Ikea docks in Red Hook

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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.”

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Reader Feedback

Leisah from Red Hook says:
Loved the podcast. Monica and I were there at the opening and all the excitement was perfectly relived with your report. No adverse traffic effects noticed thus far with the new IKEA opening. We'll really know how bad or not so bad it will be after this weekend.

tini wine bar
414 Van Brunt St.
June 20, 2008, 8:51 am
red from b-lo says:
Henrik Lundqvist is a meatball lover
June 24, 2008, 9:51 am
C. Blakeley from Windsor Terrace says:
I have been shopping at Fairway since it opened in Red Hook. I drive there from Windsor Terrace. Ikea may be putting an end to that.

Last Sunday afternoon, I watched the light change six times before I could make a left turn off Hamilton Ave onto Court St. When I got to Lorraine, it was a parking lot as far as I could see. So, I gave up on going to Fairway and returned to Park Slope to shop in the local stores. (I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to buy cheese at Blue Apron.)

As much as I like Ikea, the complete failure of the city to anticipate and address the resulting traffic congestion is a disgrace. The truth is, it was a bad idea to put that store there and that should have been apparent to anyone who took an honest look at it.

Further, the suggestion that locating a warehouse store in Red Hook is going to put a dent in the long term unemployment of the area's poorest residents is unmitigated and cynical nonsense.

Christine Quinn's gushing that, "They don’t want to just be in Red Hook, they want to be part of Red Hook," sounds like she's either on their payroll or being held hostage. If her employers/captors will let her read this, I have a news flash for Ms. Quinn. What they want is to sell stuff and make money. Nothing wrong with that, but why does a mayoral hopeful feel the need to utter that drivel?
June 25, 2008, 10:47 pm

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