The exhaustive coverage of today's Red Hook Ikea opening here and elsewhere around the web was the inevitable climax of a perfect storm of storylines: Rough-edged neighborhood with a lot of history gets another turn in the spotlight – or are those cross hairs? Has Red Hook now sacrificed too much of the charm that made its sleepy waterfront streets so appealing to artists? Or is the arrival of big retail business just what the neighborhood needs to help the lower-income locals – whose streets are hardly sleepy – rise out of poverty?
At one point this morning, during the first flood of shoppers, the area at the top of one escalator became so crowded that it was suddenly impossible to get off. For several panicky moments, it felt like a human avalanche was inevitable, until enough people forced their way through to make room. The incident seemed evocative, in a way, of Red Hook and Ikea’s troubled relationship – this thing could go either way, and if even if Ikea prospers here, the price of success may well ruin what made this little community so appealing to newcomers.
What’s certain is that Red Hook residents aren’t the only ones intensely watching Ikea’s opening; the Daily News has it that other big box stores have been encouraged by Ikea’s opening victory here. If Wal-Mart and Target follow Ikea's lead, Red Hook’s post-shipping era could skip over the long-anticipated full-gentrification stage to become something else entirely: a sort of big box shopping destination that’s more like a factory outlet mall than a neighborhood. Or is a balance between big business, small business, and residential interests possible? As Ikea's first day draws to an end, it's still an open question.