Basket wars: Cost Plus challenges Pier One

Charlottesville already has Pier One, the go-to place for imported brass candlesticks and rattan chairs. Now the import store is about to find an old California competitor down the road. Cost Plus World Market is working on opening a 25,000-square-foot branch next to Best Buy.

"For competitive reasons, we can't disclose where we're opening a store," says Cost Plus spokeswoman Melissa Oldenbourg. "Certainly Charlottesville is on our list because it's a college town."

But city planner Missy Creasy confirms that a design for Cost Plus World Market has been submitted to the city.

The paperwork went before the planning commission April 14 because the location, in an "entrance corridor," requires design approval. The commission requested more information and deferred consideration to its May meeting.

Both import stores started in California: Cost Plus at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco in 1958; Pier One in San Mateo in 1962.

Pier One is the bigger player, with over 1,000 stores and sales of $1.8 billion. Cost Plus has 212 stores in 26 states, with earnings of $801.6 million in 2003.

"We're always looking for opportunity," says Oldenbourg. "We're an aggressively growing company."

Cost Plus offers furniture and "tabletop items" such as dishes, textiles and, of course, baskets. "We're known for our gourmet foods and wine," adds Oldenbourg.

The upstart company seems undeterred by Pier One's foothold in Charlottesville's casual home decor market: "We applaud it," Oldenbourg says. And a high traffic neighbor like Best Buy is just what Cost Plus looks for.

In fact, when Best Buy was built, it included plans for another store. Creasy says that since those plans have been on file from the start, all Best Buy was waiting for was a tenant.

Cost Plus opens a lot of stores for the holidays, with October being a prime month, says Oldenbourg. Pier One's press office did not immediately return calls.

With this latest California export coming to town, does that mean a Trader Joe's can't be far behind?

Cost Plus will offer baskets where you can store all those electronics you purchase next door.