TAMPA — They slept on concrete, urban campers motivated by free chairs with a name few could pronounce and the possibility of a $250 gift card to their favorite electric blue and yellow furniture store.
It's here! Finally here! Ikea!
"This store, it's a way of life," said Patti Flippo, resting in a camping chair next to her tent Tuesday morning. She and roommate Courtney Stone came from their apartment in Riverview two days before this morning's grand opening.
"They have cookware, furniture, food, everything," Flippo, 36, said. "It's simple, organized and you can take it home the same day. And there are meatballs! You can even buy those to take home and make yourself."
Located on Adamo Drive at 22nd Street and the Crosstown Expressway, the 350,000-square-foot store is the largest of three locations in Florida.
The Swedish furniture giant allowed eager customers to line up outside at its furniture pickup area just before 9 a.m. Monday. By the time the store opens this morning, store officials estimate that 200 people will have crashed on the pavement, with thousands more following them through sleek display rooms.
In anticipation of a packed 1,600-space parking lot, the company has arranged for additional parking at the Centro Ybor garage. Fourteen shuttles will scoot customers back and forth.
Ikea shoppers can also expect a marching band, mimes, dancers and meatball samples. The first 2,500 customers will receive gift cards ranging from restaurant freebies to those coveted $250 gift cards.
But only the first 100 will get the free chair, a popular model called the poãng. Pronounced just like it's spelled, it costs $90.
A few sites down from Flippo and Stone, clerks set up a display model so people could try it out. Campers could leave their spots for 10 minutes at a time. "It's really comfortable," Stone said.
Tampa resident Mike Green, 34, decided to camp out for the free chair, setting up his 4-year-old daughter's zebra tent, complete with a striped head at the helm, next to Flippo and Stone. The trio made fast friends.
Green had planned to switch off with a friend, but took a day off and parked on the cement when he realized that leaving the line for an extended time was against Ikea's waiting rules.
"I'm all about free," he said. "When I told my wife I was going to do this, she said I was crazy."
Some campers got lucky enough to set up by an outlet. Some plugged in a TV and fan.
So what's the only problem with camping out at Ikea? Food. No grills or other types of cooking are allowed. But there's always takeout.