JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – So far, by most accounts, the new Ikea store on Gate Parkway is proving to be a big hit.
Most, but not all, unless you include the hit some smaller neighboring businesses say Ikea is causing.
“We can fill up this parking lot ourselves, not to mention all the other businesses in this plaza,” said Mark McCrary, co-owner of TitanUp Fitness located at The Shoppes of Gate Parkway.
McCrary told First Coast News he doesn’t mind the new big kid on the block, but in the first ten days since its opening, some of Ikea’s customers have used his plaza’s parking spaces, displacing his own clientele and that of his neighbors.
“We have seven classes a day with up to 25 people per class,” McCrary said.
“Luckily, Ikea has provided folks in our parking lot,” he said. “Of course, we have a lot of folks that still make it through. And we have a lot of people folks that actually walk across the street over to Ikea. So, they don’t want to go to the bus lot.”
The bus lot McCrary mentioned is a temporary overflow lot that Ikea said will be open for “as long as it’s needed." But that lot requires parking on the opposite side of Interstate 295 and taking a shuttle, something McCrary said some folks either are unaware of or simply ignore. The main lot holds about 950 vehicles, the shuttle lot can handle a thousand.
For its part, Ikea said the parking displacement problem is expected whenever the company opens a new location. In fact, the company says it builds such expectations into its philosophy.
“We really do want to be part of that local community and help drive visitation to those local businesses while not disrupting their business,” said local Ikea marketing rep Matt Halawa. “We actually have someone posted [in the plaza lot across the street] to let them know that this is not an Ikea-approved customer parking lot and that they can be towed.”
Both Ikea and the smaller shop owners said so far any towing has been ordered by the plaza’s owner Paul Ash, who didn’t return a call from First Coast News on Wednesday. But one of those owners tells us he’s seen it happen already.
“I’ve seen families go across the street and come back, and no car in the parking lot,” said Brucci’s Pizza owner Ronnie Gainey.
Gainey said he runs a ‘dollar pizza’ special every Thursday that has always packed the house, until last Thursday, the first that Ikea was open.
“Last Thursday was the first time that we saw an impact, but I believe that was because of the traffic that started,” he said. Gainey noted that even in the handful of days since then, it appears his business has returned to a more normal feel. Because of that, he’s eyeing this Thursday with a feeling not yet of panic, but ‘wait-and-see’.
“Because then we’ll have two days to go with and say ‘Hey, this is two weeks in a row that our Thursday business has been affected,'" he said.
Mark McCrary’s business partner at TitanUp Fitness, Andy Decker, shares that mixed sentiment of worry and welcome.
“Overnight, bam! It’s like, in your face,” said Decker of Ikea’s arrival. For the Ikea customers, that have flouted parking rules and courtesy, he said the furniture giant has pulled its share of the weight.
“Ikea has done, I think, an awesome job at keeping everyone at bay,” Decker said.
In fact, he sees a possible marketing opportunity in the offing. Decker said the uptick effect from such a deluge of traffic is hard to measure in barely a week’s time, he isn’t waiting for potential new clients to barge down his door.
“We’ve definitely tried to use it to our advantage,” Decker continued. “We have people running sprints outside, doing laps, to try to get some more exposure.”
Nevertheless, it takes parking availability to absorb increased business, and it remains to be seen how effectively that balance is achieved for big and small business alike. The first and most immediate acid test, said the folks at The Shoppes, will be the holiday shopping season.
“Black Friday, Christmas, come to think of it, it might get to that point where we’re towing vehicles or out here on patrol ourselves,” Decker said.
“We love the additional traffic because we want folks to know we’re here,” McCrary said. “At the same time we want our clients and our customers to actually have a good experience in getting in and getting out.”