Americans and Canadians Fight Over Washington Costco

A Facebook page demanding 'Americans-only' opening hours at the local big-box retailer highlights a growing conflict between U.S. and Canadian shoppers.

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Mike Blake / Reuters

This Costco warehouse scene is the opposite of what shoppers in Bellingham, Wash., are experiencing.

Folks in Whatcom County are calling it an invasion. Here in the far northwest corner of Washington state, just across the border from  Vancouver, B.C., locals are complaining that Canadians are coming south in droves to shop at the local big-box discount stores. Flush with newly powerful Canadian dollars, they’re clogging checkout lines, blocking aisles and taking up parking spots  at the Bellingham, Wash., Costco, filling the overcrowded store to capacity with frustrated shoppers from both countries.

Costco, in an effort to control a Canadian-led run on gasoline, milk and a variety of other products that are currently drastically cheaper in the U.S. than Canada, has had to hire off-duty police officers to keep the peace in the parking lot as drivers sometimes literally fight for the few empty spots.

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Inevitably, some Washingtonians are calling for Costco to institute a kind of immigration reform, starting a Facebook page calling for American-only hours. With over 3,000 “likes” so far, the page is catching on, even if Costco officials, some locals and (certainly) Canadian shoppers aren’t keen on the idea.

Costco has hired more workers and changed store hours to help ease the  crush, officials tell CBS News. But lines are still extremely long, with the wait to fuel up at the store’s gas pumps routinely more than 30 minutes, as Canadians fill up not only their vehicle’s gasoline tank but also various oversized containers stashed in the trunk for later use. (Gasoline in British Columbia, according to the price-tracking website GasBuddy.com, averages nearly $5 a gallon, compared to $3.89 a gallon over the border in Washington.)

Milk runs are common too. A popular video shows 172 gallons of milk gobbled up in less than a minute. Costco workers didn’t even bother loading the containers it into coolers, simply dropping the pallets on the newly created dairy room floor.

While some shoppers are frustrated with what they see as the invading neighbors from B.C., others point out that the Canadians are coming over the border to spend money, which boosts the local economy.

Ken Oplinger, president of Whatcom county’s chamber of commerce, says he has done what he can to increase cross-border shopping, not limit it.

Costco says it won’t consider starting American-only shopping hours, but the Washington-based company is in a highly publicized search to find a spot to build a larger store, one that can accommodate both Americans and Canadians. Who says this continent isn’t big enough for the both of us?

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