Brooklyn's IKEA Opening: Urban Grit and 99-Cent Mac and Cheese
Grand openings in New York are usually something to avoid at all costs, but yesterday, I had promised my 2-year-old a trip to the park and it was raining. So we all packed into the car for a 5-minute trip to the new IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn to check out their indoor play land.
In other towns, the opening of a big-box store might not be so game-changing, but IKEA has been controversial from the start because it is so not Red Hook, where even the shooting of "The Sopranos" was squashed by locals. A Fairway supermarket snuck in, just a few blocks away, but with its fresh produce and artsy feel, it has not engendered any bad feelings.
IKEA, on the other hand, is a giant blue and yellow monstrosity the peeks out from between abandoned factory buildings and loading dock cranes. It's parking lots cover wide swaths of shoreline and are ringed by low-slung townhouses in disrepair -- the gentrified converted lofts and luxury condos are still a few blocks over.
Judging by the crowd on opening day, it's going to be a huge success and a huge nightmare at the same time, just like the few other big-box stores in Brooklyn. Any time you mix huge volumes of people with discount merchandise, you're going to move a lot of product off the shelves and it's going to be messy.
The Target at the Atlantic Terminal Mall in downtown Brooklyn, which doesn't even have a parking lot, can't keep itself stocked. You go there at your own peril on a weekend afternoon and are lucky if you can find what you are looking for. The Costco nestled along the Gowanus Parkway in between discount tile outfitters and self-storage facilities, is a dreary, weathered two-story behemoth that is one traffic jam after another. You get weary just waiting for a parking spot -- then for a cart, then to get in the door.
Manhattan is starting to fill with its own set of chain retailers, with Home Depot selling a limited selection of items at a midtown location, and Best Buys opening all over. Bed, Bath and Beyond has been able to get a foothold in the city (although the multi-storied stores don't carry everything you'd find in the suburbs). There's another bedraggled Target just over the Bronx border, and a big-box strip mall coming next year. Wal-Mart, however, hasn't been able to get a contract anywhere close, not even in Queens.
IKEA, being brand-new, is still all bright and shiny. But given the volume, who knows how long it will stay that way. Crowds are going to stream through, mixing up the bins of the Prutas and the Kalas. The free yellow bags are going to disappaear. The check-out lines will lengthen. The hot dog won't stay 50 cents. And that friendly well-trained staff will turn over soon.
As for the neighborhood? My guess is that Red Hook will tough it out. After we figured out my daughter was two inches too short for the playroom, we cut our visit short and went to dinner a few blocks away at our favorite local bistro. The small crowd there seemed unfazed by the goings-on. Their Mac and Cheese is $10 instead of 99 cents (with drink), but my daughter enjoyed their box of leftover toys more than she would have the ball bin and rock-climbing wall.
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