IKEA's appeal is multifaceted. Yes, you can buy affordable, stylish and durable home furnishings there. You can also shop for an amazing array of unusual gifts for everyone you know, starting with the tiniest tots. If you visit with children, they'll find the store a veritable playground, whether they spend time in Smaland while you shop (it's free for those 37-54 inches tall) or join you on a trek through IKEA's colorful, touchable showroom. Particularly if you live in tight quarters, such as an apartment, dorm room or starter home, IKEA provides creative inspiration at every turn for making the most of your space. You can even visit IKEA for nothing more than the $0.99 breakfast and complimentary coffee available every morning in the cafe until the store opens.
IKEA operates more than 300 stores in 37 countries, but this was the Swedish company's first foray into the New England market, and I could tell instantly that the store is going to be immensely successful with an audience of frugal Yankees. Even on a weekday morning more than a week after the store's grand unveiling, the crowds were impressive.
Store manager Gail Franc said, "New England has surprised us and really given us a great reception here. It feels like everyone in Connecticut has been here in the first nine days." The word spread quickly beyond Connecticut, too. During the store's very first weekend, Franc said an estimated 25 percent of shoppers made the trip from Massachusetts. IKEA has plans to open a store outside Boston in Stoughton, Massachusetts, late in 2005, but I can't blame our neighbors to the north for not being able to wait.
I used to occasionally shop at the IKEA store in Paramus, New Jersey, when I lived in New York, but I hadn't been to an IKEA in the eight years since I moved to Connecticut. It seemed to me that, since my last visit years ago, the Swedish furniture maker has upgraded its quality and expanded its array of products while maintaining its commitment to making furniture affordable. New since my last visit is a full line of furnishings for babies and kids, everything you need for your kitchen from cabinets to appliances, and an even broader selection than I remembered of not only furnishings but fun, decorative and smart accent pieces.
IKEA tries to feature everything customers need to furnish and decorate their living space, with the exception of home electronics. All items are designed in Sweden, but they are manufactured all over the world. Basic design styles make for easy mixing and matching. Franc said that IKEA strives to "appeal to a broad variety of tastes."
Of course, you are not going to find a solid mahogany chest of drawers, here. You're also not going to find price tags that start in the four-figures. IKEA's mission, Franc explained, is "to create a better everyday life for the many people." That starts with not spending a fortune on furniture so that you have plenty of money leftover to do other fun things.
Then again, what's more exciting than loading up the family vehicle and making a trip to this unique shopping destination? "We're already getting a lot of repeat visits," said Franc on day nine.
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