What is it?
IKEA (“eye-key-ah”) offers 9500+ household products ranging from a 3-pack of wooden kitchen utensils for $0.49 to entire rooms for thousands of dollars.
According to Wikipedia, IKEA was founded in 1943 by a 17-year-old named Ingvar Kamprad who named the store using his initials (IK), the first initial of the name of the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd) and his home parish (Agunnaryd) in Småland (also the name for where parents imprison … erm … stow … uh … leave their kids while shopping – pronounced “Smallland”).
Where is it?
How is it?
The word conjures overwhelming excitement in the hearts of shoppers everywhere. For me, I first heard of IKEA when I moved to Syracuse, New York for school (I know — it’s a post about Portland and one of the first things I do is mention another city – sacrilege!). While in the great white north, experiencing IKEA simply meant receiving their epic catalog of products promising everything that particle board furniture has to offer, but, with no location nearby, shipping charges so exorbitant that cardboard boxes became a better fit for my nightstand needs.
IKEA blessed Portland with its own store location, conveniently planted within driving distance of the international airport just in case you need to buy an affordable but attractive kitchen table with matching chairs, and then hop a flight out of the country to escape your escalating credit card bills.
Driving into the parking lot conjures images of Disneyland as sections are easily labeled to help visitors have at least a small chance of remembering where they parked their cars after exiting the store blinded by the euphoric high of buying an entire living room for $200.
The front doors open to an unassuming escalator that takes shoppers to the showroom floor as parents, desperate to shop unmolested, ditch their children at Småland like leashless dogs at a nearby kennel. Once upstairs, shoppers are shuttled through a one-way maze of the store where you can observe a veritable smorgasbord of furniture that demonstrate the epitome of everything particle board has to offer all with names that sound like a Star Trek alien species such as Ektorp and Karlstad (after all, IKEA is Swedish so they maintain their namesakes). Golf pencils and shopping lists are generously provided so the myriad of identification numbers for each product can be scribbled down used for a later nefarious purpose.
You’ll quickly discover that you can only move forward. Turning around will guarantee certain death as the herd of once-human zombie consumers trudge forward step-by-step while slowly pointing out various inane and obscure products to the other members of their parties. Attempting to go against the tide results in glares from the other shoppers, their piercing stares insinuating that you obviously have no idea what you’re doing in the store — “you can’t go this way! The faded yellow arrows on the floor obviously point the other direction!”
IKEA represents a brilliant business model. Instead of permitting shoppers to go directly to a particular section, the store compels its visitors to follow the maze through each and every section, marveling at how the ingenious engineers have fit so much living bliss into 800, 600 and even 350 square feet. Doors marked “shortcut” pop into view and I suddenly feel like I’m walking in a real-life incarnation of the Clue board game (does the shortcut in the study take you to to the kitchen? Or was it the conservatory?).
There are no windows. Much like casinos in Las Vegas, IKEA would prefer time not be a concern for you. A cafeteria keeps a wide selection of food prepared for all times of the day in order to keep everyone well-fed so you don’t even need to leave the store to keep yourself from becoming starved. Progress from Bedroom to Living Room, Office to the Children’s section, and you’ll be impressed by the sheer quantity of products that you can build with your own two hands, a screwdriver, a hammer and a wide assortment of expletives.
After touring the showroom, head downstairs into the Marketplace where thousands of accessories, knickknacks and small torture devices (maybe not quite) line the walls. Everything you can imagine needing for your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room and more is down here. You don’t even need to decorate for yourself as IKEA’s shoppers have wisely chosen large prints of New York cityscapes for you to plaster on your walls.
Following the Marketplace comes the warehouse. Imagine Home Depot or Lowe’s on steroids – IKEA’s warehouse is epic in size and scope to hold the thousands of pieces of furniture in impossibly small, flat boxes. Grab your goes-every-way-but-the-way-you-want-it-to flatbed cart and hold on for dear life; the demure, controlled maze experience of upstairs gives way to an erratic demolition derby of insanity as shoppers flit from one aisle to the next pushing carts whose weight is measured in tonnage and can kill you on impact, desperately hunting for the item numbers they smeared (is that an “i” or a “1?”) with no care for their own self-preservation or safety.
If you’re lucky enough to find your items, you’ve finished the hard part. Paying involves selecting from the Self-Check or Attendant options. Attendants can be a mixed bag depending on whether you get one of Portland’s infamous service staff. For a town where the majority of the jobs are service-based, you will find some of the worst hospitality in the country right here in Stumptown. If you choose Self-Check, be prepared for the cryogenically-frozen Neanderthal who just woke up this morning to delay you for hours as it strives unsuccessfully to figure out which end of the self-serve item gun should be pointed at the UPC code on the box.
The assembly experience can either be enjoyable or your worst nightmare depending on which item(s) you selected. IKEA’s famous instructions have no words, containing only happy cartoons and suspiciously similarly sized screws, nuts and bolts. Once you’ve figured out which part goes into which part with what screw, your home’s new additions will come together, and you will discover why everyone loves IKEA – their stuff is amazing! Sure, your new dresser or desk might be made from particleboard and not real wood, but it looks gorgeous and does what you need it to.
If you haven’t visited an IKEA, do yourself a favor – block out a few hours on your schedule and enjoy one of the most unique furniture shopping experiences Portland has to offer.