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updated: 11/16/2010 9:06 PM

Once controversial, Costco opening now welcome in Mettawa

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  • Bakery manager Janet Behrick decorates chocolate cakes in preparation for the Saturday opening of Costco in Mettawa.

       Bakery manager Janet Behrick decorates chocolate cakes in preparation for the Saturday opening of Costco in Mettawa.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Linda Garcia-Martinez folds clothes in preparation for the opening Saturday of a Costco store in Mettawa.

       Linda Garcia-Martinez folds clothes in preparation for the opening Saturday of a Costco store in Mettawa.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • The Costco warehouse store at Route 60 and the Tri-State Tollway in Mettawa will open to the public at 8 a.m. Saturday.

       The Costco warehouse store at Route 60 and the Tri-State Tollway in Mettawa will open to the public at 8 a.m. Saturday.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 

Relocating hundreds of small fish last spring was the first gesture that led Mettawa resident Mark Meluso to regard a new neighbor with less animosity than he had felt in years.

And now that the Costco Wholesale Corp. store is complete and set to open Saturday, Meluso and other one-time opponents are looking forward to the event.

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"Actually, I'm really happy about it," said Meluso, who lives across Riverwoods Road, about 1,000 feet away from Costco's 16 gas pumps.

Instead of disposing of the fish as the site was being prepared, Costco worked with local interests to find them new homes in backyard ponds.

"They've been very respectful of us as neighbors," Meluso said. "They've done everything they can to make a big box store less intrusive."

Village officials are also happy about the estimated $1 million in sales tax revenue the store will generate yearly. Proceeds could be used to improve roads, enhance open space, help extend Lake Michigan water to parts of the village or increase property tax rebates to residents.

The village shares revenues from the Lake Forest oasis and sales tax from transactions recorded by computer giant CDW, but this is the first general retail operation in town.

"No question, it's a change from anything we've done in the past," said Mayor Jess Ray, who acknowledges some residents still have hard feelings about the store.

Big boxes long have been common on the suburban landscape, but for Mettawa, a rural enclave of about 400 residents, the arrival of Costco divided the town.

In 2009, store opponents launched challenges for mayor and some trustee spots in one of the few contested elections in the village's 50-year history.

As a mayoral candidate, Ray campaigned against the retailer and sued the village and Costco over what he described as secretive dealings. The vote resulted in a rare tie between Ray and longtime incumbent Barry MacLean, with Ray being declared the winner two weeks later.

The suit was settled last February, clearing the path for Costco to begin construction on a 22-acre site at Route 60 and the Tri-State Tollway.

A second lawsuit brought by the land's former owner was dismissed.

"I think we're anxious and excited about what Costco in the village means," Ray said. "The fight really produced a value for the residents, long term."

Besides being reimbursed $110,000 for legal fees and about $1 million to have sewer service extended, the village negotiated other improvements that include a 10-foot-high berm and heavy plantings to soften the look along Riverwoods Road.

Ray said he was told by the company that the Mettawa site has about a third more landscaping than any other store.

"It's pushing close to 800 trees and close to 3,000 shrubs," Troy Rea, warehouse manager for Costco, said of the landscaping plan. The project also includes an enormous vault beneath the main parking lot to store water.

About 200 will be employed at the Mettawa facility, one of three opening in the span of a week. Others debut in Bolingbrook and Melrose Park, and a fourth new store is scheduled to open Nov. 23 in Minnesota.

At 152,000 square feet, the Mettawa Costco is a bit larger than others. A separate cooler for dairy products is a new feature, and, to start, the store will carry some high-end jewelry, clothing and other merchandise, according to Rea.

"I think we'll be able to do some wonderful things in the village with the tax dollars," said Larry Falbe, one of two village trustees who had voted against the store.

At the time, he contended the village hadn't done a good enough job addressing residents' concerns, although he considered it a good project in the right spot.

"I'll be the first one in line," he said of the opening.

Opening: Mettawa Costco larger than others

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