Ikea’s brand new store in Renton falls into the “Why did they need to build a new one?” category. If Asbestos Ridge Elementary becomes overcrowded as new housing developments pop up students are lucky if a few new portables are put up. And, as a thirty five year old, I remember how big of a deal it was when this Ikea was built when I was in middle school. This wasn’t, like Greenwood Fred Meyer, some place that had been constructed some years before I was born and updated on occasion.
In any event, the new Ikea is in business, and the old one next door will soon become a parking garage. For the time being the inconvenient shuttle service and limited parking is still in effect.
From the outside, the two-story, solar-paneled new Ikea is certainly from a new era. While the blue and yellow Swedes boasted something to the effect of “we are building a giant nondescript box in the suburbs to keep prices down” in the early-to-mid 90s when our Ikea popped up in suburban Renton, twenty-some years later, gentrification has caused Renton to feel more and more like Seattle, and thus the new Ikea has a decidedly more “urban” look to it. Unlike the old Ikea, the new Ikea, which features quite a bit more yellow than the old one (and a lot more windows), makes a point of looking good from the outside.
On the inside, customers are greeted by sort of a grand entry with an escalator leading up to the showroom and restaurant. The restaurant can be accessed either right away, or at the end of the showroom maze. (The old restaurant was mid-way through the maze, and while it could be accessed by taking a few shortcuts, the intention was clearly for restaurant visits to be post-showroom.)
The showroom is much whiter than the old one. Much of it features a white wooden floor. The floor often feels like it’s shaking. I don’t know if this is a product of being on a second story or the new building being of cheaper construction than the old one. I do not have a map of either the old or new store to verify, but while the old store had more of a “zig-zag” feeling layout, the new one feels more circular. Each section feels wider and more open. The showroom does not feel like it takes as long to get through as the old one. Some sections felt larger and some felt smaller. The office section in particular seemed almost like it was missing. There are more appliances than there used to be. At some point the wooden floor disappears and is replaced by concrete more reminiscent of the previous store.
We did not eat at the restaurant today, but it is much larger, brighter (many windows), and overall nicer feeling than the old one. It feels sort of like the commons era at a brand new community college. It seems like a pleasant place to be. I could comfortably sit there and work on a lap top all day, which is not something I could say about the much darker old restaurant.
As with the old store, after heading through the showroom and through the restaurant, next comes tchotchkes. Except now those are down a flight of stairs, below the showroom and next to the warehouse. As above, some sections (e.g. bathroom stuff) seemed smaller, while others (e.g. lighting) seemed larger. Things more or less continued to feel wider and more circular than in the old store. My wife says she felt like she was walking the wrong direction. (The arrows on the floor confirmed otherwise, but the feeling counts.)
Bathrooms seem to be fewer and further between. I haven’t verified if this is true, but it felt true, which counts for something. There was also no garbage can in the men’s room, so after I changed my son’s diaper I had to go to the family room to through his dirty diaper away. There also seem to be fewer “shortcuts” for folks who choose to not explore the maze in the intended sequence. (I for one always like to experience the store in the intended sequence.)
The warehouse has much deeper, taller (freakishly so) aisles, so it does not take nearly as long to walk through it as in the old store (particularly since the old warehouse was enlarged).
There is still a bistro after the cashiers, and there is an extra refrigerated goods and candy section. Strangely, the previous Coca Cola products (including Mr Pibb and Hi C Orange Lavaburst) are gone, replaced by generic cola, diet cola, and a few non-carbonated beverages like lingonberry drink. These beverages came in what appeared to be a generic cup rather than a blue Ikea cup. Same prices. Apparently the bistro now no longer has meatballs. Meatballs are now only available from the restaurant.
The parking situation won’t be straightened out until the old store is gone, which is understandable, but in many other ways the new store felt incomplete, as if due to a deadline it opened in a not-quite-polished, not-quite-ready state. The office and bathroom sections in particular seemed curiously limited. I asked my wife at some point “Where was the office section?” and we only remembered that there indeed was one because we remember walking past the chairs. Although the new store has a much larger Smaland than the old one, for one reason or another the kid’s room section seemed less like a place we could spend all day than the old one.
Which brings me to the thing that generally feels “not quite right” about the largely nicer, brighter, more pleasant, more open new store as compared to the darker, more claustrophobic old one. I am someone who often feels strangely more comfortable in “cozy” spaces like small irregularly shaped rooms. Although the old Ikea was massive, because of its zig-zagging floor plan of relatively small areas filled with goodied, I felt more immersed in each section. When I was in the couch room I felt fully couchy. When I was in the office section I felt officey. And so on. Each little area sucked me in so successfully that I forgot I was in a big boxy warehouse. Although it is still designed as a single path store to be experienced in a particular sequence, with bigger, more open areas I felt overwhelmed and less settled than I am accustomed to feeling at Ikea. The larger, less carpeted, higher-ceilinged rooms also make for a much louder, more cacophonous sonic ambience, which I do not like. These big open boxes with high ceilings are all the rage these days, and I don’t like it. The folks working at Mod Pizza can hardly hear folks ordering food.
In spite of being a shiny new store, the Seattle Times confirmed what I suspected – that the new store is pretty much the same size as the old store, 399,000 square feet rather than 398,000 square feet, to be exact-ish. As a matter of fact, since the restaurant is much larger than it used to be and there are some extra areas like the front atrium that didn’t previously exist, the remaining store is in fact a bit smaller than the old one. Maybe there really weren’t as many mattresses and it wasn’t just my imagination. Parking will remain about the same.
So this apparently wasn’t about a growing Seattle needing a larger store. This expensive construction project was pretty much just a facelift. I will need to spend some more time in the new store to fairly assess it, as a new store just about always feels “wrong” when compared to an old store, especially since I had been to the old Ikea perhaps a month ago and I have grown to appreciate that, for example, the “new” University Village QFC (ironically built just a year or two after the old Ikea) is a better store than the old one. Hopefully the solar panels will someday offset the environmental cost of unnecessarily demolishing a perfectly good giant building to build another one a quarter of a perfect larger. A-