One shopper’s history of Ikea joys and frustrations

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Between the High Holidays and Sukkot, and all the mishegas producing the paper during this time, I nearly forgot about an important local date. But after recently driving past the area known as Cortex, at Forest Park and Vandeventer avenues where the massive Scandinavian home furnishing store Ikea is opening (Sept. 30), I realized I was completely alone in this memory lapse.

Apparently everyone who lives within two hours of St. Louis is at Ikea right now. I’m not sure even the Pope drew these crowds. Two days before Wednesday’s grand opening, dozens began camping out in line for promotional giveaways, including sofas for the first 41. 

I understand the appeal of free stuff, but have these people been to an Ikea before? Do they not understand that most items here come in huge, heavy boxes, need to be assembled, and have instruction guides likely written by Satan?

Don’t get me wrong — I desperately wanted an Ikea to open in St. Louis. I signed petitions, joined a Facebook campaign and told anyone within earshot how much our city would benefit from one. During my many years as a reporter at the Post-Dispatch, I chased dozens of rumors about a possible opening here, only to be let down again and again. 

It frustrated me to no end: How could we live without all those fabulously designed room installations and affordable bookshelves, not to mention tasty Swedish meatballs?

Volunteer with CASA ad

So why, now that St. Louis finally has its own Ikea, located within the city limits no less, am I not more excited? How come it feels so anticlimactic? 

Oh, yeah, I remember why: It’s because when it comes right down to it, I have never had a positive Ikea shopping experience. For me it’s been more ICK-ea than I-kea. 

Like a lot of St. Louisans, I made periodic pilgrimages to both Bolingbrook and Schaumburg, the two Chicago-area Ikeas that for years were the ones closest to St. Louis. Once there, I would spend endless hours and hundreds of dollars on merchandise I didn’t need with names I couldn’t pronounce (like Vittsjo and Fjalkinge, both shelving units). I’d get home with said merchandise only to have my husband roll his eyes, then freak when he realized we (he) would have to put much of it together. And this is a good story from my visits.

On one occasion, my friend Melissa and I decided to drive up and back in a day to the Schaumburg store (which is larger and farther away from St. Louis than the one in Bolingbrook). Our plan was to leave at 8 a.m., arrive by 1, shop until 5 and be home by 10. Easy peasy.

Like the seasoned shoppers we were, we agreed to split up so each of us could maximize her time. At 5 p.m., we’d meet on the lower level by the checkout lanes. 

I came prepared with a shopping list culled from nights poring over the Ikea catalogue, which I later learned is more than twice as widely distributed as the Bible. As I entered the store, I grabbed a stubby yellow pencil, notepad and shopping cart, and blissfully wheeled my way into domestic Disneyland.

All was going better than well, and on schedule, until 4:30, when I realized I had forgotten to grab a pack of Forsiktigt (wine glasses) in the Market Hall area. At that moment, Market Hall was another zip code away.

If you’ve been to an Ikea, with its one-directional blue floor arrows laid out by evil geniuses, you know the treachery of going against the flow of shopping-cart traffic. Rather than risk the hassle, I left my cart filled to the brim near the checkout area and dashed for the wine glasses. 

Of course I got distracted in Market Hall trying to choose between the Ungdom and Enigt mugs (neither of which was on my list). By the time I got back to my cart, it was gone. Yes, gone, as in gone girl; gone with the wind; going, going, gone. More than three hours of shopping and all I had to show was a pack of Forsiktigt and four Ungdom mugs!

Frantic, I tracked down one of the yellow-shirted “co-workers,” as they are called, to ask what could have happened. “We’re trained to restock items from carts that look to be stranded,” she told me matter-of-factly. Noticing I was near tears, she empathetically added, “Sorry.” 

Then there was the time my son thought it would be fun to practice sliding in the self-serve furniture pick-up area, where the aisles stretch for miles. Egged on by his much older brother and sister, my son took off running, and slid smack dab into my shins, knocking me onto my tuchus. While the only real bruise was my pride, I’m still not sure if that was because of the fall or the fact that my husband and kids laughed their heads off for hours.

My most recent Ikea nightmare came earlier this year, at the store in suburban Kansas City. It was April, so the outdoor furniture was on display. Unable to make a decision, I feverishly began texting pictures to my husband of oversized, plastic lawn chairs.

“They’re ugly. Why would we want these?” he asked.

“Because they’re only $29.99,” I countered.

After going back and forth a few times, he suggested I walk away from the chairs.

“I know this is completely out of your comfort zone,” he said, “but I think you should leave the store now.”

Leave the store now? Empty-handed? How could I possibly leave an Ikea empty-handed? 

In case you’re wondering, oh no I didn’t. Instead, I made another mad dash for Market Hall and four more Ungdom mugs.