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12th June

First Published in The New York Sun, June 12, 2008

By Andrew Wolf

On a visit to Washington, D.C. many years ago, a slick advertising supplement fell out of my morning newspaper. It was for a store I had never heard of, but immediately wished there was a branch in the New York area. The booklet was filled with the kind of furniture that would appeal to people who appreciated modern design and incredibly low prices, in other words many New Yorkers like me.

So I celebrate the opening of the city’s first Ikea branch in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I had hoped that the store would come first to my home borough of the Bronx.

Certainly on the surface, the Bronx would be the ideal location for this particular Ikea branch. The ABC Carpet Warehouse store is already here, proving that the borough is fertile ground for this kind of retail operation. And we have plenty of large sites, arguably better transportation infrastructure, and a large pool of labor that is ready and willing to work.

The store originally was to be built at New Rochelle, in nearby Westchester County. But the plans for it required assembling a huge site that necessitated leveling a handful of homes. This created tremendous opposition to the project in an era when, as the late Senator Moynihan noted, we celebrate those who prevent things from being built rather than those who actually get things constructed.

As the fight in New Rochelle dragged on month after month it became clear that this development simply would not happen. Finally, the company threw in the towel. Ikea would have to look elsewhere.

Nabbing Ikea would have been a much-needed shot of adrenaline in the ailing Bronx economy. It even might have attracted some young people to give us a hard look and see that the Bronx is as ripe as Brooklyn as an emerging, upscale place to settle.

Ikea certainly attracts recent college graduates. Upon my younger son’s graduation from college, he cleared the shelves at the Ikea in Elizabeth, N.J., furnishing his brand new apartment in Riverdale. And my older son, now with a growing young family in the Atlanta area, a place that young people have flocked to in recent years, celebrated the opening of an Ikea in a quickly gentrifying section of town.

Unfortunately, my hopes and aspirations were not shared by those in leadership positions in the borough. The former president of the Bronx, Fernando Ferrer, led the borough through 14 years of economic stagnation. His successor, Adolfo Carrion Jr., has been even more ineffective, especially since his term has coincided with a period of remarkable economic growth in the city.

The Bronx president controls an entity called the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. When Mr. Ferrer called the shots, the BOEDC was led by his boyhood pal Jose Ithier. During the critical period after the New Rochelle project fell through, they insisted that they were negotiating a deal with Ikea. But when students from the Bronx Beat, a paper that is published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, contacted the furniture company’s U.S. headquarters, officials there insisted that there was never any communication between them and Bronx officials.

Shortly thereafter, the Brooklyn deal was announced, and a golden opportunity for the Bronx was gone.

As a New Yorker, I’m glad to see Ikea, along with its hundreds of jobs, and infinite purchasing opportunities for bargain conscious consumers here in Gotham.

I note that northern New Jersey now has two Ikeas - one in Elizabeth and a newer one in Paramus. That gives me hope that with our larger population, and favorable highway access, some future Bronx president who is more concerned and more creative - perhaps the one we elect next year - will be successful in achieving what Messrs. Ferrer and Carrion failed to do. There is room for an Ikea serving the Bronx, burgeoning northern Manhattan, and Westchester, and beyond.

© 2008 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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