Many local residents have been as excited about Costco opening in Hiroshima as local supermarkets and mail order companies like Flying Pig have no doubt been worried. However, with the store finally due to open on March 23, excitement and goodwill towards the company have been tempered by the announcement of some extraordinary parking charges.
Parking at the warehouse retail outlets, customers of which must pay a membership fee, is generally free. In Hiroshima, however, parking will be charged at a wallet trashing ¥3000 an hour. Customers who spend ¥5000 will receive one hour of free parking and those who spend over ¥10,000 will get two hours. The Chugoku Shinbun describes the high parking fees are a desperate measure to try and control the inevitable congestion that the new store will cause. It will also, of course, help to stop baseball fans going to the neighboring Mazda Stadium from using some of the store’s 1050 parking spaces on game days.
The manager of the Hiroshima store is quoted as saying, “The parking prices may seem extreme, but we had to do create some kind of barrier to entry.” The manager also expresses concern, however, that the parking fees will reduce customer numbers to a store which relies on people coming in cars so they can haul home Costco’s wholesale goods.
Local Japanese blogs have lit up on the issue since the Chugoku Shinbun report earlier this week. Comments ranging from the xenophobic, “That’s just like the Americans!” to the glib, “Who ever heard of a VIP wholsesale market?” . Other Costco fans who have been waiting expectantly for the opening for many months, are dismayed and disappointed. Some have posted tips on strategies on how to get in, around, and out in a limited time so as not to get hit by a ¥3000 surcharge (spend ¥5000 but leave the car park 61 minutes after you entered and you’ll be charged 1 hour’s parking). Many more have thrown their hands up in dismay, saying that the charges will make it impossible for them to fully enjoy the “Costco experience”.
At the opening of other stores around Japan, parking lots have been full well before doors opened and customers have faced long lines to get into the parking, get into the store, get to the registers to pay, and ,finally, to get back home. Whether the extraordinary parking charges will ameliorate this is yet to be seen. Perhaps thousands of Hiroshima residents will descend on the store on an endless convoy of mama chari bicycles to go have a look around and buy nothing other than one of Costco’s highly nutritious hotdogs and bag of chips the size of a small child to take home in their basket.
All of this, of course, begs the question, why the heck did they choose to put the store so near the city center, right next to a huge sports stadium, in the first place? At any rate, if, come March 23, customers are hit with huge parking bills after a spending most of their day waiting in line to buy canned goods, it might well be worth heading down there, Fresta-bought bento slung over handle bars, and sitting back to enjoy the fireoworks.