costco toronto

The lineups outside Costco stores in Toronto are ridiculous right now

There are few places in the world that sell 114 oz bottles of ketchup and 64-packs of granola bars alongside flatscreen TVs and designer sunglasses, but Costco has got that market on lock.

Consumers haven't been able to get enough of the membership-only warehouse chain since it launched in Canada some 34 years ago and the threat of a global pandemic hasn't changed that a bit.

In fact, COVID-19 has only made shoppers thirstier for value-priced bulk wares as they prepare to hunker down in self-isolation.

With Doug Ford's recent announcement that Ontario will remain in a state of emergency for at least another month, big box fans are once again flocking to Costco to load up — and the lines to get into GTA stores this time are now even longer than what we saw during the first "panic shopping" spree.

"It would take two hours to get into the Costco right now, easily," said shopper Jeremy Anderson, who shot the video above outside a Costco just off the QEW in Etobicoke.

Anderson, an essential worker who arrived around 7:50 a.m. to take his 74-year-old father shopping, said by phone after leaving the store on Tuesday that he'd never seen a Costco so busy in his life — not even during the initial phase of coronavirus lockdown prep.

"The lineup now goes from where you'd normally enter, all the way across the east, south, west and north, encircling the Costco, he explained.

"People are starting to panic now after they announced the extra 28 days [of COVID-19 orders]," said Anderson, noting that many newly-unemployed people had just received cheques for $2,000 (or more) through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

"I think this all this week it will be like this," he said. "I think people are kind of panic buying again. It was never this busy before."

Anderson isn't the only one who has remarked upon just how busy Costco parking lots in and around Toronto have been over the past few days.

"I just waited longer in line to get into Costco than I have ever waited to get into any club in my life," joked one Toronto Twitter user on Wednesday.

"The lineup to get into Costco spans the whole lot... with dividers like your see at an amusement park ride," wrote another on Tuesday.

"I'd need a fucking helicopter to fully capture the line at Costco right now," wrote another still.

It's safe to say, based on what shoppers are reporting and my own personal experience, that the lines at most Cosctos in Toronto are perpetually massive right now — but also that Costco is doing an excellent job of keeping people safe and distant within the store itself.

"I tell ya, when you got in there, you were able to walk up and down the aisles and not bump into people because the aisles are so wide. At some grocery stores you're shoulder to shoulder," said Anderson of shopping at Costco.

"It felt quite safe to shop in there this morning... they're running a tight ship."

Anderson called Costco's check-out process "impressive," explaining that three employees are on hand to help each customer at the register. They handle everything from scanning to bagging from behind plastic baricades.

"You don’t even get near those people," he said of the employees. "They've got it pretty down pat there. They kept an eye on how many people were in the store, one in one out. They're doing quite well."

When asked about how much, if at all, customer volumes have increased since the pandemic hit, Costco's corporate communications department referred me to the "coronavirus updates" page of their website.

"We've experienced a surge of business during this time," reads a letter posted there by the company's CEO, Craig Jelinek.  "As a result, we've taken steps to control the number of members in our warehouses and asked that members and employees practice social distancing."

"We've increased our protocols in sanitizing surfaces, including shopping cart handles, merchandise shelves, front-end belts and registers. Limits have been implemented on certain items to help ensure more members are able to access the merchandise they want and need," the letter continues.

"Our buyers and suppliers are working to ensure in-demand merchandise as well as everyday favourites are available in our warehouses."

Many of Costco's Ontario stores indeed remain well-stocked, according to customers — save for PPE and things like toilet paper and paper towel, both of which are currently subject to a one-per-customer policy.

"There's no sanitizer, masks, gloves... they're completely out of PPE stuff," said Anderson of the Etobicoke Costco late Tuesday morning. "But everything else was plentiful — lots of fruit and produce."

For some Toronto residents, it's well worth the wait to buy everything they need and want in one place. 

Others, such as me, would rather take their chances online than wait in line for anything.

You can try to check ahead and see how long the wait to get in is at your closest Costco store using this new live lineup tracker, but be forewarned that it often doesn't load and doesn't really work most of the time, likely due to a recent influx of traffic.

Lead photo by

David P. Church

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