Brooklyn Ikea Opens to Eager Crowd and Frenzied Media

By Michael O'Connell June 18, 2008, 5:13 PM EDT

Lady Liberty and secondary Cyclones mascot Pee Wee the Seagull did their best to amuse the crowd just before the opening.

Photo: BizBash

On the heels of an ambitious promotional campaign of pop-ups throughout the city, and more free press than the marketing team probably predicted, New York City’s first Ikea store—and its surrounding waterfront esplanade—finally opened this morning in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Festivities started at 6 a.m. for the hundreds already in line, the earliest of whom set up camp late Sunday night. While a DJ spun music to pump up the crowd, women in traditional Swedish garb handed out branded swag like shirts and water bottles, and mass quantities of meatballs were consumed at an unusually early hour.

As the clock neared 9 a.m., an informal ceremony got under way on the small stage erected near the store's entrance. Both the Swedish and United States national anthems helped raise their respective flags at the start of the half-hour presentation, and Ikea executives and city officials like New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn and Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz made appearances. Markowitz’s pro-Brooklyn and pro-Ikea speech fell just short of endorsing the company as a presidential candidate.

The kind words from Markowitz were just one pearl in the long strand of publicity for the Swedish retailer. Coverage of the store's opening dominated local news all week. Much of the attention focused on the anxious consumers who were first spotted huddled in sleeping bags near the store’s entrance three days ago, the first 35 of whom received a free sofa (retail value: $399). The first 2,500 people who entered the store today all received gift cards worth $10 to $250. A correspondent from shopping blog Racked, who was fifth in line at the store, posted updates almost hourly throughout the week.

Ikea skipped a ribbon-cutting in favor of chopping a log in half, but the log itself had already been preemptively severed in two to spare any holdups. The store performs a similar ritual with every opening, calling it a Swedish tradition, though the origins of that tradition are a little vague. The Daily News disputed the claim yesterday, citing Swedish Consulate General publicity staffer Raquel Ortigueira, who said, “This isn't a Swedish thing, it's an Ikea thing.”

By 9 a.m., the crowd had easily surpassed 1,000 people and became harder and harder to gauge as the line readied to flood the store. One of the first men in line started screaming, “Free the Red Hook 35!”—an allusion to the “Oceanic Six” from the most recent season of Lost, or the murmurings of someone driven to the edge by the quest for a free couch.

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