Costco opens to much fanfare in Bradenton. Here’s what we learned about the store

They arrived early. Some for the hard-to-get Van Winkle bourbon. Or maybe the $5,299.99 Chanel handbags.

Others came for the deals on necessities such as bottled water and toilet paper.

Whatever their mission, a universal priority seemed to be to try the generous food samples that beckoned at the new Bradenton Costco, which opened for the first time at 8 a.m. Wednesday at 805 Lighthouse Dr.

“I have been shopping at Costco my whole life,” Miles Ortmeyer said as he sampled an offering of prime sirloin. “Their food court is the best.”

Elaine Noce and her brother Ron were among those at the head of the line early Wednesday, waiting for the doors to open.

“I am a Costco-holic. I’ve been a member since 1985. This is wonderful being so close to my home in Lakewood Ranch,” Elaine Noce said. “Now, we just need a Trader Joe’s and I’ll be happy.”

Miles Ortmeyer sampled the prime sirloin on opening day at the new Bradenton Costco Wholesale warehouse on Wednesday. James A. Jones Jr.

Their morning at Costco brought samples of coffee, croissants, rotisserie chicken and hickory smoked garlic Kielbasa sausage.

“I’m stuffed,” Ron Noce said after running the food gauntlet.

Experienced Costco shoppers such as Ortmeyer and Elaine Noce know the brand well.

But others found the experience a revelation. Some observations:

The new warehouse is vast, measuring 155,000 square feet, and has plenty of deals, especially on bulk products and gasoline. Despite the size, the crowd seemed to quickly zero in on the back of the store, where the bakery, produce, seafood and meat departments are located. That’s also where the greatest concentration of food samples can be found.

Food sampling is a Costco Wholesale tradition. A shopper samples the Kielbasa smoked sausage at the opening of the new Bradenton warehouse. James A. Jones Jr.

You may not be in the market for a Chanel pocketbook or a top-of-the-line Rolex watch, but it’s an experience to lay eyes on a collection of these high-end items. As one shopper said, “If I had one of those pocketbooks, I’d like to have a little money left over to put in there.”

The location is driver friendly. The intersection of State Road 64 and Interstate 75 may be the easiest to navigate of any I-75 junction in Manatee County. The Costco parking lot is spacious. The parking spots are over-sized to prevent parking lot dings. And the 18 gasoline pumps are conveniently located.

The first shoppers at the new Bradenton Costco Wholesale move into the warehouse in a wave three shopping carts wide on Wednesday. James A. Jones Jr.

Did we say that there are plenty of food samples? Several shoppers said they skipped breakfast knowing there would be plenty to eat, offered by smiling vendors and Costco staff.

At Costco, you can start — or end — with the $1.50 all-beef hot dog and 20-ounce soda with refills.

Hector Mencia, the warehouse’s general manager, seemed pleased with the opening rollout that had the parking lot full by 9:30 a.m.

Some of the rare spirits sold at the Costco liquor store are hard to get, and Van Winkle followers were among the earliest arrivals for the opening, hoping to score a bottle or two.

Elaine Noce, right, awaits the opening of the the new Bradenton Costco Wholesale warehouse on Wednesday at Heritage Harbour. James A. Jones Jr.

They came even earlier than Sami Salvatori and Traci Vagrin, who arrived at the main entrance at 6:30 a.m. and were first in line, waiting for the store to open.

“We’re big Costco fans; we’re executive club members,” Salvatori said. “We came for just a little adventure.”

First-time Costco shopper Robin Phaneuf was caught up in the frenzy as well.

“We heard everyone say how excited they were that Costco was opening in Bradenton. I came today to see what the big deal is,” Phaneuf said, adding that trying the food samples was high on her list.

A baker at the new Bradenton Costco Wholesale was making dinner rolls Wednesday morning. James A. Jones Jr.

Amy Maring and her sister Sue Hunter came to check what the electronics shelves had to offer and look for unusual Christmas gifts.

“You find unique things here that other stores don’t have,” Hunter said.

“I try to get started early,” Maring said. “This is our thing. We buy a lot of groceries, too.”

Costco carries a wide selection of food products, Mencia said, adding that the company has such an appetite for organics that vendors sometimes have a challenge providing the quantities needed.

The $1.50 all-beef hot dog with a 20-ounce soda is a popular offering at Costco Wholesale. James A. Jones Jr.

The new store is open from 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday.

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