Costco eyeing Harbison area site

Columbia’s long wait for a Costco store appears to be coming to a close.

The massive warehouse retailer is looking to build a store on Piney Grove Road at Fernandina Road, according to engineering plans that show the wholesaler would front along Fernandina, behind Green’s Beverages.

Midlands consumers have been clamoring for a Costco for years to spar with rival Sam’s Club, which has a stronghold on the market. Costco now has four locations in the state – in Greenville, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and Charleston.

The membership-only retailer been looking for a spot in the capital city for the better part of a decade, but it has been reluctant to choose between the Harbison area and Northeast Richland, commercial real estate brokers have said.

“That location makes sense,” said Hance Jones, a commercial broker with Carolinas Retail Partners, who has worked with Costco in the past but said he has no knowledge of the Piney Grove deal.

The Issaquah, Wash.,-based retailer does not comment to the media on upcoming locations.

Costco, which sells a range of bulk goods – from wine to clothing to home décor – is the latest in a string of sought-after retailers to bring a store to Columbia.

Mast General Store kicked off the trend more than two years ago when it took a chance on downtown’s Main Street, which just was starting to see revitalization. Since then, Whole Foods has opened on Fort Jackson Boulevard, and Trader Joe’s has located on Forest Drive. Urban Outfitters also is preparing to open in the Vista later this summer.

However, Costco long has been a missing piece in the area’s retail scene.

Costco typically chooses a site with easy interstate access and high visibility, and always has wanted to be closer to town than the nearby Sam’s Club outlet, said Jones. Sam’s is located about a mile away on Bower Parkway, near Harbison Boulevard.

It makes sense for the retailer to locate first in the “tried-and-true corridor” around Harbison and then choose a second site in Northeast Richland, Jones said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in a handful of years, we end up getting another one.”

Costco needs at least 15 acres for a store, he said. The Piney Grove tract is 17 acres. It likely is the only tract big enough that would work and also is closer to Columbia than the nearby Sam’s, Jones said.

Engineering plans, drawn up by AEC in Roswell, Ga., show a Costco building with 619 parking spaces and an entrance off of Fernandina Road. An engineer at AEC said she was not permitted to comment on the plans and referred calls to a Costco official. Costco officials declined to comment.

Officials with the S.C. Department of Transportation said they have had preliminary meetings with Costco for the site but have not received official site plans for approval.

The property is owned by Auston Park at Columbia, according to Richland County property records. The Blacksburg, Va.,-based company bought the land in 2006 for $2.7 million – a little more than $157,500 an acre.

Jones, who was involved in that land deal, said the developer originally wanted to build multi-family housing on the site. Then, the real estate market tanked during the Great Recession. In recent years, the land has been marketed to retailers, Jones said.

Efforts Tuesday to reach David Reemsnyder II – the registered agent for the land owner – were unsuccessful.

Amy Stuck, a retail agent with CBRE|Columbia, which is not involved in the deal, said Costco would be a great addition to Columbia’s retail landscape.

“They sell a quality of merchandise that is higher than what we typically find in our warehouse-type stores,” she said, including a larger focus on groceries and a more consistent product line.

“The feel when you go in is not that you are digging through a giant warehouse, but it’s a nice, clean environment,” CBRE|Columbia spokesman Ben Johnson said.

The store also will be good for workers, Johnson said. “They pay the workers higher than average retail salaries.”

Nearby property owners say they would be happy with a Costco next door.

“It would definitely increase the value of the property, the revenue (of nearby businesses),” said Tejas Mehta, owner of the adjacent Quality Inn on Piney Grove Road, who said he also would be a shopper.

“Competition is better for the consumers,” he said.