Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise appearance Thursday morning at the opening of the District's first Costco.
Wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses, Biden entered the store to cheers from the crowd, pausing at the door to remove the sunglasses and speak with several shoppers and employees.
He made a point to display his own Costco card before employee Ivey Stewart guided him through the store at 2441 Market St. NE.
The VP filled his shopping cart with childrens' books, fire logs, a 32-inch Panasonic TV, and a big apple pie. He also paused to chow down on some food samples -- and let another employee wipe crumbs off his face.
Biden also spent considerable time at a counter looking at watches, and called his daughter, Ashley, saying he needed to "get some guidance."
But he couldn't be lured into automotive department: "Hey man, I don't need tires," he told employees. "I don't drive anymore."
The store was packed with shoppers who whipped out smartphones to snap photos of the vice presidential shopping trip. Biden spoke with many of them, including several Delaware natives who got big hugs.
While shopping, Biden said he is calling on Congress to extend the Bush-era middle class tax cuts, saying that "consumer confidence is growing; the last thing we need to do is dash that."
He said that he'd talked to people around the store who don't want to see their taxes increase. "It's important Congress acts now, right now," he said.
Biden also met with Costco co-founder and former CEO James Sinegal, who thanked him for being there.
"Are you kidding me?" an affable Biden responded. "We go to your store between Stanton and Newark in Delaware...all the time."
He again pulled out a Costco card, this time showing reporters. "In all honesty," he said, "I didn't have my own card. Jill wouldn't let me. So I went to get my wife's card, and she said, 'No, no, no, no, get your own'."
The White House confirmed that the Bidens have been Costco members in the past, and re-activated their Costco memberships yesterday, paying a $55 fee for new cards.
D.C.'s new Costco is anchoring the new Shops at Dakota Crossing in Northeast's Fort Lincoln neighborhood. The complex is expecting to gain a Shoppers Food Warehouse and a Marshall's, according to its website, with more retail planned but yet to be announced.
Mayor Vincent Gray was on hand for the morning's ribbon-cutting. "We did the inital recruiting, the initial screenings, and then [Costco] came to our Office of Employment Services with their leaders and actually finished the interviews and hired people right on the spot," he told News4's Tony Tull.
The Costco brings 275 new jobs to the city
The opening of the city's first Costco is a big deal for local officials, who have long mourned $1 billion of annual retail leakage -- essentially, money that D.C. residents spend at stores outside of the city. According to the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the Shops at Dakota Crossing are expected to bring in $634 million in tax revenue over 30 years.
"This is a godsend, because... to go across the bridge, go out to Route 1 or down to Clinton" is a long trip," said one long-time resident of the area. "It's about time that we had it here, and there are other stores that I think are coming. We deserve it."
But with all the fanfare, there is some concern. Owners of small local stores are worried about competition from big-box stores. "There's already enough establishments in D.C. as it is," one shop owner told Tull, "and we don't need bigger fish to eat up the small fish."
And some nearby residents are fighting the development of a Shoppers Food Warehouse.
"The community is fighting very hard to find a more acceptable alternative to the Shoppers...," neighborhood resident Andrew Keenan writes in an email. "The community is lukewarm to Marshall's, but is looking forward to smaller retail that is expected to open in mid-2013 and include several sit-down restaurants."
Kennan added that while the neighborhood is excited about gaining a grocery store, "we prefer something with a better selection of products than a Shoppers."
While the 154,000-square-foot store is the first in the District, there are 450 others across the country, including locations in Arlington, Springfield, Beltsville and Lanham.
The new Costco is one in a string of big-box discount retailers opening here. The city's first Target opened in 2008. Six Walmart locations are expected to open over the next few years, although their impending arrival has met with opposition from some residents.