Ikeas 1st Israel store to open in spring

JERUSALEM — The do-it-yourself furniture giant Ikea has found a site in Netanya for its first store in Israel. It is expected to open in the spring.

The opening of the furniture giant — which has 160 stores worldwide, including one in Emeryville and another planned for East Palo Alto — has been long awaited in the Jewish state.

But it comes accompanied by controversy. Ikea's Swedish founder, Ingvar Kamprad, attended Nazi Party meetings in Sweden, in the years following the end of World War II.

After being exposed in a Swedish newspaper six years ago, he wrote a letter of apology to Ikea employees worldwide. In it, he called himself a "naive" youth, who was interested in his family's German roots.

But even though Kamprad came clean, the fact that he opened stores throughout the Arab world and none in Israel, caused some to wonder whether he was complying with the Arab boycott of the Jewish state.

"It's been a long time coming," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Bulletin in April, when Ikea announced it would open a store in Israel.

"The bottom line is that their presence in Israel will be a plus. It will be another chink in the attempts that are still out there to boycott Israel."

While it is believed that Kamprad has sufficiently apologized for his flirtation with Nazi sentiments, he did not "go out of his way to be friendly toward the Jewish people, toward Jewish interests," Cooper added. "And specifically he didn't do business with Israel at a time that would have made a difference."

The store will be "two times the size of any existing retail store in Israel and bigger than any other Ikea store in the Middle East," said Talia Yoeli-Shvadron, marketing manager for Ikea in Israel.

The Poleg industrial park in south Netanya will be the location for the 248,000 square-foot store — smaller than the 274,000 square-foot facility in Emeryville, which has the capacity to expand to 325,000 square feet. That store is Ikea's largest on the West Coast.

The Netanya site, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, was chosen because it is near a major junction and has sufficient space and parking for easy accessibility. "Being outside the city center allows us to offer our products for a low price as we have lower rents," said Yoeli-Shvadron.

The success of the first year will influence Ikea's future plans in Israel. Currently there are no concrete plans to open additional stores. But according to the Swedish Dagens Industri newspaper, Hans Skalin, managing director of Inter Ikea Systems, said that Ikea expects to open one more store in Israel within five years.

Yoeli-Shvadron said that their market research shows that 14 percent of Israelis are familiar with Ikea, so much so that some are supposedly sitting on the floor and postponing buying furniture until Ikea opens. For the other 86 percent of the population, Ikea intends to launch an extensive marketing campaign.

The Netanya store will be operated by Co-Op, which won the franchise.