Moving in just got a whole lot easier for Yalies looking for reasonably-priced futons, bedding and dorm decorations.
IKEA, the Swedish home furnishing megastore, opened its 20th U.S. location and 200th worldwide location in New Haven’s Long Wharf district on July 28.
Bringing in more than 20,000 customers on opening day, the New Haven store had one of the top three best grand openings for IKEA in North America, said Megan Day, a spokeswoman for the company.
By 8 p.m. the evening before the grand opening, 200 people were already waiting in line to receive the free ergonomic POANG chairs IKEA planned to give away as a promotion the next day.
“We’ve had so many more customers than we’ve ever anticipated,” Day said. “It varies in terms of what’s been hard to keep in stock from week to week.”
While the crowds have thinned slightly since the store’s opening, Day said back-to-school shoppers have kept the New Haven IKEA packed.
Vivek Kasinath ’06 said he thinks IKEA is a much better option than the Yale Bookstore, despite his long wait when he visited IKEA Sunday afternoon to purchase rugs and champagne glasses.
“Especially if you’re looking for stuff to put around your dorm room, all the stuff is a lot cheaper there,” Kasinath said.
With its proximity to I-91 and I-95, the store — the first of its kind to open in New England — has proven to be very convenient for shoppers, Recognizable by its bright blue and yellow exterior, the New Haven IKEA has drawn customers from all over New England and as far away as Maine, Day said.
“It’s extremely visible, and everyone’s able to see it,” Day said. “If you didn’t know it was there, you see it as you drive by.”
Jan Barese, a member of the Long Wharf Business Association and the associate marketing director for Long Wharf Theater, said she thought most people have been very pleased to have an IKEA in New Haven. While it may not have a direct impact on local businesses, the store brings visibility to the Long Wharf area, she said.
“The more business we have in an area, the better it is for all businesses in that area,” Barese said. “I think it’s a good fit, and it’s showing by the amount of people coming into IKEA.”
Barese added that while nearby parking spaces were packed with IKEA shoppers, traffic issues were sorted out very quickly. Local business owners were warned in advance about congestion, and city officials held meetings to discuss any concerns, she said. Surrounding merchants even pitched in to handle the swarms of customers by offering free parking to IKEA employees.
While many agree that Ikea is a boon to New Haven’s economy, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the city should be cautious about future large-scale development in the Long Wharf section.
“It’s a good project, it’s a good anchor, but I’d hate to see the whole area go to big box retail,” DeStefano said.
Craig Russell, deputy director of administrative services for New Haven’s Office of Economic Development, said the city’s IKEA has done better than expected.
“We definitely feel it’s good for New Haven, and we’re hoping that there’s going to be a nice spin-off effect on the downtown,” Russell said.
He said IKEA also employs many New Haven residents. Last spring, the company sponsored a job training program for more than 1,200 residents interested in working at the store. The New Haven IKEA currently is staffed by about 450 employees, with plans to add 100 more given high customer demand, Day said. Russell said he was pleased that about half of IKEA’s staff is from the New Haven community.
He said he is hopeful IKEA will continue to add to the vitality of New Haven in the future, particularly in the downtown area.
“The initial impact may be a little slow because of their location on the other side of the highway, but we’re hoping in the long term that people will come over and expand their reasons for coming and staying in New Haven,” Russell said.