July 3 2006 12:00 AM
I like IKEA: A euphoric IKEA devotee writhes in rapture at the opening of the Swedish store’s Canton location. Some shoppers camped out to be among the first to enter. (Courtesy of IKEA)

Big-box retailing will never be the same in Michigan now that Swedish retailer IKEA has opened in Canton, a charter township near Detroit. For one thing, IKEA sells meatballs like McDonald's sells Chicken McNuggets.

Like Volvo or Saab, IKEA does everything with Swedish precision. You can see it in the $799 couch or the 25-cent pet dish that can double as a cereal bowl for college students. Michigan's newest superstore for the home might also become one of the state's most popular tourist destinations — more than one million visitors are expected the first year. For those who keep track, the store is about 100,000 square feet larger than Cabela's in Dundee, which claims it is Michigan's number one tourist destination. There's no camo in IKEA, though.{mosimage}

Johnson said the experience was “overwhelming” but she would go back when the crowds diminish. Informal reports from IKEA said the new store broke the record for most 50-cent hot dogs sold during an opening and pushed out more than one million meatballs. The dentist filled her vehicle with toys for the waiting room of her family practice and a picnic table for her two children. The office furniture will wait for a later trip.

A steady stream of pilgrims is making its way to IKEA's 28th U.S location in Canton. The company has plans to open another 22 stores in the United States, but don't look for one in Okemos. According to Joe Roth, a public relations executive for IKEA, the company's strategic plan requires a population base of more than two million within a 40- to 60-mile radius or 40- to 60-minute drive time. IKEA expects to generate about $77 million a year in sales at the Canton store. That would put $473,000 in the state's sales tax kitty each year.

IKEA has a cult-like following. When it opened in Canton, thousands of shoppers were in line — some of them camped out — to be among the first to enter the store jammed with more than 10,000 individual items for the home. The Swedes do grand openings a bit differently, too: The ceremony featured the cutting of a log instead of the traditional ribbon.

The store highlights its wares by arranging them in 56 individualized rooms and three complete home settings ranging from a 347-square-foot apartment to a luxury home. IKEA designers have created a story for each room, describing residents ranging from a single mom to a neat-freak attorney.

Wendy Clark, IKEA public relations executive, said the average customer spends two to three hours shopping in an IKEA store, totaling $18.3 billion last year in their 236 stores in 34 countries.

Fran Russell, Lansing resident and owner of Group 230, a design firm in Old Town, is one such IKEA devotee. When she opened her business in a loft-style building at 117 E. Grand River Ave., she and a friend made a trip to the IKEA store  in Schaumburg, Illinois. All the office furniture and lighting fixtures in Group 230 are from IKEA.

“It worked great with the space and the furniture is stylish, sturdy and well made,” she said. “I will be planning a big field trip down to IKEA with friends in tow.”