Source AP ©

Ikea expands its store chain in Florida

Home furnishings chain Ikea invited keen customers looking for low-priced furniture to its first store in Florida that is a part of its expansion in the Southeast and Midwest of US.

The store, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Miami, is the first of three planned in Florida. Orlando will get one in November and Tampa in 2009. The closest location had previously been in Georgia. The competition could drive down prices at other retailers or make them reevaluate their niche in the market, an industry expert said.

Some 500 people were lining at the store early Wednesday, angling for armchairs Ikea planned to distribute free to the first 100 customers. The store is expecting 25,000 people, and, to accommodate the crowd, shoppers will be bused from a nearby professional hockey arena on a dozen trolleys.

As is typical for Ikea openings, officials planned a Swedish log-sawing ceremony, said to bring good luck, and an honorary consul of Sweden was scheduled to raise the country's blue and yellow flag in front of the store of the same color.

Shortly before the store's scheduled opening, acrobats and stilt-walkers contributed to the circus atmosphere as store employees distributed blue plastic shopping bags to the customers in line. Some shoppers planned only to rush in before work for small items such as candles, vases or a fondue set.

With the Sunrise store's opening, there will be 264 Ikea stores in 36 countries. The Florida store has been five years in the making, said Ikea's Joseph Roth.

Ikea opened its first U.S. store in 1985 in suburban Philadelphia. Since 2000 the company's goal has been to open three to five stores a year and to eventually have 50 or more stores in North America, Roth said. They currently have 11 stores in Canada and Sunrise's opening makes 32 in the U.S.

In June, it opened a distribution center in Georgia that will serve Florida, among other states. Two other distribution centers in Washington and the Illinois are planned, and the Swedish retailer will open its first U.S. factory in Virginia in the spring of 2008.

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