7 now-defunct membership-only retailers that burst onto the scene before Costco or Sam's Club

Costaricky/Wikimedia CommonsThese companies were like Costco before Costco was even a thing.
  • Costco,Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are three ubiquitous retailers.
  • These companies also have something in common: they’re all members-only warehouse clubs.
  • Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are by no means pioneers, through.
  • Plenty of similar, now-defunct ventures launched long before those companies came on the scene.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are retailers that thrive on a members-only model.

But these modern-day companies certainly didn’t invent the concept of a membership-based retail chain. In fact, the founders of Costco and Walmart – Sam’s Club’s parent company – likely derived inspiration from now-defunct companies that came before.

Read more: 12 department stores that disappeared before the retail apocalypse even began to rage

Some of these early companies catered exclusively to fixed-income federal employees. Others were snatched up by rival membership stores.

Here’s a list of members-only warehouse- and department-store clubs that are no longer with us:


Fedco — or the Federal Employees’ Distributing Company — was the 1948 brainchild of hundreds of postal workers looking for a better place to shop. Despite its pioneering efforts in the members-only warehouse business, Fedco ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 1999.

Source: The Los Angeles Times,The Los Angeles Times,San Diego Tribune


Inspired by Fedco, Sol Price — whose Price Club chain would ultimately merge with Costco — founded FedMart in 1954. Costco founder James Sinegal himself worked at FedMart before moving on to found his own venture. The company ultimately liquidated its 46 warehouses in 1982 and closed its doors forever.

Source: San Diego Reader, UPI


It’s not quite fair to say that Price Club, which opened its doors in 1976, is a defunct members-only warehouse. But Costco did erase the Price Club brand when the two retailers merged in 1993. By 1997, all the remaining Price Clubs — or “blue warehouses,” as early employees called them — had been retooled as Costcos.

Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesPrice Club.

Source: Business Insider, The New York Times, Costco


E.J. Korvette didn’t start out as a members-only outlet. The retailer, which closed in 1980 after 32 years in business, pivoted to that business model after competitors like Gimbels and Macy’s filed suit about E.J. Korvette’s low prices. The New York Times reported that E.J. Korvette employees would hand out cards to “members” as they entered the stores.

Source: Haaretz, The New York Times, New York Supreme Court


The Government Employees Mart — or G.E.M. — Membership Department Stores catered exclusively to civil servants, members of the military, and government contractors. The company launched in 1956. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the chain shut down in 1973.

Neil Podol/ShutterstockGEM first opened in Denver.

Source: Circuit City, Democrat and Chronicle


After bursting onto the scene in Anaheim, California, in 1959, Gemco was quickly snapped up by Lucky Stores. In 1986, The Los Angeles Times reported that Lucky Stores sacrificed its members-only warehouse club in order to stave off a hostile takeover. All Gemco warehouses closed that year.

ewjxn/YoutubeA 1981 TV spot for Gemco.

Source: The Los Angeles Times,UPI


Founded in Aurora, Colorado in 1983, the Pace Membership Warehouse chain faced a fate similar to that of Price Club. Kmart acquired the brand for $US322 million in 1989, only to sell it to Sam’s Club four years later. The Walmart-owned retailer ultimately converted all of the Pace warehouses to Sam’s Club locations.

Source: Newspapers.com, The New York Times, PaceMembershipWarehouse.com

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