Sofa, so good for new Ikea
Smaller queues than expected as furniture giant opens
Swedish furniture giant Ikea opened its first store in Ireland yesterday at Holywood Exchange outside Belfast with smaller queues than expected.
The anticipated thousands who were expected to choke up the traffic in east Belfast yesterday morning for the much anticipated opening of the first Ikea store on the island of Ireland, in the end failed to materialise.
But the mega flatpack emporium opened to a brisk first day's trading at what is now its biggest store in the UK and Ireland.
From the trademark blue and yellow exterior to the Viking hats on the welcoming drummers and the Swedish meatballs and Gravadlax on the restaurant menu, there was no doubt that the shopper was in for a uniquely Swedish experience.
Face painters, jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers and a live jazz band were on hand to entertain the first shoppers to enter the massive 29,000 square metre building.
Among the first through the doors was First and Deputy First Minister Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. The two men helped Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers perform the opening ceremony.
For the past year there has been much hype surrounding the store's opening with predictions of massive queues and impatient customers but the queues were less than expected.
By 7am only a diehard group of about 20 were lined up waiting for the international retail chain to open. By 8.30am that number increased to around 100.
Much planning went into ensuring the stampedes experienced at the opening of other stores in the UK and Europe did not take place here.
For the past 18 months the retail chain had been working with police, the Roads service and the Fire and Rescue Services to ensure the opening ran as smoothly as possible.
A traffic management plan was in place to cater for the thousands of customers expected to turn up, but the grand opening fell well short of predicted numbers.
Some customers believed this could be put down to hype surrounding the event putting people off.
Bangor couple Greta and Leonard Dugan deliberately stayed away early yesterday morning, preferring to arrive at 10am. Mrs Dugan explained they were expecting to be stuck in traffic for hours but were pleasantly surprised by how quickly they were able to get here.
Mr Dugan said he was expecting more people but was happy that they did not have to shove their way through crowds to buy their goods.
But Belfast couple Stephen and Nikola Campbell said they believed Saturday would see the big queues.
"People are having to work. I think this Saturday will be the real test, " Mr Campbell said.
Amanda and Gareth Stewart from Kinallen, Dromara, were first in line, arriving at 11.30pm on Wednesday.
Among those in line were a handful of people dressed in Swedish costume. Ikea were giving away vouchers for the best dressed people.
Wendy McGuire, from Belfast came dressed, as a Viking. She said she was waiting months for Ikea to open. She said: "I got here at 7.30am. I plan on buying fabrics and bedding, and anything else I can find."
But the greatest enthusiasm for Ikea came from Swedish native Tina Brescanu, who has been pining for the Ikea experience since moving to Dublin 14 years ago.
Yesterday, she and husband Vitalie, from Moldova, and their two children Torsten (4) and Emilia (3) were in "Ikea heaven".
"I grew up with Ikea. A typical Saturday out when we were children was going to an Ikea store. It is more than just shopping. It is an experience," gushed Mrs Brescanu, who admitted that the main attraction for her were the Swedish goodies such as coffee and biscuits, which they were stocking up for Christmas.
From humble beginnings selling pens and nylons in Sweden back in 1943, today it is claimed that one in 10 Europeans are conceived in Ikea beds. After yesterday, Ulster's contribution to that statistic will begin.