Costco Wholesale Corp. says it will start accepting food stamps at its warehouse clubs nationwide after testing them at stores in New York.
It's a big about-face for a retailer that has catered to bargain-hunting but affluent shoppers, and it's a sign of the grim reality facing retailers and their customers. The number of Americans relying on government food subsidies to eat recently hit a record 36 million.
Executives said they had doubted that many customers in the New York test would use food stamps, but it turned out that new members said they were joining precisely because the Issaquah, Wash., company accepted the assistance program.
Costco said it hoped to accept food stamps at half of its 407 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico by Thanksgiving and at the remainder as soon as it wins regulatory approval in each state.