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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, August 29, 2003

Furniture fans line up early Furniture fans line up early (August 29, 2003)

More than one hundred camp out for IKEA opening

by Grace Rauh

Like Deadheads lining up before a big show, IKEA devotees flocked to East Palo Alto as early as Monday evening to be the first through the door on the mega-store's opening day Aug. 27.

"We're IKEA fans man," said Farah Zelaya, a 26-year-old from San Jose who was the first in line.

Zelaya arrived with four friends at 11:30 p.m. Monday, but IKEA officials told them to wait in the parking lot across the street. Their spirits weren't dampened by a lightning storm, and they were happily ushered back to the entrance Tuesday afternoon for another night of camping.

Zelaya's devotion to the furniture store is astounding, yet she and her friends have no profound reason for their behavior. They just love IKEA.

"You can mix and match anything in IKEA," Zelaya explained.

"Oh yeah, and don't forget the meatballs. We're here for the Swedish meatballs and the raspberry lingon iced tea," said Sokhom Mao, 18, the second in line.

According to IKEA officials' estimates, 5,000 to 6,000 IKEA fans shared Zelaya and Mao's sentiments. A sea of them were content to wait out the final hour before the store's grand opening at 9 a.m. Wednesday. They carried camping chairs, straw mats, and wore yellow IKEA sailor hats signed by Oakland Raider Jerry Rice. A Ragtime band played upbeat tunes, a faux wizard and Swedish maiden distributed food coupons, and a woman inflated balloon toys.

Some came to shop, others just to look at the merchandise, but nearly all were united in their unwavering obsession with IKEA's furniture and low prices.

East Palo Alto resident Halimah Rasheed lined up early with her daughter and niece. The self-proclaimed "die-hard fan" wore a yellow fleece jacket and hat that matched store employees' shirts.

Rasheed's devotion is no joke. She watched the construction team break ground on the project and has visited Almhult, Sweden, the site of the first IKEA store. She plans to redo her kitchen entirely in IKEA decor.

Few said they were lured by the store's promise to give a free $79 chair to the first 100 people in line. They would have shown up anyway.

Alec Marshall, a 34-year-old marketing manager from San Jose, was the 101st person in line. Pointing to the spot where he spent the previous evening, Marshall wasn't exactly devastated by his near miss.

"I kind of figured I'd be 101. I'm kind of always 101," he said.

Marshall has camped out for Grateful Dead shows, but never an IKEA opening. His wife loves the Swedish furniture store and Marshall hoped to score points by sleeping out.

"It actually wasn't that bad. It was a nice night," he said. Marshall brought his lap top and watched the movie "Spy Kids" under the stars. But in the morning light, he was uncertain about why he lined up.

"It was some kind of weird calling."

Just behind him stood Palo Alto resident Debbie Baldwin, a substitute teacher for Palo Alto schools. She told the district not to call her on Wednesday.

"I'm shopping for my college kid and I figure this is as good of a time as any. And the camaraderie is really fun too," Baldwin said.

Potential traffic snarls from the mega-store don't scare Baldwin. She sang IKEA's praises while waiting in line, and is pleased the store is in East Palo Alto because "they need it."

East Palo Alto Mayor Pat Foster also lauded the furniture store in a speech just before the doors opened. IKEA will benefit local businesses, employ local people, and its tax dollars will raise the city's operating budget by 10 percent, Foster said.

"It is a major step in our climb to economic stability."

Foster and IKEA officials skipped a traditional ribbon cutting for IKEA's signature log-sawing ceremony. When the wood split in half the doors opened, staff flooded in and the thousands waiting outside followed right behind them.

Grace Rauh can be e-mailed at


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