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Red Hook’s long-awaited Ikea — with a suitably long line — opened on Wednesday morning, heralding a new era for furniture shoppers, bargain hunters, meatball lovers and, perhaps more important, the troubled waterfront neighborhood.
It was a carnival scene outside the blue-and-yellow furniture behemoth on Beard Street, as jugglers performed, jazz musicians sang, workers handed out Ikea tchotchkes, politicians gave speeches and the first 35 customers got their reward for spending the previous two full days on line: vouchers for a new Ektorp couch, a $399 value.
One man who bided his time realized that the people on waiting with him line share a shared personality trait.
“We all have something in common — we’re crazy,” joked Jason Nunez, who was joined by his roommate for the endurance test.
People who didn’t have a spare 48 hours to camp on a sidewalk were arriving in a steady stream on Wednesday morning, both in private cars and on public buses. An hour before the 9 am opening, there were already 150 vehicles in the 1,400-space lot, according to a man directing traffic. “I’ve been out here since 6 o’clock working hard,” said Michael Evans, wearing a brightly colored traffic vest and flagging visitors towards open parking spots. “Never a dull moment until 10 o’clock tonight.”
Half an hour before the crowd was released into the 346,000 square feet of showrooms of coordinated bedrooms linens, sleek kitchens, and oodles of flatware, picture frames and tropical plants, the light-hearted festivities gave way to formality: both the Swedish and American national anthems were sung and the countries’ flags were solemnly raised before a crowd that included the Swedish consul (seriously).
And of course, no event would be complete without remarks from cheerleading Borough President Markowitz, who said that by opening in Red Hook, “Ikea got it right!”
The Beep, who has said in interviews that he is concerned about traffic in the neighborhood, didn’t publicly delve into the sometimes-bitter fight that pit Red Hook residents who support the city’s first Ikea as a source of jobs against those who fear the influx of thousands of shoppers every day and object to putting a big-box store so far from mass transit and highways.
Council Speaker Chris Quinn dismissed those concerns in her remarks.
“They’re going to be bringing in at least 500 jobs,” said Quinn, a likely mayoral candidate next year. “They also created an employment center because they don’t want to just be in Red Hook, they want to be part of Red Hook.”
The store was also feted for creating a public esplanade along the water’s edge — a feature that came about during the heated battle to win a city zoning approval that paved the way for Ikea at a 19th-century ship-repair facility.
Inclusion of six acres of public space, a preferential hiring process for Red Hook residents, funding for a job-training program and free water taxis to Manhattan and shuttle buses to nearby subway stations ultimately pushed the project over the top, though many opponents remain unsatisfied.
Before the hoards were allowed inside, a final ceremony was performed: Ikea presented local officials with a log and a saw, saying that such lumberjacking was a traditional Swedish good luck ritual. Not only was the claim’s authenticity denied by the Swedish consulate, but the log itself was pre-sawed to make it easier on the elected officials.
Inside the store, Ikea employees in rows of yellow shirts lined the aisles and cheered the early crowds that ascended the escalator to the main shopping floor.
In all the pageantry of the morning it was tough to remember that the event was the opening of a furniture store.
Thankfully, at least one customer said he wasn’t there for the excitement, the build-it-yourself furniture or the meatballs.
“I came to Ikea to return this light that broke two or three months ago,” said Johnny Bisagni. “I’ve been holding onto it waiting for this Ikea to open up.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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