Ikea a mixed blessing for Red Hook

April 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm Leave a comment

For years, residents of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn battled to prevent Ikea from opening a vast store in their midst, fearing local streets would be inundated with traffic. Now, as that store nears its first anniversary in mid-June, many of those same people are quietly whistling a different tune—charging that, if anything, the store has all too little impact.

“We were concerned about traffic,” says Red Hook resident Ben Schneider, owner of neighborhood eatery The Good Fork. “We were wrong.”

Fears that Ikea would massively snarl local streets have proven so baseless, in fact, that these days many Red Hookers are praising the Swedish chain for actually improving transportation in the area.

Residents of the primarily industrial neighborhood had long been starved for direct mass-transit links to Manhattan. Ikea changed that. These days there is a free ferry between the store and lower Manhattan, a free shuttle bus to and from downtown Brooklyn subway stations and two bus lines, the B61 and B77, that have been extended further into Red Hook to drop passengers off in front of the bright blue superstore.

Sam Schwartz, a Manhattan-based transportation consultant hired by Ikea to sort out all the traffic issues, notes that the store has become “a multi-modal transportation hub.”

Economic dud

The system has worked so well, says store manager Mike Baker, that although the store has exceeded expectations, the 1,400-car parking lot has been full only twice since the store opened.

“From a transportation standpoint, Ikea has done amazing things,” says Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6.

From a business and economic standpoint, however, the 347,000-square-foot store is getting far more negative reviews. Local business owners complain that although thousands of people are pouring into the store every day, few of them are spending money anywhere else in the area. Also, earlier hopes that the store would produce hundreds of jobs for area residents have been dashed.

Many retailers on Van Brunt Street, Red Hook’s main commercial artery, insist that the store operates as an island removed from the rest of the neighborhood.

Monica Byrne, a Red Hook resident and co-owner of Home/Made, a café and antique shop located 10 blocks from Ikea, has seen little impact.

“I don’t notice a lot of people coming in with big blue Ikea bags,” she says.

Local restaurateurs are also finding it tough to compete with Ikea’s own cafeteria and its wildly popular Swedish meatballs.

“Most people are so exhausted from the Ikea experience,” says Mr. Schneider of The Good Fork. “They get in their car and go home.”

Job concerns

When it comes to jobs, Ikea’s staunchest opponents, people like John McGettrick of the Red Hook Civic Association, are quick to express their skepticism of the store’s promise to create jobs. Ikea has roughly 500 employees, according to Mr. Baker, and is currently in the midst of a hiring drive for the peak summer season. As for local hires, he will only say that a big percentage of employees are Brooklynites.

“They refuse to tell us how many people they hired from the neighborhood,” says Mr. McGettrick.

He and others have already moved on to their next campaign, however. They are fighting efforts to bring Phoenix Beverages, a big beer distributor, to Red Hook’s Pier 11. Community leaders say that would bring even more trucks onto their streets ever day.

By Amanda Fung
Crains New York

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Go Coastal, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , , .

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