Although the activity had no appearance on my bucket list I made a pilgrimage to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit the IKEA store. Many of the ladies in my circle of acquaintance go gaga over IKEA, and somehow shopping from a web page when a brick and mortar (or cinder block in this case) building is within driving distance seems less fulfilling. OK, let me be truthful. I went because I am frugal. Shawn had a couple of IKEA items she wanted to add to the living room, and IKEA’s shipping fee is $199. What? I can drive there and pick it up on one tank of gas, less than half that.
Before I realized what I was saying the words became audible, and an entry magically appeared on my calendar. Well, I am always looking for interesting date ideas so let’s give it a shot.
I do not like traveling as I have to take medicine now to avoid motion sickness, a lot of medicine. And the magic pills function as a diuretic. Hence, I can give status reports on the condition of most of the rest areas operated by the states of North Carolina (nice), Virginia (mostly nice), and West Virginia (abysmal, especially considering the $12 turnpike toll). The trip to Charlotte took around three hours (yes, we observe posted speed limits), and I was nearing desperation as we approached Charlotte. The signs promised hope of a rest area just before we hit the big city, but horror of horrors, the road construction crew had blocked access with their orange barrels. Had I been driving I would have used the bumper since that is what a bumper is for, but Shawn drove by, apologized, and continued the direct flight to IKEA.
IKEA sits just off the interstate with a huge parking lot which I imagine becomes a zoo on weekends. Our visit, timed for a Thursday morning before lunch, avoided the crowds. The building loomed large, beckoning, even welcoming, and no one could miss the huge letters labeled “ENTRANCE.” I set a fast pace as the words I wanted most to read next were “REST ROOMS.” Sure enough, a friendly sign suspended from the ceiling pointed the way, straight ahead toward a set of double doors.
Shawn paused to pick up a catalog, read the posters, adjust her purse, and ask if we needed an IKEA shopping bag. We might, if we don’t find the oasis soon. So through the double doors we marched only to find ourselves in an employee only section of the building. The doors swung shut and locked behind us. We were trapped, until a sweet lady in a nearby office chuckled at our predicament and buzzed us through the doors with clear directions that the rest rooms were on the right behind the elevators.
OK, honey, I am all yours. You now have my full attention. Where do we start?
IKEA offers two floors of shopping enjoyment, and the layout ensures visitors will wind through most of the displays. Simply follow the arrows pasted to the floor. Upstairs, in the Showroom, we found sample rooms of an imaginary house decorated with all the stuff one can only imagine by browsing a catalog. I tested couches, chairs, stools, and file cabinets. Try that with a web image. We took our time, even backtracked a few times, and discussed ideas along the walk. One couch in particular offered an amazing sitting experience, and we tested it for several minutes.
The music cascading from the ceiling speakers varied from enjoyable oldies rock-n-roll to the painful caterwauling of some current performer who seemed to be all done with love. I never figured out the volume oscillations which might have been louder on the path and toned down in the displays. Anyway, my new earplugs worked great.
Some of IKEA’s products baffle my imagination, and I could not picture them in our house. Everything I examined (and I did turn several things upside down for inspection) was well-built, and prices were lower than I expected. Maybe this is the bait stage of bait and switch, and once everyone is addicted to build-it-yourself kits the prices will soar. The furniture items we purchased (VITTSJÖ Shelf unit, white, glass) are solid. The idea behind them came from our daughter who has been using them in her solarium with house plants. We’re doing something similar, but more on that in a future post.
Like many men and small children I am only good for an hour or so of shopping before I’ve overloaded and want to go sit in the car. After our exploration of the room displays Shawn treated me to lunch in IKEA’s restaurant, a large cafeteria style establishment. Whether snacking or dining, the visitor is bound to find something appealing. We pushed our trays past the salads, and Shawn stopped abruptly at the raw fishy stuff. It looked like a bait shop to me, but she seemed excited. I decided on chicken tenders and fries. We had an enjoyable meal together in an airy and quiet spot. Just what our tired feet and empty tummies needed!
Descending the stairs to the first floor I found the trap, the reason women love the place and guys can’t wait to escape. IKEA Marketplace offers knickknacks of all shapes and sizes. Stuff no one can live without, I guess. Cookware, table utensils, home organization ideas, lighting, speakers, pots for plants, decorating ideas, window treatments and curtain rods—I even found one end cap with tool kits luring unsuspecting shoppers onto the rocks of retail destruction.
I stifled my hunter mentality (“Get it and let’s go!), and allowed Shawn to shop at her pace. The IKEA shopping buggies sport all-wheel steering and can run circles around anything I have seen at Target or Wal-Mart. No square wheels, baby, just zoom.
We picked up a couple of lamp shades, a scarf hanging device to bring some order to Shawn’s collection, and presents for the Grandkids. Just as on the Showroom floor, the arrows marking the path in the Marketplace direct the visitor through all the merchandise sections for a full shopping immersion. All too quickly we arrived at the end of the Marketplace and stood agape at the vastness of the Self Service Warehouse.
Before we continue let me offer some valuable advice. If, on your visit to IKEA, you plan to purchase furniture, bring some help. The flat cart in the warehouse is also all-wheel, and I found it next to impossible to hold it in place while sliding very heavy cartons onboard. And the cartons contain packing filler and spacers to protect the items inside so the length and width are greater than the actual size of the product. Bring a big vehicle with fold down seats. Or a truck. Be prepared. Saving that $199 shipping demands some planning.
Furniture items in the Showroom are tagged with an aisle number and a bay number, for example 1-B34. And the warehouse is laid out accordingly. Find the aisle, push down to the bay, and bust your gut trying to slide the box off the shelf onto the cart which can’t seem to stay still. We had three of the same item to load, and by the end we were experts. Another item we planned to purchase was not available so we moved on to the check out. At this point Shawn is operating a shopping cart and I’m puffing behind her driving a warehouse flatbed.
Please, IKEA, have a heart! Pushing a rolls-like-a-dream cart is fun, but not when one must aim through narrow displays of breakables on the way to the checkout. Shawn stopped several times to inspect a few more items, and I almost rear-ended her more than once. Stopping one of those carts on a dime is a challenge.
At last we were through the checkout, and I pushed our treasures to the curb. All that remained was to fold down the seats, man-handle the heavy boxes inside, and head for Raleigh. Piece-of-cake!
Yep, you guessed it. The lift gate refused to close. After working the puzzle multiple ways we pushed the passenger seat almost to the dashboard, placed the boxes on their edges with two jutting between the front seats and cheered as the gate latched. But I could no longer squeeze into the passenger seat. My big feet and long legs would not accordion in any way to make the entry. We switched the plan, and I drove the first leg of the return trip. At the rest area just before Greensboro we shifted the load slightly, and I was able to take a turn as passenger with my knees crunched into the dash. It was not the most comfortable ride, but we had several laughs as I tried to find a sweet spot.
Shawn and I could not wait to open the box and begin assembling our first IKEA project. The parts are not labeled, and the instructions are visual, think pictures, to make assembly a global possibility without language barriers. After installing twenty screws to build a frame we discovered that the eight seemingly identical cross members were not identical. Two of them had an extra screw hole and must be placed at a certain height on the unit to support angle bracing. Some disassembly was required.
I shouted, “IIIIIII-KEA!” Shawn laughed. It was a better word than I might have used, right?
Our shelf units are reasonably priced. The design is spot-on, and I would tag it as well-engineered. We found no missing or damaged parts. The units meet our need. And the big plus? The finished product adds elegance to the living room.
Yes, I would go back to IKEA, So, guys, if your lady is dropping hints, make the trip. Give her the thrill of shopping in person at a place most people visit online. And keep your eyes open. Just two exits north on I-85 is the biggest Bass Pro Shop I’ve ever seen. Also in the area is the Backing Up Classics auto museum near the Charlotte Motor Speedway.