Ikea’s Benevolent Despotism in Red Hook

Ikea in Red Hook
Ikea in Red Hook

On a recent warm summer evening, two young professional couples sat idly chatting before a performance of Hamlet at Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre.

“Have you been to the new Ikea in Red Hook?” one of the young men asked his companions, receiving a chorus of “no, not yet!” in response.

On came a list of household items wanted, but not necessarily needed. “I was a bit worried about getting everything home on the ferry,” one young lady said.

“I can help you,” said her male companion.

With the opening of Ikea Brooklyn on June 18, no longer is a trip to Elizabeth, N.J., a staple of New York residential life; instead, it’s a ferry or bus ride to the faded industrial port of Red Hook. If every other reason for Manhattanites to come to Brooklyn has eluded them, their consumer interests will get the best of them. The retailer is even banking that the branding of Ikea Brooklyn – the only Ikea to use the name of a municipality – will allow consumers to presume something about the place if only that – phew – it ‘s not New Jersey!

Brooklynites like to champion a certain lifestyle, and a benign Swedish home design company helps us furnish our lives, build our own gadgets and feel good about the company’s socially conscious ways. Cue smugness.

After all, Red Hook residents got the first crack at employment at Ikea Brooklyn, and though it feels like this monstrous blue box should prove more menacing in our greedy capitalist world, it’s not. (What other store would tell you that if you shlep home your purchases yourself, you’ll save money on delivery costs?) The store presents its wares in small furnished rooms along a path that runs through the store. Rooms sized at 375 square feet and 590 square feet are marketed to the New Yorker living in a closet.

Small signs on the piers behind the store tell the story of the Red Hook industrial port, allowing visitors to walk along where huge cranes, which at one time lifted shipping containers from visiting ships, still stand as a testament to Brooklyn’s history and culture. Unfortunately, a trip to Ikea might not extend to a trip to, say, the Brooklyn Museum or to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ikea is perfectly situated to attract consumers to the store, but not force them to actually deal with Brooklyn.

A ferry drops consumers off at the store’s waterfront port, or buses pick them up from nearby transportation hubs. Indeed, a Manhattanite’s dream. What if those last remaining anti-Brooklyn elitists should have to see Brooklyn’s beautiful nooks and crannies, our easygoing lifestyle and our gorgeous parks and cutting-edge cultural institutions? They might be forced to contend with the fact that Ikea isn’t the only thing Brooklyn has on Manhattan.

I took a bike ride down to Red Hook to see it for myself. It was Sunday, and rain fell intermittently. Red Hook feels detached from the rest of Brooklyn thanks to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the entrance to the Battery Tunnel. The neighborhood often feels like its own little waterfront mecca, where neighbors are friendly and at times hostile to the outside world that had seemingly cut them off – until now.

The hostility of Ikea consumers was apparent. (It reminded me of the time two friends and I argued with a woman standing in a parking spot at Ikea in Long Island.) The long, crowded path through the store, followed by the overwhelming marketplace, a search through a warehouse, and a long checkout line easily compounded consumers’ frustration. Beware of the box stores to come, Red Hook! Remember that axiom of New York life: Don’t get in my way.

“Oh my God, there must be 5,000 people in there, it’s crazy!” screeched an elderly lady, dressed all in black and topped by a baseball cap, into her cell phone as she made her way out of the store into the damp parking lot.

“She thinks she should be the only one in the store,” said a middle-aged man mocking her complaining tone. “Maybe she should go to Long Island or New Jersey.”

Nicole Brydson Written by:

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