It began innocuously enough, with an emailed invitation for a media-only event. But I knew that this was no ordinary press conference. This was Ikea.
Years of headlines ran through my mind: Oct. 2015: "Ikea announces plan to open Jacksonville store in 2017" -WJCT; May 2016: "Ikea buys land for $13 million to build mega store in Jacksonville" -Jacksonville Business Journal; March 2017: "You can see Ikea now, and it's big" -Financial News & Daily Record. All leading up to this subject line: "Invitation: New Ikea Jacksonville Press Preview, November 2."
I quickly assembled the courage to skip a meeting and clicked 'reply' to RSVP to a once-in-a-lifetime retail experience that I'd surely be bragging about many days hence. The reply came quickly. YES! I was in.
All that was left to do was wait for The Big Day.
Finally, it came. Visions of meatballs and ambient lighting dancing in my head, I entered a pleasing café where scads of eager media had already gathered, hungrily eyeing cakes and potato pancakes with fancy names that none dared try pronounce. Enormous signs tantalized of the adventure to come, foretelling speeches about tree hugging and solar panels and--the mind reels--composting. Yes, composting, at this, the 46th U.S. location of a treasured international company.
It soon became clear that this was not to be an in-and-out quote and photo grab for a noon turnaround. Nay, this was to be the most epic three-hour tour in the history of Jacksonville.
Excited chatter rang through the air as one after another peeked into the enormous 290,000 square foot space, eager to enter. One mentioned that it was eerie to see the store so empty; that from this day forward, it could only be experienced teeming with throngs of the faithful. This added reverence that increased as we breakfasted on delicacies worthy of the makers of the world famous ready-to-assemble furniture for the chic, modern urban dwellers and those who aspire to such.
Next came the speeches. Details flew into and out of our heads: all we could think of was the store. Incredible prizes were announced for the first to line up to enter the hallowed space. Afterwards, a manager casually spoke of people camping in the parking lot for 48 hours before the Nov. 8 opening. (That's longer than people waited for Grateful Dead tickets when Jerry was alive! The mind reeled.)
Finally, when we felt as if we could take no more glad-handing and forced pleasantries with colleagues, the tour began. When we spied the playroom where children can be safely stowed for an hour, more if they're members, we knew that at long last Ikea had arrived.
Living rooms, couches, kitchens and bedding, oh my! On and on and on it went, each twist and turn more aesthetically pleasing than the last. A table for every budget; a suite for every taste. The space seemed lived-in, as if it had just been abandoned by a very clean, fashionable family of people that we want to be, or at least meet. We ogled and oohed, wowed and cooed.
The tour guides were so knowledgeable, so helpful and poised as we wound through the maze-like space, that it became difficult to imagine coming back without their sure lead, even with the well-lit arrows projected on the floor and signs throughout directing one wherever their fancy may lie. But all fears were quelled when they told us that there would be staff whose sole job is to give shoppers ease. Praise be!
Though it went on for an hour or more, it seemed that the tour ended just as it began. Teasing images of holiday splendor waved us on as we adjourned to the parking lot, bearing giant cinnamon buns and succulents, a sweet parting gift that made us at once glad we came and sad to leave.
"We want people to come in and have a great time," one manager had said.
Ikea Jacksonville opens at 9 a.m. Wednesday Nov. 8. Customers may begin lining up 48 hours in advance, at 9 a.m. Monday Nov. 6, for the following giveaways.
Wednesday, Nov. 8
- Rest Assured*- The first 46 adults (18 & older) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a free Ektorp three-seat sofa, honoring our 46th U.S. store.
- Take a Seat (And We Mean Take It!)* –The next 100 adults (18 & older) will receive a free Poäng armchair.
- For the (Truly) Young at Heart – The first 100 children (17 & younger) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a free Famnig heart-shaped soft toy.
- Pick a Card, Any Card – The first 2,500 adults (18 & older) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a random prize envelope with Ikea Gift Cards ranging from $10 to $250, or a “Buy One, Get One Free” cinnamon bun, hotdog or soft-serve frozen yogurt voucher.
- Happy Birthday to You and Us – The first 100 adults (18 & older) bringing proof to Ikea Jacksonville that their birthday is the same as the store’s will receive a gift card for $46, a tie-in corresponding to Ikea Jacksonville as the 46th U.S. Ikea store. Offer valid only on Nov. 8.
Thursday, Nov. 9
- Sleep Like Royalty* – The first 46 adults (18 & older) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a free queen-sized Haugesund mattress.
- Cozy Comfort* – The next 100 adults (18 & older) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a free Alina “sleep set” that includes bedspread and cushion covers.
- Kids’ Best Friend – The first 100 children (17 & younger) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a free Gosig golden dog soft toy.
Friday, Nov. 10
- Cook Like a Pro* – The first 46 adults (18 & older) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a free 4-piece Sensuell cookware set.
- Meatballs for a Year* – The next 100 adults (18 & older) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a voucher for 12 monthly meatball meals for two at Ikea Jacksonville’s Restaurant through next year, expiring on Nov. 30, 2018.
- A Cold Sweet-ish Treat – The first 100 children (17 & under) in Ikea Jacksonville will receive a voucher for a soft-serve frozen yogurt available that day at Ikea Jacksonville’s Exit Bistro.
Saturday, Nov. 11
- A Meal on Us- As a thank you for your service, veterans can enjoy a complimentary entree in the Ikea Restaurant by showing a form of military ID (active/reserve/retired).
Wednesday, Nov. 8 - Sunday, Nov. 12
- Play Big If You’re Little – Balloon artists, entertainment and face-painting will enhance the family-friendly fun at Ikea Jacksonville from November 8 through Nov. 12.
- Enter Our Home, Enter to Win – From Nov. 8 through Nov. 12, visitors to Ikea Jacksonville may enter for a chance to win one of twenty $250 Ikea Gift Cards through the Ikea Family loyalty program.
*One per household