By Karen Cimino Wilson
The only IKEA furniture store between Washington and Atlanta opens in University City on Wednesday with more than 400 new employees, more than 10,000 products and no worries about the economy.
The new 356,000-square-foot IKEA Charlotte store is located at the City Boulevard exit off Interstate 85.
The store is big — really big. Imagine two super stores stacked on top of the other and you’ll get a sense of the scale. It contains 49 showrooms, three model homes and several design areas to help patrons remodel their kitchen, home office or bathroom.
It also contains a 350-seat restaurant and a supervised play area for children.
Swedish meatballs are the most popular dish. They can also be purchased in the small food section of the store, which features Swedish foods. The store sells some Swedish cheeses that are only available in the United States at IKEA stores, said Tom Lancaster, the food services manager.
While so many retailers have shut their doors because of declining sales following the stock market decline of 2008, the opening of a new store is welcome news to many.
But IKEA officials say it’s just business as usual for them.
“It’s the economy that’s uncertain, it’s not the IKEA concept that’s uncertain,” said Joseph Roth, director of public affairs for IKEA.
IKEA is a Swedish company and is selective about where it opens new stores. Roth said that’s one reason the furniture retailer isn’t worried the economy will negatively impact the store’s grand opening. The IKEA Charlotte store will be the only store in the Carolinas. It’s also only the 36th store in the United States. Other retailers have multiple locations in the same city, Roth said, which can make a weak economy tougher to handle.
IKEA also is privately held and does not rise or fall with the stock market as some other retailers do, Roth said.
“We’re in 36 countries around the world. You name it and we’ve already seen it,” he said.
IKEA also has unique ideas about customer service and how to help shoppers save money. The store keeps prices low on home furnishings by having customers do some of the work. Much of the store’s furniture comes disassembled in flat boxes. Once you pick out an item, you go to the store warehouse, get it, pack it in your car and take it home, where you assemble it yourself. The furniture is supposed to be easy to assemble, but home delivery and assembly is available for a fee.
IKEA continues to try to be environmentally conscious, store managers said Wednesday. All wood used for the furniture it sells is from sustainable forests. The store recently stopped using plastic bags. And customers can bring used light bulbs and batteries to the store for recycling regardless of where they purchased them, said Jackie DeChamps, the Charlotte store’s human resource manager. DeChamps helped give media tours of the store Wednesday.
IKEA generally draws a large crowd for its grand opening and is expecting folks to start lining up early for the 100 free Scandinavian armchairs it will give away to the first 100 customers in line when the doors open 9 a.m. Wednesday. IKEA Charlotte allow shoppers to camp out at the new store starting Monday morning.
The store planned to have impromptu activities and entertainment for customers who came Monday and Tuesday.
• Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.