Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: For reasons that aren’t relevant to this query, I had occasion to be speaking with a commercial real estate agent with Keller Williams several months ago. I questioned him why there was no Costco in Asheville, even though I know of multiple individuals who make the trek to either the Greenville or the Spartanburg stores in South Carolina. His answer was that Costco had such specific site requirements that it was difficult to find an interesting location with which to induce them to come out of the Upstate. Fast forward, and last week I was in the Greenville Costco store to renew my membership, and I asked a manager why the company wouldn’t give us any respect. He replied that it wasn’t Costco that was holding things up, but rather Asheville. He claimed that Costco had presented over time several possible site plans, but had basically been denied consideration by the city and/or county. Who is prevaricating here?

My answer: I think “prevaricating” is kind of a strong term. How about we go with, “peddling bovine dooty?”

Real answer: Ah, ye olde Costco question!

This is a perennial source of discontent among western North Carolina residents, as they have to make the long trek to South Carolina to enjoy the many pleasures of buying 400 rolls of toilet paper in one package at a Costco. I’ve heard the complaints for decades, and done some digging in previous years.

This go-round, let’s start with the city of Asheville and Buncombe County. I’ve been in this area 27 years and don’t recall Costco getting to the application or site plan stage — at least not one that made the news — so I wanted to check with the city and county planning departments first.

“Certain companies and businesses do have specific market-based requirements, standards and prototypes,” Buncombe County Planning Director Nathan Pennington said via email. “Oftentimes, there is just not enough flat developable land in proximity to water and sewer to meet prototypical requirements for large box stores in our area.”

So, how about a formal application?

Pennington said the county has “not received any development applications for a Costco.”

“I cannot speak to or substantiate any personal observations, potential real estate deals, conversations or rumors that the inquirer has listed in the question that was posed to you,” Pennington added.

Dang it! I do love a good rumor confirmation …

Over at the city of Asheville, Chris Collins, Planning & Development Division manager, said the city’s answer is similar to the county’s “in that I am not aware of any development applications for Costco within our jurisdiction.

“The city does sometimes receive development applications that identify a use rather than a tenant name, so there is a chance that something would have been filed at some point without staff knowledge of a tenant for a retail store,” Collins said via email.

What’s Costco say?

I also reached out to a Costco Wholesale spokesperson for comment — and got just about the response I expected.

“Unfortunately, it is our company policy to not comment regarding future Costco warehouses until we are ready to share details about the new location,” the spokesperson said, noting that the time frame is usually 2-3 months in advance of a store coming in.

Based in Issaquah, Washington, Costco is an international retail company with 842 locations worldwide, including 579 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The company charges an annual membership fee to shop in its warehouse stores.

Costco rumors surface with regularity around here. In short, locals really want a store in Buncombe or Henderson counties.

But I’ve not heard that Costco has been shot down by city or county planners.

Neither has Alan Freeman, a broker with the Shopping Center Group, which often works with Costco to find appropriate sites. They’ve had informal talks with officials regarding sites, but Freeman said he’s not aware of Costco ever getting to the application stage in Asheville or Buncombe.

“We’ve looked in that area, but it’s a tough task to find a large enough site in the mountains,” Freeman said.

Costco does have “some interest in the market” here, but it has not secured a site, Freeman added.

Chris Gragtmans, a commercial real estate agent with Keller Williams, said many brokers have tried, himself included, to find a spot for Costco in the Asheville area. A number of brokers have tried all sorts of creative ways to find Costco a site, he said.

“There was a bullseye on the Crayton Road site in the Biltmore Village area,” Gragtmans said, referring to the spot where Mission Hospital is now building a new mental health hospital.

That site had some issues with stoplights being a certain distance from Interstate 40, though, and that was tough to overcome, Gragtmans said. In short, Costco did not locate there. 

“Costco has a template site plan, and they have national brokers who just crawl the market, and they drop that site plan onto things,” Gragtmans said. “Asheville is a tough market for Costco or any major player like that, because we’re very land-constrained, and because you need to have an 18- or 19-acre pancake site that they can drop their template on.”

Mountain topography plays a major role in this, as it’s tough to find large, flat sites close to interstates. 

“That site needs to have utilities, and it needs to check off all the different demographics requirements that Costco is going to have,” Gragtmans said, referring to population, spending per household and other factors all retailers look at before locating in an area. “In Asheville, we have mountains and rivers and rock. And then we have an 8,000, 9,000-acre property owner right in the middle of town (The Biltmore Estate). Then farther out you have public lands.”

Slow to pull the trigger in the past

Rusty Pulliam, president of Pulliam Properties, a commercial real estate company based in Asheville, said he’s talked with Costco’s brokers on several occasions about sites.

“But they dragged their feet several times and missed several sites,” Pulliam said, referring to Costco.

One site was the current location of Asheville Outlets, formerly Biltmore Square Mall. 

“That was the best place for a Costco around here,” Pulliam said, citing its proximity to Interstates 26, 40 and 240. “That’s the kind of site they’re looking for.”

In short, it’s not easy finding the ideal spot, but Gragtmans thinks Costco will keep looking in Asheville, as it’s a growing area with plenty of potential customers. He suspects Buncombe County would be the prime choice, mainly because it’s the population center, but he also said Henderson County could work, as the two counties are “kind of blending together.”

“A Costco would draw from a large area, and people would travel to it, just like they do for the (Asheville) Outlets,” Gragtmans said.

So for now, enjoy the drive to South Carolina to get your Costco fix!


Got a question? Reach out to Asheville Watchdog Answer Man John Boyle at (828) 337-0941 or email him at jboyle@avlwatchdog.org

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28 Comments

  1. Why can’t Costco consider Hendersonville as a place for their store? A great place would be the vacant property on the west side of I-29 and Four Seasons (64).

  2. Asheville makes it hard on businesses who want to come here. The leadership even makes it hard for businesses who want to stay.
    Matter of fact we could have had BMW years ago but the city would not work with them.
    We have had friends who owned businesses that stated The leadership makes it hard

    1. Seems a rather oversimplification when I see Chik fil as, dollar generals, family dollars, walmarts, hotels popping up like weeds while huge ex-box stores sit empty. Anyone been to the at home on brevard? it’s huge.

  3. How about E Asheville to Black Mountain? Before Ingles owns everything….they need some real competion..Costco would be awesome. Here would draw surrounding areas, as well

  4. Costco has a store in San Francisco on a five acre lot. Three acres are occupied by the building, and the rest is parking, in a parking structure.

  5. It seems there is plenty of property at the old Enka plant site, to build a Costco. Why not there? It seems Amazon isn’t going to build on it.

  6. John,
    Thank you SO much!! I have followed you for quite some time. I followed Larry Pope
    as sports editor of the Asheville Citizen Times. This is where I started reading your must read stories. Yes, I know the C-T is a joke now! Glad you found avlwatchdog.org
    You are the best of the best! God bless you, sir

  7. I heard Costco had a lot here, then sold it. They decided it would cannabilize sales in Spartanburg and Greenville. Customers, like me, would stop going down there, and new customers here wouldn’t make up the difference.

    1. They don’t apparently follow the walmart model of not caring at all if the cannibalize a store just three miles away

    2. It always perplexed me what sane retailer or wholesale warehouse in this instance, would build two outlets within 25 miles of each other. So has anyone telegraphed Costco about the now defunct Amazon site in Enka? I’m certain it would satisfy any template Costco might care to throw down on that piece of land. It’s not that. Costco doesn’t want to cannabalize their two SC stores. They’re quite happy for their customers to drive a two hour round trip, burning unnecessary gas and having to deal with traffic just to go to one of their two Upstate stores. Since Cisco Corporate thinks so little of me as a potential customer, I can just decide Costco isn’t my cup of tea for my dollars.

  8. Swannanoa NC has the old Beacon manufacturing site that would be a wonderful place for Costco! Great access to I-40 and located in the county. Would not have to deal with Asheville city red tape!

  9. It’s great reading your informative columns again John! After dropping my longtime subscription to ACT I was pleased to hear you joined this group. AVL Watchdog got a steal – kinda like the 49ers getting C McCaffrey.

  10. I’ve been following Costco rumors for years now and hope each day to hear the news they have chosen a site in Asheville! How about the old Sears on Tunnel rd? Seems large enough. Have they looked here?

  11. I am very familiar with retail site selection and yes retailers have very specific parameters about the physical location of their facilities, Costco included. But, in most cases market demand will over-ride the physical demands. Yes, Costco would love to have a site on or near an Interstate Highway, with direct highway access and they would prefer to have great visibility. If you look at existing Costco locations, about 30% do not meet those parameters. A few examples are:
    Milford CT – Not near I-95 and has no visibility
    Brentwood TN – Several blocks off of I-65 with limited visibility
    Eden Prairie MN – Near I-494, high on a hill with zero visibility
    St. Louis Park MN – Near I-394, set back several blocks with no highway visibility
    Glenview IL – 4 miles east of I-294 & 4 miles west of I-94
    Mt Prospect IL – 6 miles off of I-294, set in the back of a large retail development
    Pleasant Prairie WI – About 4 miles east of I-94, set behind a cluster of retail shops
    Greenville SC – Is near I-385 but has very limited visibility from Woodruff Road

    The greater Asheville/Hendersonville metro market offers a great opportunity for Costco. When you look at existing big box retailers that have located here, most have no or limited visibility. Look at Home Depot, Target, Sam’s Club and others. People know how to find them and they are quite busy.

    The demand for Costco is here, we need to develop a comprehensive program to better attract them to the “metro area”.

    1. I would 100% agree that the demand for Costco is here. It may cost more to develop the necessary land, but I have no doubts it could be one of their busiest stores in NC. I posted this article on Asheville’s Reddit this morning and it already has 25 comments supporting the big box retailer in the mountains.

      What are some steps individuals can do/take to pressure the decision makers to pull the trigger and build one for us in Asheville? Any ideas?

  12. There seems to be a lot of real estate in the Airport Roda/Boylston Highway corridor…not too far off the highway, either. North (West) off 26 might be a decent area as well, and they could pull in all the Eastern Tennessee folks.

    1. I’m guessing you’re right. Just like Vail/BC, have the costco at the airport (@Eagle) for all those families coming back to their second home. (over 50% of our housing) It’s the bullseye for Hendersonville, Brevard & AvL!

  13. I thought the site that is now the new Hobby Lobby off I26 in Weaverville was perfect.

    There is a Costco in Winston-Salem that is smaller than the Costcos in Charlotte and Matthews.

  14. We moved from MD to this area 2 1/2 years ago and I was hoping we’d have a Costco nearby to our “forever home”. I spoke with the manager of the Greenville and Spartanburg Costco stores and they both said the same thing, that it was not the governments in Asheville or Buncombe Counties keeping them from developing a store near us, that they needed a minimum 20 acre site of mostly flat land to make the project meet their standards, and sites like that aren’t available here. I see there’s a Carmax being developed on the former Toys R Us site; but I guess that site would not fit the Costco bill…

  15. I’ve had a Costco membership for over 25 years, since I lived across the street from one in Arlington, Virginia. It wasn’t a 20-acre site, was located next to a busy mall, and was extremely busy. I also occasionally shop at Costco in Charleston, which is actually hard to fund if you don’t know the area. But, since moving to the Asheville, I have yet to drive to the Upstate for shopping. I can’t imagine the two stores that are 25 miles apart have enough business from Asheville to make that much of a difference. But I do wonder if Sam’s Club actively discourages our local governments from recruiting Costco here. It seems that’s who would lose business.

  16. I moved from Greenville, SC to Asheville three years ago. Besides not having Costco I have noticed one other major oddity. There are no Qtrips, Sheets, Wawas
    or Spinx or anything similar to what Greenville, Charlotte or even Hickory has. These 24hr convenience type stores are very clean, well stocked with hot food and the employees are generally well trained. Most, if not all, have touch screen menus to order a variety of popular food items made hot and fresh. My feeling is Ingles and maybe Shell does not want these convenient stores coming to town because it would put a big dent in their business. Asheville residents are losing a great service! But if you’ve never had it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Would like feedback to see how others feel.

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