Whether it’s the good, the bad, or the downright ugly, breakfast hotspot and green-minded retailer of not-always-green home furnishings, IKEA, is forever a popular topic on this here blog. But today, here’s something, via The Wall Street Journal, that I didn’t see coming: Apparently, IKEA stores in China, particularly the Shanghai location, are notorious for attracting elderly singles on the hunt for a little romance … and free coffee. I guess you could call the stores (Swedish) meat(ball) markets for the 65-and-over-set.
I live just down the street from the IKEA Brooklyn store and I’ve noticed it can be a tad cruise-y on occasion (but not nearly as bad as Whole Foods outposts in Manhattan) and I totally admit that I actually went on a date, yes, date, at the store when it first opened. Because really, there’s nothing quite as romantic as throwaway wine glasses, dirt cheap bath towels, and check-out lines that rival security at LAX during the holidays.
Anyways, the amorous goings-on at my local IKEA pale in comparison to the retailer's location in Shanghai’s Xuhui shopping district where hordes — we’re talking 70 to 700 people here — of eligible senior citizens descend on a weekly basis to scope out the new arrivals. And I’m not referring to the newest edition of the Billy bookcase.
Take for example Tang Yingzhuo, a 62-year-old widow who prefers the IKEA cafeteria to bars, clubs, and Karaoke establishments. A regular attendee of “romance sessions” for the aged at the Shanghai IKEA, Tang confesses that she’s not all about prowling for potential mates while at the store: “I make more senior citizen friends when I come here. There's more to offer than meeting a boyfriend at IKEA." And then there’s Qian Weizhong, a retired gentleman of a certain age that recently scored the digits of a “nice lady” while attending an informal meet-up in the store’s cafeteria.
However adorably weird, the Shanghai IKEA store’s reputation as a meeting place for throngs of passion-seeking pensioners has proven to be an issue with management and those shopping for furniture and home accessories, not a mate. The store has brought in extra security to man the cafeteria on days when the elderly converge to drink free coffee (scored with an IKEA Family membership card) and chat up Mr. or Mrs. Right. The crowd can get rowdy at times; a store security guard tells the WSJ that he once had hot coffee splashed on him for trying to shush a group of unruly geriatrics.
The store has even erected signage to discourage the assemblage of coffee-guzzling grey-hairs from forming and scaring away paying customers. A sign at the entrance to the cafeteria reads: “IKEA would hereby like to inform this group and its organizers: Your behavior is affecting the normal operations of the IKEA cafeteria. Frequent fights and arguments do serious harm to the image both of Shanghai residents and IKEA. Bringing in outside food and tea violates the cafeteria's regulations…If you are a member of this group, we feel we have warned you, do not use the resources of IKEA to organize events of this kind."
Additionally, IKEA spokeswoman Yin Lifang says that the store is attempting to single out the organizers of the weekly romance sessions so negotiations can be made. Elderly lovebirds who attend the meet-ups say there are no organizers.
It’s unclear if the party ever moves from the cafeteria to the bedroom set-ups in the showroom section or other more “intimate” areas of the store. Maybe management should just replace Smaland, IKEA’s daycare facility, with some kind of dimly lit lounge — a crèche for aged bachelors and bachelorettes, if you will — stocked with ashtrays, giant vats of coffee, and walker parking.
For more on the Shanghai IKEA’s most unique “problem” and on how other Western institutions with a presence in China are encouraging patrons to hang out and even get hitched in their stores and restaurants — McWeddings! — head on over to The Wall Street Journal.
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