How do you explain Ikea to someone who has never been there? How do you begin to explain the fact that you’re more than likely going to see a shopper or two nod off on a show mattress or recliner while dozens of other shoppers carry on completely unbothered?
I had never been to Ikea before a couple of weekends ago, when the girlfriend threatened me with “a serious talk” if I didn’t step away from the tournament games and go with her to pick out furniture for our lovely new place in south Charlotte.
Three hours later, with a shopping cart full of unbagged items and a cup of meatballs, I made it out alive. And now I’m here to offer how I tackled Ikea in three steps.
Step 1: The Eating Experience.
Welcome to Ikea! You’ve made it through a whirlwind of construction and an entrance so complicated it would make Carowinds blush — congratulations!
Once you get inside, it’s important to hop straight on the escalator and over to the cafeteria. Time to fuel up. Choose from a variety of dining options including ribs, pasta, some refrigerated fish from last week now being presented as salmon cakes and, of course, meatballs. Try not to flee when the line inevitably bottlenecks once you have your tray and get to the register.
A geriatric gentleman in an Easy Rider jacket sporting some interesting mutton chops was standing in front of me when the bottleneck first struck and he looked back at me with his mouth agape in horror, as if I had some solution to the sudden increase in wait time before he could begin eating. I politely stared through him, avoiding the potential emotional connection that would stand in the way of me and my meatballs. I advise you do the same.
Eventually the line will dwindle and you’ll finally be able to appreciate the Americanized Swedish food while sitting in a massive furniture store. This place isn’t so bad after all!
Step 2: The Showrooms
Have you ever felt the urge to explore a haunted maze conceptualized by a prospective interior designer? If so, have I got the place for you!
In all seriousness, the showrooms are actually pretty fun to look around. Each room has a different theme and many are constructed to demonstrate how close of quarters people can live in if they move to Brooklyn and eschew a mattress for a dog bed.
You’re going to find these miniature living arrangements cute and inspiring at first; I know I did. Just remember that visiting them at Ikea isn’t quite the same as living in a 290 square-foot shoebox for weeks and months, staring sadly at your chic, half-finished bookshelf filled with ironic Swedish literature while sitting upon your low-flow toilet next to the front door.
Step 3: The Warehouse
So you’ve seen enough and now you’re ready to actually make some purchases? Come on down, my friend, to the bottom floor. You’ve finally made it! The best part about the warehouse — besides having to use a cryptic number combination to figure out which identical long, flat box contains the kitchen table you’re trying to buy — is that it contains the checkout lines. And behind those checkout lines is MORE FOOD.
Do you need a cup of Swedish meatballs to-go? Of course you do. Would you like to sample some sparkling Lingonberry juice? Why not the whole bottle? You’ve finally completed the Ikea experience and the concession stand/bistro feels like the refreshment table awaiting runners at the end of a 5K.
I walked out to the car that day with a sense of satisfaction, confident that I would likely never willingly return but knowing that the memories I made at Ikea that day would last a lifetime … or until I got home and put the tournament back on.
Photos: John D. Simmons; Brian Dlugosz