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Tampa Ikea finally opens, with fanfare and fatigue

TAMPA — If insanity isn't your thing, you probably weren't among the several hundred people who waited hours or days for a first look at the much-hyped Ikea store that opened here Wednesday.

Here's what you missed, or didn't miss, depending on your liking:

Men danced on stilts. Grown women wore hats made of balloons.

Even Mayor Pam Iorio came, dressed in Swedish yellow and blue.

"I want to welcome the Swedish invasion to Tampa!" she cheered, applauding the economic boost that 400-plus new jobs will bring to the city.

By the time the doors finally parted at 9 a.m., the line wrapped around the sprawling, two-story furniture superstore, Florida's third and largest Ikea.

Was the wait worth it? Depends on whom you ask and how long they waited.

Some people camped out for more than 50 hours for a $90 chair giveaway. Others spent the night hoping for a $250 gift card but ended up with only a free hotdog.

"We'd do it again," said Chanda Musial of Homosassa, who spent the night before the opening outside the store with her mom, husband, 4-year-old son and 14-month-old twin daughters. They all won free hot dogs.

Ben Dziubek, 20, who was second in line, scored a free chair but was far less impressed.

"Not worth it. So not worth it," he said. "We got here Monday excited. Now the day comes, and we're exhausted."

Deafening noise greeted early arrivals. For 45 minutes, employees chanted and clapped hundreds of inflated "thundersticks" as customers glided up an escalator. It sounded like Tropicana Field during the playoffs, only louder. One man plugged his ears.

Some shoppers went straight to the maze of more than 10,000 displayed items. Armed with maps and tape measures, they considered products with names like Ektorp, Expedit and Effektiv and Mala, Mammut and Mikael.

Others feasted on $4.99 plates of Swedish meatballs and lingonberries despite the breakfast hour.

"They're very good," said Lissette Torres, a 24-year-old from Tampa who had camped out since Monday night.

Officials hailed the day a success. Traffic stayed heavy around the store, but it didn't cause any major highway backups. Not everyone parked in the right place, but Tampa police went easy on ticketing, said company spokesman Joseph Roth.

"We certainly made the right decision, that's for sure," Roth said of building in Tampa.

The only empty spot in the whole place on day one? The supervised children's play area, closed indefinitely as a precaution taken by Ikea stores nationwide against the swine flu.

Times staff writer Drew Harwell contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Deal Diva tips

Want to shop Ikea? Here are some Deal Diva tips to take along.

1. Wear blinders: Ikea is a blessing and a curse for budget shoppers. You'll find plenty of deals, including the store's cheapest item, a 29-cent ceramic tumbler. But be wary of getting swept up in the euphoria of newness and bounty. You'll end up thinking you need and want things you never knew you needed or wanted before.

2. Make time: This is more of a shopping destination than a quick stop on an errand run. The average shopper spends two to three hours in Ikea. If you want to speed things up, grab a map and learn the shortcuts around the 353,000-square-foot store.

3. Wear comfy shoes: A single lap around the Tampa store is two-thirds of a mile. The place is big. Bigger than Home Depot big.

4. Stay open: Ikea's sample rooms provide tons of decorating ideas and organizing solutions. In addition to furniture, the store offers accessories, lamps, bedding and kitchen utensils.

5. Hire help: Not everyone is down with Ikea's self-assembly furniture. For a fee, the store offers home delivery and home assembly.

Tampa Ikea finally opens, with fanfare and fatigue 05/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 11:51am]
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