Why is IKEA in Renton, and will we get another one?
IKEA has been in the Seattle area since the 1990s, but until recently its store here has been an anomaly.
Instead of being the classic two-story furniture-up and housewares-down building known the world over, it had been making due with an old aerospace warehouse. It was one-story, and it had a cave-like entrance.
But it had one thing IKEA decided it didn’t want to change: It was in Renton.
Renton is a place many distribution businesses consider the center of the region. It's accessible from the Eastside as well as Seattle and Tacoma, on I-405 and I-5. It's also between the ports, putting it near the heart of the flow of goods into our region from the rest of the world.
In the time IKEA has been in Renton, however, other cities in North America have gotten more IKEAs. The Washington, D.C., metro area, with 6 million people, has two. Toronto, also with 6 million people, has three. Vancouver, B.C., with only 2.5 million people, has two. The Puget Sound region has 4 million people and one IKEA.
That is not about the change. When it came time to build in the Puget Sound region, IKEA decided not to add a new location. Instead, it plopped a new building built in the IKEA model right beside the old one.
Joseph Roth of IKEA said the company knows it can be hard to get to Renton in our infamous traffic. However, he said, IKEA has struggled with the availability of land that meets the company’s size needs. That was hard in the 1990s, when the company made do with the old warehouse. And it's truer now with the region’s latest boom.
Still, the company has heard about the region’s traffic and how it is changing people’s perception of driving distance to Renton.
“We’ve heard stories about people further up north who would rather choose to drive to Canada than to drive down to Renton,” Roth said.
IKEA says it may yet build a second Seattle-area store. Maybe.