Ikea fans no longer face trek abroad as Belfast store opens
The wait finally ended yesterday for Irish lovers of flat-pack furniture and Gravadlax.
The anticipated thousands who were expected to choke up the traffic in east Belfast yesterday morning for the much anticipated opening of the first Ikea store on the island of Ireland, in the end failed to materialise.
But the mega flatpack emporium opened to a brisk first day's trading at what is now its biggest store in the UK and Ireland.
From the trademark blue and yellow exterior to the Viking hats on the welcoming drummers and the Swedish meatballs and Gravadlax on the restaurant menu, there was no doubt but that the shopper was in for a uniquely Swedish experience.
Face painters, jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers and a live jazz band were on hand to entertain the first shoppers to enter the massive 29,000 square metre building.
In the queue were Paul and Leona Fleming, who left their Ashford, Co Wicklow, home at 11pm on Wednesday night to get ahead of the expected throngs.
"We got there earlier than we thought and just stayed in the van until morning," said Mr Fleming.
The veteran Ikea shoppers, who have shopped in branches in Paris, Bordeaux, Warrington and Glasgow, are over the moon that they can now visit their favourite store without any more trips abroad and they announced their intention to spend the full day there.
"We have a lot of Ikea stuff but there is always upgrading to do. We are mainly looking for furniture for the family room today. Everything is laid out so well and it is affordable and lovely. It is the Ryanair of shopping," added Mr Fleming.
Dublin couple Deirdre Mallon and Patrick O'Keefe from Swords had also shopped in Ikea and knew the drill.
"Even with the shipping costs it has still been cheaper travelling abroad to Ikea," said Mr O'Keefe.
"We love it. The furniture is modern, trendy and you can change a whole look by just changing the colours."
Once inside, dazed shoppers armed with measuring tapes, pencils and notepads entered a one-way labyrinth, laid out in such a way to make it virtually impossible to leave without seeing it all.
Pals and firm Ikea fans Fiona Crawley and Cliona Dooge from Co Louth knew exactly what they had come for and where to find it.
"We've hired vans in the past and gone to Glasgow and Warrington and the lay out is identical. It is a cheap and cheerful look, which is particularly ideal for first homes or apartments," said Ms Dooge.
But the greatest enthusiasm for Ikea came from Swedish native Tina Brescanu, who has been pining for the Ikea experience since moving to Dublin 14 years ago.
Yesterday, she and husband Vitalie, from Moldova, and their two children Torsten (4) and Emilia (3) were in "Ikea heaven".
"I grew up with Ikea. A typical Saturday out when we were children was going to an Ikea store. It is more than just shopping. It is an experience," gushed Mrs Brescanu, who admitted that the main attraction for her were the Swedish goodies such as coffee and biscuits, which they were stocking up for Christmas.
There was no need for overflow, with a 2,000-space car park outside the store.
By early afternoon, the first foot-weary shoppers began to emerge with one female shopper expertly manoeuvring a giant trolley containing a four-seater sofa to the check-out.
From humble beginnings selling pens and nylons in Sweden back in 1943, today it is claimed that one in 10 Europeans are conceived in Ikea beds. After yesterday, Ireland's contribution to that statistic will begin.