Ahead of Friday's opening, people crowd into Costco for preview, free food

Leah Maines, right, of Georgetown spotted a Louis Vuitton brand as she and daughter Elizabeth Maines perused designer handbags during Thursday's preview.
Leah Maines, right, of Georgetown spotted a Louis Vuitton brand as she and daughter Elizabeth Maines perused designer handbags during Thursday's preview. Herald-Leader

Three things bring out the Lexington crowds: a Wildcats game, a fancy new restaurant and a huge new store — particularly if that store is giving away free food samples.

In just more than an hour and without so much as a single item being rung up, more than 3,200 filed into a preview of Lexington's first Costco Wholesale warehouse on Thursday evening. Registers open on Friday morning at 8 a.m.

Hamburg developer Patrick Madden cruised the aisles along with his mother, socialite Anita Madden, who wore an aqua ensemble. Other browsers were more intrigued with the mountains of free food, including hot dogs, beef brisket, meatballs, chicken, cake, pie, pizza and smoothies.

Costco has 159,000 square feet and will employ 190.

Cars filled the lot on Thursday night and spilled over into surrounding streets and makeshift parking spots within the lot. Police directed traffic around Man o' War Boulevard.

Michelle Humfleet of Lexington said she was impressed that the food preparers even accommodated her gluten intolerance.

"They were really nice and the food is terrific," she said

Manager Jeff Stohlmann said that the evening "went incredibly well. We're excited to be in the Lexington market."

Stohlman has worked for Costco for 30 years, most recently in Louisville.

The store will stock 3,800 to 4,000 different products including brands such as Callaway Golf, Carter's, Champion, Disney, Dom Perignon, General Mills, KitchenAid, Kraft, Michelin, Panasonic, Samsonite, Samsung, Sharp and Sony.

The store includes a gas station, bakery, fresh meat and produce, deli, optical department, one-hour photo, pharmacy, tire center, hearing-aid center, wine and liquor, and food court. Membership fees are $55 a year for a basic individual or business membership, with an additional $55 annually for an "Executive Membership," which comes with an annual two percent reward on qualified Costco purchases.

Before the store came to town, Lexington had 1,300 Costco members who had to travel to Louisville or Ohio for their particular brand of warehouse shopping.

Sam's Club, the city's other warehouse store, plans no special promotions to compete with the new store. Sam's opened in December 1991, with 130,000 square feet.

The last time Lexington had two membership warehouse stores was in 1992, when Sam's Club had just opened and the now-defunct Pace Membership store was still open off Richmond Road. Pace opened in 1986 and closed in late 1993.

Phyllis and Michael Breeden of Lexington just joined Costco. They came Thursday evening to check out the vendor food samples and scope out the store.

"It's a good chance to look around," Michael Breeden said.

Linda Black of Lexington said she had never been to Costco: "I'm curious to see the difference between them and Sam's Club."

Costco's home office is in Issaquah, Wash. The company is traded on NASDAQ under the symbol COST.

The Lexington store is the 457th in the U.S. and 641st worldwide. Costco has 71 million cardholders worldwide.