As We See It

Scenes from a Las Vegas IKEA grand opening

Ikea workers bang noise sticks together during the grand opening of Nevada’s first Ikea home furnishings store Wednesday, May 18, 2016.
Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Cops and squad cars are on Sunset Avenue helping to flow the traffic. There’s an ambulance parked, overflow lots and news vans circling the blue behemoth just off the Beltway. There'd been a ceremonial raising of the Swedish flag that morning and Swedish log-sawing to inaugurate the event. And now lines of celebrant shoppers, long preceded by those who camped out for the opening, are moving and everyone's happy and smiling and themed as if this is the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

No more driving to the closest IKEA in California to haul back carefully stacked flat packs. No more shipping costs. No more wanting.

Nothing short of a spectacle was expected on May 18. The 40-minute left-turn wait on Durango Drive was understandable. IKEA is known for these kind of commemoratory arrivals, showing up in a community that long wanted it, full of shoppers who'd wrested catalogues from IKEA stores in other cities that could now—united through consumerism and Swedish nationalism—participate in a sort of utopia where part-time employees get full-time benefits and the base desire is a happy working staff.

Ikea Grand Opening

But the catalyst here is the furniture, clever designs paired with equal marketing and packaging, a phenomenon that grew from a small, mail-order business in Almhult, Sweden in the 1950s to nearly 400 stores in more than 40 countries. "My first IKEA experience was in Madrid,” my colleague tells me as we navigate through the spacious floor rooms. "We rode the subway more than an hour to get there."

In Las Vegas, IKEA wasn't brought up as frequently and broadly as in other cities where homes and apartments are outfitted with a bare minimum of one IKEA product. Outside of lodges and Lutheran churches, the village isn't thick with talk of Scandinavian culture.

Yet Sweden abounds on this morning of the grand opening, where staff members in national colors bang thunder sticks to shoppers who've made it through the long lines under the shade tent and are in the store, receiving $10-$250 gift certificates before being ushered under an arch of blue and yellow balloons leading up an escalator.

The restaurant is mobbed, of course, but well-lit and stylishly modest. Among the Poäng chairs, Strandmon wing chairs, Sinnerlig coffee tables and Lövbacken side tables, customers take selfies. The lamps and shelving units promise a better home life, a more sensible one. A young man slowly pushing his stroller carrying his daughter says to nobody and with a vacant look in his eye, “I can never bring my wife here.”

Sofas. So many. By textiles, things slow down considerably, a calm harbor. And at furniture pickup, boxes are lifted into carts and pointed for the checkout lines.

Ahead of us in line is Alex Estin from Henderson, who before this day had been doing his IKEA shopping in Calfornia. "I like the ubiquity of the products," he says, adding that he also follows IKEA hack groups where the furniture can be further modified beyond its original intention. "I like the aesthetic and I know IKEA is not going anywhere."

Moving to Las Vegas from New Jersey meant living away from such staples as IKEA and White Castle on the East Coast. The guy in front of Estin, John Mendonca, wears a torso-wide light-up IKEA sign, a pair of IKEA sunglasses and an IKEA kerchief that had been given to shoppers that morning. He hadn't been to an IKEA, but had seen its shelving units elsewhere and needed some for his drones—he operates a drone-golf business. His sign is part of an offshoot project; he makes wearable advertising. The silverware holders he's loading onto the conveyor belt will be used as support bases for the 20-inch landing pads for his drones. "They’re cool looking and they're the right size," he says, flipping them over to demonstrate.

The line now stretches to the patio furniture display on the edge of the vast pickup area, and cashier Fred Wall, a happy former flight attendant wearing Swedish and Norwegian pins on his lanyard and IKEA logo ink stamps on his shaved head, rings up Mendonca while Eastin and I wait.

I notice that someone had abandoned a narrow cat-print throw-pillow I'd been eyeing earlier in the store. I hold it for a minute. Estin sees me and says, "You know, they have curtains to match."

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