Barbara Pope of Napa likes Costco. Really, really likes Costco.
So much so that Pope decided to pack up her 2010 Honda Odyssey minivan and drive solo across the country to visit Costcos in every state that has one.
“I love it,” Pope said of shopping at Costco warehouse clubs.
Unlike what most people think, each Costco is different, Pope said. “I’m panning for gold,” she said. “I see all kinds of interesting things in the pan but I’m looking for that nugget or two that’s different from anything else.”
Drew Sakuma, a Costco Regional vice president, said this is the first time he’s heard of such a Costco odyssey.
However, he’s not too surprised. People that have the “Costco craze” tend to visit Costco’s wherever they are, he said.
“She’s just one of many members that feel excited about shopping at Costco,” he said.
“If I had the time I would love to do the same thing.”
This was a good time to hit the road, said Pope, age 47. She and her husband were nearing the end of a home remodel project and she was at a crossroads in her event planning business. Her husband, who works in appliance sales in St. Helena, supported the idea, as did her friends, she said.
“There was this excitement that I didn’t expect at all,” she said.
Pope said that a higher power also motivated her.
“I’m a woman of faith,” said Pope. While at first even she thought her idea was a bit ridiculous, “I believe God was telling me” to do this cross-country Costco road trip. “Over time, this trip started taking on a life of its own.”
Calling her journey “My Costco Odyssey,” Pope is documenting her trip on a new blog, Facebook page and other social media.
The idea to start the road trip started with a visit to see her brother, who had recently bought a home in Indiana. As she planned to drive east, Pope figured she could stop at Costco stores along the way for gas and check out what each one offered.
Because Napa doesn’t yet have its own Costco, Pope said she has always made it a point to stop at other Costcos when she’s out of town to see what each one offers. “I could be missing out on something really interesting.”
Depending on an area’s demographics, Costco sells different kinds of ethnic foods, which brings back memories of her childhood growing up in a multicultural area on the south side of Chicago. These ethnic selections remind her “a little bit of home,” she said.
She left Napa on Sept. 28. As of last week Pope had traveled more than 6,000 miles and visited more than 36 Costco stores in 19 states. This is just the tip of the Costco iceberg. As of Mon. Nov. 14, there are 499 Costcos in 44 states in the United States.
“There have been so many cool things that have happened along the way,” said Pope from a stop in Ohio.
For one, she’s met some Costco executives, including CEO Craig Jelinek.
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“He was super friendly,” she said. Jelinek said he thought her odyssey was a great idea “and joked that maybe he would join me. I told him there was room in my van,” she said.
She’s been invited to a number of Costco grand openings and other special events.
Pope said the biggest surprise from her trip “is just how cool people are.” She’s been invited to stay in locals’ homes and to join them on other outings.
The kindness and support of strangers has been unexpected, said Pope.
“The random people that I’ve been meeting along the way (outside of Costco) who encourage me by laughing with me at the seeming absurdity of a venture like this and embrace my excitement about it by taking it as their own – I’m amazed by this camaraderie.”
To stay organized, Pope said she goes to each Costco with her own version of a visit worksheet. First, she always makes sure to take a selfie at the store. Pope then notes how easy the store was to find, the range services offered (i.e. optometry, pharmacy, gas, tires, car wash, photo, hearing aids), the selection of local foods, organic food selection and any special local distinctions.
The clothing sold at each Costco is one big difference, she immediately noticed. For example, the boots that Costco sells in California are much more fashion oriented and less weather functional than those sold in cold weather states.
“In Montana, they have real snow boots,” she said. Those Costcos sell much more cold weather gear and specific outdoor equipment like bear resistant coolers and hunting supplies.
Pope said she doesn’t have a set budget for her trip, but “I’m trying to do things as inexpensively as possible,” staying with friends or family and occasionally using Airbnb.
By taking the rear seats out of her van, she fit a twin mattress into her vehicle. Parking at Walmarts overnight, she can sleep in her car, she said.
Pope said the most unusual thing she’s seen for sale was an ice fishing auger. The largest Costco she’s visited was in Salt Lake City.
“It’s the world’s largest Costco and I did not know that until I got there,” she said. But “I can believe it. I walked over 2.5 miles that day.”
Pope said her favorite Costco treat are blueberries and blackberries. “I love berries and they always have the best price.”
When asked about the best deal that Costco offers, Pope said that depends on the shopper.
“I think the best deal is always the deal you find there, Pope said. “That’s what it comes down to — what’s most important to you.”
Her larger goal is to earn income as a writer, said Pope.
“Hopefully my blog will get sponsors and advertisers so I can generate the income and stay home and do some writing.”
She might also be able to afford to do an international trip and visit Costcos in other states like Hawaii and Alaska.
“I’m going to go with this,” she said.