Costco flirting with Columbia again

Costco – long considered by shoppers the most-sought-after retailer that is absent from the Midlands – again is working on opening a store in the Columbia area, Richland County officials told The State.

The Issaquah, Wash.,-based warehouse chain is eying the same 17-acre site –at Piney Grove and Fernandina roads, near Harbison – that it considered in 2013, Richland County Councilmen Greg Pearce and Seth Rose said Thursday.

The 2013 deal, brokered by a Mount Pleasant real estate commercial developer, fell apart when County Council balked at meeting demands for incentives to pay for road improvements.

Richland County was ready to give Costco $3 million, unusual because the county does not typically offer economic incentives to retailers. But the developer suggested $10 million — a deal-breaking amount for county leaders.

Now, Costco is back.

Store officials have started working with Richland County’s planning department to get permits for the site, the councilmen and a county spokeswoman said.

Costco has not requested economic incentives, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris said.

During talks with Richland County in 2013, the developer working with Costco said the store would hire more than 200 workers and generate $7 million a year in sales taxes.

A Costco spokesman said Thursday the company does not comment on potential locations.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he understands the store, which requires shoppers to buy annual memberships, plans to open in fall 2016.

Costco has four S.C. stores – in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Spartanburg. The new location would be the chain’s first in the state in nearly a decade.

Costco would be a rival for Sam’s Club, which has two Columbia-area stores, including one in the Harbison area.

The 17-acre site being eyed by Costco is owned by Blacksburg, Va.,-based Auston Park at Columbia, which has an address at the corporate headquarters for real estate developer HHHunt. Efforts to reach HHHunt, which paid $2.7 million for the site in 2006, were unsuccessful Thursday.

News of Costco’s possible impending arrival was a cause for celebration among area politicians.

“Costco will bring jobs, good wages and another choice for consumers,” Rose said.

Pearce joked about being able to buy Costco’s famous shrimp salad.

Benjamin said adding the warehouse store would bring prestige to the Midlands.

“Your talking about being a 21st-century community and having all the amenities that people expect,” he said.

The next retailer on Benjamin’s list of sought-after retailers that the Midlands is missing is an Apple store. For years, Apple has been rumored to be looking at a site in Five Points, near the University of South Carolina campus.

CORRECTION: Story has been updated to reflect that South Carolina has four Costco locations.

What’s is Costco?

The warehouse retailer at a glance

Sells: Groceries, candy, appliances, electronics, tires, toys, hardware, sporting goods, jewelry, watches, cameras, books, housewares, apparel, health products, tobacco, furniture and office supplies

Membership cost: $55 to $110 a year

Number of memberships: 78.7 million worldwide

Number of warehouses: 672 worldwide, including four in South Carolina in Charleston, Spartanburg, Greenville and Myrtle Beach

Warehouse size: Average of 143,700 square feet, the equivalent of 21/2 football fields

Number of employees: 189,000 worldwide