Yellow Fever

On October 13, after two years of lobbying, the City Council signed off on Ikea’s bid to open a massive store in Brooklyn. Now the Swedish behemoth is hurtling toward Red Hook, promising Drömminge sofas, Igge shower curtains, and jobs for all. But not everyone in the neighborhood is so keen on Ikea’s 2007 arrival, coming on the heels of a nearby 135,000-square-foot Lowe’s home-improvement store and a Fairway set to open next year.Up to now, the retailer has often been given a pass as an innocuous Swede. But how will its gentle-giant reputation hold up in Brooklyn? Will Doig asked Ikea’s real-estate director, Pat Smith, who scouted the site and will shepherd Ikea into its new home.

The plan for the new store strikes me as somewhat … big.
There aren’t many 22-acre sites in Brooklyn. We looked at that site in Gowanus, but that was only nine acres. We are just way too much store for that.

But not everyone in Brooklyn wants so much store.
We send catalogues to 149,000 households in Brooklyn. You have to request it or shop at the store. I can’t picture anybody who lives in Brooklyn that’s not an Ikea customer.

Do you shop Ikea?
Oh, yeah. I’ve got it all over the place. Ikea bed, Ikea night table. All the curtains, the bedding. Some of my antique furniture doesn’t actually go with some of the newer stuff. The linens don’t match.

People’s main concern about the new store is that Ikea-bound traffic will overrun Red Hook.
We did a traffic simulation where we added all the traffic that the Lowe’s and the Fairway are going to generate, and then we added in all the Ikea traffic, and it still flows fine. We’re comfortable we’ve got it pretty much nailed.

So maybe it’s really about not wanting a gigantic box in the middle of the neighborhood.
You’d have to ask them. I don’t know who they’re speaking for. They’re not speaking for the residents of Red Hook. They’re not speaking for the 22,000 people who signed petitions to bring Ikea to Brooklyn.

John McGettrick of the Red Hook Civic Association has suggested they’ll take this to court.
I think if he really cared about the neighborhood, he’d take the money [for the legal fees] to do some good in the neighborhood. To me, that’s the biggest waste of money imaginable.

It’s the jobs that have caught the attention of Red Hook’s housing-project residents. Didn’t you take a group of them to the store in Elizabeth?
We made a wide-open invitation. Even though a lot of people had been to an Ikea store, nobody had actually been to the back of the house. We talked about what Ikea looks for in new hires, and showed them how the store operates. Basic things like how a forklift runs.

Is it true you bought them Christmas presents?
You’ve got some incredibly underprivileged kids in these houses. It’ll make you cry. We just looked at it and said, This isn’t right. We’re going to have a little Christmas party.

Some might consider that a bribe.
They sit on Santa’s lap, they get a little stuffed animal. If that’s bribery, then I guess I’m a briber.

Yellow Fever