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Now Open: Free Food, Expensive Parking at Costco

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Curbed editor Joey Arak visited the brand-new Costco at the East River Plaza in East Harlem this weekend and was so inspired that he wrote us an opening report. What follows is the first installment of Arak on Racked, an intermittent new series.

Image via Gracenotes NYC

Like an atomic bomb dropped on East Harlem, Manhattan's first Costco superstore opened in the new East River Plaza big-box mall on Thursday (Target, Marshall's, Best Buy, Petsmart and Bob's Discount Furniture all coming soon). In the rest of the country, Costco is the #1 spot for picking up both chocolate muffins and boxer shorts, and we're happy to report that this Costco has the same selection—plus LCD TVs, Burberry bags, fresh ground beef, 10-lb jars of mayo, Ugg boots, karaoke machines, cheesecake, pregnancy tests, $40 Kenneth Cole wool coats, and 16-roll bundles of toilet paper.

A quick drive up the FDR leads you right to East River Plaza's massive parking garage (the big ugly thing seen growing along the highway for the past few years). The nearest subway stop, at 116th and Lexington, can't really be called "close," and besides, you're going to need wheels to carry all that bulk home. The mood was festive outside the store: The Hot 97 street team was on the scene blasting the hits, and Costco employees were handing out free cookies to those waiting in line to sign up for a membership card. The options are 50 for a year, or $100 per year for the "Executive" level (which includes 2% off your total purchases). Sign up by the end of the year and you instantly get a $10 Costco gift card for basic membership, or $25 for being an, uh, Executive.

Maybe because the sign-up process controlled the flow—the wait and the membership processing took about a half-hour in total—the store wasn't an absolute madhouse. It's the typical one-floor warehouse layout with stuff stacked to the ceiling that you've seen in any Costco or similar store. It also has that trademark Costco "Land of the Giants" feel, because everything (including the shopping carts) is at least 30% bigger than you're used to seeing. Seriously, who needs that much Tang?

Speaking of Tang, it was all about the free samples, orangey powdery goodness included. Planning a trek up to Costco? Go hungry. Practically every aisle had some sort of demo/freebie going on, and here's a partial list on what was being handed out on Saturday: Coffee, peanuts, meatballs, brie, Italian sausage, shrimp tempura, veggie stix snacks, chicken egg rolls, brussels sprouts, instant mashed potatoes (yum, btw), tortilla chips and salsa and some weird weight loss beverage. There was a big stink when Costco announced it wouldn't be accepting food stamps—a decision that was later reversed amid much neighborhood outcry—but they're basically feeding El Barrio for free, anyway.

There's also a little fast food café area near the registers for those who didn't get their fill in the aisles, but if you're hankering for a hot dog when it's all said and done, well, then you really didn't do something right. Checkout was a breeze and all the employees were super friendly and grateful to the point of creepiness, but maybe they're just as happy as I am about those chocolate muffins. Unfortunately, despite the low prices, you can't help but feel ripped off when you leave. Turns out it's $5 per hour to park. Maybe that's not so surprising considering Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is an East River Plaza investor. Gotta pay for that Nets arena somehow, right?
· Construction Watch: East Harlem's Gigantic Mall Thing [Curbed]
· RackedWire: Chanel at Costco [Racked]