947, the superintendent of Westport Elementary School in Missouri buried a time capsule that wasn't to be opened for another 50 years. He left a note detailing this fact, but he forgot to include any information about the capsule's location. When it came time to retrieve it, no one knew where to start digging. ''We're calling it a history mystery,'' said a teacher who was tasked with finding it. She had little to go on, as the school's original blueprints—like the capsule itself—were lost.

5. The smell of history on Long Island

For its 350th anniversary in 2015, the residents of Smithtown in Long Island, New York opened a time capsule that had been buried in front of town hall in 1965. An unveiling celebration was held, and a crowd of more than 175 gathered to watch town officials dressed in colonial costumes dramatically reveal its contents.

These included, according to Newsday, "a proclamation of beard-growing group Brothers of the Brush, papers, and paraphernalia from the town's 300th anniversary events, a phone book, an edition of The Smithtown News, pennies from the 1950s and '60s, a man's black hat, and a white bonnet.”

Town residents and officials alike came away unimpressed. "I would have thought those folks would have used a little more imagination and put some artifacts from that time in the time capsule," Smithtown's then-supervisor Patrick Vecchio said.

Kiernan Lannon, the executive director of the town's Historical Society, told Newsday, "The most interesting thing that came out of the time capsule was the smell. It was horrible. I have smelled history before; history does not smell like that. It was the most powerfully musty smell that I've ever smelled in my life."

6. A time capsule worse than going to class

In 2014, New York Mills Union Free School District students filed into an assembly hall to watch the opening of a 57-year-old time capsule. The capsule, buried under the school’s cornerstone, was revealed to contain "a 1957 penny, class lists, teacher handbook, budget pamphlet, and letterhead." In a video of the unearthing, you could hear stray boos from disappointed students who expected much more than letterhead.

7. Norway's anachronistic treasure trove

The residents of Otta, Norway had been eagerly awaiting the day when they'd get to open a package that had been sealed in 1912 and given to the town's first mayor in 1920, along with a note: "May be opened in 2012." Townspeople hoped it contained oil futures, while historians optimistically predicted relics from a 400-year-old battle.

The parcel was opened at the end of a lavish ceremony that featured musical performances and speeches. The crowd, which included Princess Astrid of Norway, had to wait 90 suspenseful minutes (in addition to the 100 years since 1912) before they got down to business.

The Gudbrandsdal museum's Kjell Voldheim had the honor of opening the package. Inside he found ... another package. Inside that package were miscellaneous papers, and Voldheim narrated for the crowd as he pored through the items. “Oye yoy yoy," he said ("almost in exasperation," according to Smithsonian), as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Included among the lackluster documents were newspapers dated from 1914 and 1919, a few years after the package had presumably been sealed. While deemed authentic, the find was nonetheless confusing.

8. New Zealand's rare find

In 1995, a 100-year-old capsule thought to contain historical documents was opened by hopeful scholars in New Zealand. According to The New York Times, "all they found was muddy water and a button.”

9. Michigan's capitol mess

The Michigan State Capitol celebrated its 100th birthday in 1979, and officials marked the occasion by opening a capsule that had been buried beneath the building's cornerstone. While the itemized list of the capsule's contents was intriguing—"1873 newspapers, a state history, a history of Free Masonry, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a silver plate inscribed with Lansing officials’ names, and other papers on specialized topics"—it wasn't included in the actual box. The actual items that were buried wound up being destroyed.

“They’re in very bad shape,” Robert Warner, the late director of the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library, said. Water damage had ruined the fragile paper documents, and Capitol anniversary revelers had to gamely celebrate a box full of sludge.

10. Keith Urban's time capsule confusion

Australia's Pioneer Village Country Music Hall had been left in disrepair, which is what made the discovery of a plaque on its grounds in 2014 so exciting. Perhaps there was promise buried beneath the abandoned venue. Hidden behind overgrown vegetation, it read:

Pioneer Village Country Music Club
10 yr Time Capsule
Placed by Mayor Yvonne Chapman
This Day 4th July 1994
To be Re-opened 4th July 2004

As recounted by Paleofuture, the capsule's opening was a decade overdue, though fans who used to frequent the music hall said they already knew what was inside: a photo of a young Keith Urban. The musician got his start at Pioneer Village, and the photo was buried to celebrate the local star.

Oddly, a different capsule from 1994 was discovered on the music hall's abandoned grounds in 2013. Keith Urban fans eagerly opened it, thinking they had found the photo, but were left disappointed when it proved to be empty. So, by process of elimination, a photo of Keith Urban had to be in the more recently discovered capsule. Unless there's a third capsule, in which case they should probably just give up and buy a Keith Urban photo on eBay.

This story has been updated for 2019.

The 25 Best Colleges in America

Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock via Getty Images
Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock via Getty Images

The college decision process is always a tough one, but review site Niche's annual rankings of the best colleges in America make it easier for prospective students (and their parents) to narrow down the choices to find the best fit. The 2020 list takes a variety of factors into account, including student life, admissions, finances, and student reviews. But the most important factor in their methodology, comprising 40 percent of a school's overall rating, is academics, which, according to the Niche website, looks at "acceptance rate, quality of professors, as well as student and alumni surveys regarding academics at the school."

Taking the number one spot on Niche's list for the second year in a row is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by Stanford University in the number two spot (again, for the second year in a row). Six of America's eight Ivy League schools made it into the top 10.

Here are the 25 Best Colleges in America for 2020, according to Niche's rankings.

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology // Cambridge, MA

  1. Stanford University // Stanford, CA

  1. Yale University // New Haven, CT

  1. Harvard University // Cambridge, MA

  1. Princeton University // Princeton, NJ

  1. Duke University // Durham, NC

  1. Brown University // Providence, RI

  1. Columbia University // New York, NY

  1. University of Pennsylvania // Philadelphia, PA

  1. Rice University // Houston, TX

  1. Northwestern University // Evanston, IL

  1. Vanderbilt University // Nashville, TN

  1. Pomona College // Claremont, CA

  1. Washington University in St. Louis // St. Louis, MO

  1. Dartmouth College // Hanover, NH

  1. California Institute of Technology // Pasadena, CA

  1. University of Notre Dame // Notre Dame, IN

  1. University of Chicago // Chicago, IL

  1. University of Southern California // Los Angeles, CA

  1. Cornell University // Ithaca, NY

  1. Bowdoin College // Brunswick, ME

  1. Amherst College // Amherst, MA

  1. University of Michigan // Ann Arbor, MI

  1. Georgetown University // Washington DC

  1. Tufts University // Medford, MA

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER