Securing a Mega-Store's Opening

March 6, 2006
New Sacramento Ikea store pushes the limits of opening day security and safety coordination

Mar. 4--Customers walking past the east end of West Sacramento's new Ikea on Friday afternoon were treated to an eye-popping display of public-safety firepower.

Two mobile command centers, a West Sacramento fire truck, a Folsom Police Department sport-utility vehicle, motorcycles from Davis and West Sacramento, a couple of cruisers, two Sacramento bicycle officers, a West Sacramento lunch trailer and even a police-only porta-potty were all assembled to ensure peace prevailed.

Some of the uberhyped grand openings of the home furnishings giant have caused major traffic snarls. Neither the company nor local officials wanted to see that happen in West Sacramento.

"From our point of view, better safe than sorry," said Diane Richards, West Sacramento's economic development coordinator.

More than 100,000 people are expected to visit the store at the Reed Avenue exit off Interstate 80 within five days of its Wednesday opening.

The plan opening day was to have 35 officers from a variety of local agencies share the load. Each of the agencies will be reimbursed by Ikea, which the company said was customary. The number of officers could be increased or decreased depending on need.

While Ikea officials refused to say what the staffing costs might be, store manager Heine Roikjer acknowledged the cost would be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

"It's not cheap, I can tell you that," Roikjer said. "We never talk about costs."

West Sacramento police and city officials refused to estimate how much Ikea might eventually pay to reimburse area police departments.

The fire chief was not as tight-lipped. Chief Fred Postal said it would cost around $8,000 to have three firefighters on site through the first five days of the store opening - money the company also agreed to pay.

West Sacramento Police Department Deputy Chief Henry Serrano, who coordinated the police effort, said he was glad there were no major problems.

"The cost is being borne by Ikea. They seem like real good community partners. No haggling. No nothing," Serrano said. "They asked for this kind of support and we are happy to put it together."

Because the demands were too heavy for the West Sacramento police department to meet on its own, other agencies were brought in, as well as the mobile command centers, which allow officers from different agencies to communicate.

Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth said paying for the police and parking staff is "a common practice for us."

"We have an obligation to our customers to provide a smooth flow in and out and an obligation to our neighbors," Roth said.

You can call it the downside of the hype.

Leading up to the grand opening, media coverage was constant, campers waited weeks in line for gift cards, and a glassed-in Ikea bedroom, complete with human models, circulated the area like a parade float. The company also peppered the market with television, radio and newspaper advertisements.

The opening, featuring a disc jockey, Swedish singers, and jugglers, was a media event.

Ikea has learned lessons about security needs from previous openings.

Ikea's Emeryville store was a blue-and-yellow car magnet when it opened in spring 2000. Traffic on nearby Interstate 580 and Interstate 880 snarled and surface streets were gridlocked for two weeks. Two factors contributed to the chaos: There wasn't enough parking and Ikea underestimated the drawing power of its first Northern California store. The company spent $10 million to build a four-story parking structure next to the store. The parking structure opened in October 2001.

In 2003, Ikea's suburban Philadelphia store in Conshohocken, Pa., created mile-long traffic jams. Ikea tried to help on its Web site by pointing customers to alternate routes through neighborhoods, prompting angry residents to complain to local officials about the traffic surge on their streets.

And last November, shoppers headed for a 3-day-old Ikea in Stoughton, Mass., backed up Friday afternoon freeway traffic for more than five miles. State police shut down one gummed-up offramp because of safety concerns.

Parking at the West Sacramento Ikea was no easy chore Friday but there have yet to be any major traffic backups - although today could be the busiest day yet, officials said.

While there have been no traffic jams or arrests, there has been some action.

Friday afternoon officers unlocked a car after two children - a 2-and 3-year-old - worked together to lock Mom's keys in the car. After the younger child, who was playing with the keys while sitting in the car seat, locked the doors, the 3-year-old closed the door.

Luckily the trunk was open, allowing an officer to crawl through and open the door.

Customers on Friday, unaware Sweden-based Ikea was picking up the tab, said the security seemed excessive.

"There are just tons of security here. The entire police force seems to be here from at least three counties," said Davis resident Caron Dunn.

Trey Pitsenberger of Garden Valley escaped without buying anything other than a plate of salmon. He was, however, impressed with the police presence.

"There seems to be an awful lot, maybe overkill," said Pitsenberger, "You don't expect riots unless some crazy Swedes come by."