The vastness of the new IKEA in St. Louis was hard to envision as I stood on the parking lot Wednesday.
Two hours later, my tired feet knew just how big it was: 380,000 square feet (about six football fields) filled with display rooms (46), full model homes (three), a kids’ playland that looked like a cartoon Swedish forest, a cafeteria (seating for 450) and the warehouse.
“Just follow the arrow on the floor and you won’t get lost,” said our grinning guide, Samantha Eisenman, who came in from an IKEA in Philadelphia to help out.
I put down the $1.99 squeegee, walked past the fluffy $9.99 rugs and scurried to keep up. Of the 300 or so workers there, the ones I saw Wednesday wore comfortable shoes. Excellent idea for next visit, I told myself.
The 41st IKEA in the United States opens officially Sept. 30 in St. Louis. The media got a sneak peek Wednesday of the Swedish retailer’s newest venture, which sells you-assemble-it furniture and home accessories. Anyone traveling on Interstate 64 West of downtown for the past two years couldn’t help but see the construction of this architectural non-starter: a giant royal blue box that looks like it has been gift-wrapped with giant sunshine yellow ribbon — the colors of the Swedish flag. There is no giant bow on top of the box. Instead, there are 4,082 solar panels on the roof, the largest array in Missouri. Note to self: IKEA is vigilant about the environment.
IKEA has a cult following. The first store opened in 1943 in Sweden, naturally. It wasn’t until 1985 that a store opened in the United States, in Philadelphia. Americans line up days in advance for grand opening giveaways. (See more about that later.)
St. Louis lobbied the global retailer (377 stores in 27 countries/largest seller of furniture in the world) for the better part of a decade to get a store, but there are parameters before that can happen: a population of 2 million people living within a 40- to 60-mile radius or a 40- to 60-minute drive time. Area fans grimaced when the Kansas City area got one before us last year, but ours is slightly bigger — and only the fifth in an urban area, officials said.
The store sits on about 20 acres just off Forest Park Boulevard on South Vandeventer. It’s easy to get to and there are 1,300 free parking spaces, some of them under the building. You will need a map — and possibly bread crumbs — to get through this store. Luckily, these are really organized people: Directions, store guides, even tape measures, paper and pencil are ready for you at the top of the escalator as you enter the store. Big yellow bags and matching yellow carts are there, too, for hauling around small items like the beveled, solid wood Kryddig spice mill ($14.99) or the Trojka kitchen scissors ($1.99).
I marched through every display and aisle and probably saw most of the 9,500 products IKEA sells. Such a chore.
The displays are so complete, it looks like somebody lives there. I wanted to grab my e-reader and plop down on the sleek gray love seat in a living-room display that looked like it belonged in a Manhattan loft. Or, open a cabinet in a family kitchen — with a farmhouse sink and quartz countertop — looking for a bowl and some brownie mix. Shoppers are invited to examine everything.
In a nod to shoppers’ budgets, you’ll find a banner by each display with the total price of what’s inside a display room, with a breakdown of how much each item costs.
The blue guide I carried had an area on the back for jotting down names and numbers of too-big-to-carry merchandise — think sofas, mattresses, tables, even sinks — I could pick up later. You have to love the names of the big stuff: they’re all Swedish, like the Vilmar molded chair ($39.99) or the Knoppard lightweight loveseat ($119).
“All the dining chairs have men’s traditional names,” said Samantha with a grin. “You’ll find names of bodies of water and women’s names. All kinds of names.”
That really big stuff is packed in “flat-pack” boxes — so they’ll fit in most vehicles — waiting in the warehouse for you to take home and put together. With minimal skills or equipment needed.
Or not. IKEA will be glad to deliver ($59) if your car is too tiny, and set it up if you’re all thumbs, starting at $89. Which is kind of silly if you buy IKEA’s biggest seller, the $69.99 Billy Bookcase.
Don’t miss the biggie attractions for families: Smaland, a supervised play area for kids so you can shop uninterrupted for up to an hour. But, beware: If it’s a busy day, Smaland could be full. Plus, there are height and potty-trained restrictions. Least busy days: Monday and Tuesday.
And, meatballs. I’m half Swedish and grew up eating them and lingonberry preserves. Together. Like turkey and cranberries. IKEA fed us meatballs before the tour, along with other goodies, in its 450-seat eatery with a view of downtown out of floor-to-ceiling windows. It has to be the brighest, prettiest cafeteria I’ve even seen. If I’d been buying (and trust me, that will happen soon), it would have cost me $4.99 for those meatballs, potatoes, cream sauce and lingonberries. The store doesn’t open until 10 a.m., but you can get a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hashbrown and sausage for 99 cents.
Diehard IKEA fans will want to check out www.ikea.com/stlouis for the uber giveaways next week. IKEA knows that fans begin lining up for grand openings way in advance because they give away furniture. A lot of furniture over several days beginning Sept. 30. Need a sofa? How about a living room chair? Get in line. Really early. Trust me; you won’t be alone.
Personally, I’m happy with my loyalty card (IKEA Family) perks: free coffee or tea.
IKEA St. Louis
Where: 1 IKEA Way, St. Louis.
Directions: Take Interstate 64 West to Forest Park Avenue exit 38A (the one that goes under the Grand overpass) and follow it to the light at South Vandeventer. Turn left.
When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Grand opening is 9 a.m. Wednesday with live music on the parking lot starting at 6 a.m.
Special metro-east event: IKEA Family Movie Night at the Skyview Drive-in in Belleville, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; see a free double feature; first-come, first served.
Parking: Free. There are 1,300 spaces, including some under cover.
Public transportation: Yes, you can take the MetroLink there from the metro-east, but don’t buy anything you don’t want to carry for a while. Take the Lambert Airport red line and get off at the Grand station. Then, you’ll have to walk about 15 minutes, following Grand north to make a left turn on Forest Park Ave., follow to Vandeventer and turn left again.
Information: ikea.com/stlouis, 888-888-4532, Facebook and an IKEA app.