In a surprising move, IKEA, the hugely popular Sweden-based furniture company, has decided not to open a store in Cary, The News & Observer learned Wednesday.
The decision comes as a major blow to town officials, who had made many design concessions to fit the distinct blue and yellow building that is familiar on IKEA stores throughout the world.
With only one other store in North Carolina, in Charlotte, the expansion to the Triangle was anxiously awaited. Hundreds of people turned out for an open house hosted by the company last July. IKEA is the world's largest furniture retailer.
It was to open in Cary Towne Center in 2020.
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Cary Town Manager Sean Stegall expressed disappointment on Wednesday and said in a statement emailed to The News & Observer "We are thankful that the decision came before the store was built and people were employed there."
IKEA said pulling out of the the Cary location was not about any deficiencies in the town, but was part of a corporate strategy to curtail some of its expansion projects and focus on other initiatives.
"Over the last year, IKEA U.S. has been on a journey to expand our multi-channel shopping experience with new retail locations, enhanced technology and greater accessibility to meet today’s customers where they are in today’s fast-changing retail environment," Ikea said in a statement to The News & Observer. "As part of this journey, we have challenged ourselves to re-evaluate some of our upcoming expansion projects. While this is an extremely difficult decision, we will not be moving forward with our plans to build a store in Cary, N.C. We appreciate the outpouring of support and excitement that our fans have expressed, and we are disappointed that we will not be able to physically join the vibrant Cary community. "
A spokeswoman said the company wasn't in a position to disclose whether other expansion projects will proceed or not, some of which are already under development. Last year, Ikea announced it would open stores in Nashville and in Glendale, Arizona, in 2020.
IKEA was not only expected to attract customers from throughout this part of the state, it was also expected to help revitalize a struggling Cary Towne Center.
The Town Council in October unanimously voted to advance the project through a rezoning, citing widespread community support and the company's willingness to work with officials on design requirements. The town, known for its commercial design restrictions that tend toward neutral tones, ultimately consented to allow a building with a metal rather than brick and stone facade, taller than usual and with flagpoles higher than Cary typically allows.
The store was to replace the vacant Sears and Macy's stores in the mall with a 380,0000-square-foot, two-story building and two-deck parking area.
Stegall said the timing of Ikea's decision gives the mall’s owners, CBL Properties, an opportunity to re-imagine the entire site and the future of that part of the Eastern Cary Gateway.
He confirmed that Ikea told the town it was moving away from suburban big box retail outlets and into global city centers.
"When I asked whether there was anything Cary could do to influence IKEA’s decision, I was told that there was nothing; not even an incentive would make a difference," Stegall said in his statement. "IKEA said they had an extremely positive view of and experience with the Town Council, our staff, the mall site, and Cary as a whole. The bottom line is that as wonderful a place as Cary is, we are just too suburban for IKEA’s new direction. "
A spokeswoman for Cary Towne Center said IKEA was a key part of plans to remake the mall into a mixed-use center. Stacey Keating said the shopping center will work with other prospects and come up with new plans, which will incorporate entertainment, retail, restaurants, apartments and offices.
"Cary Towne Center enjoys an excellent location in a dynamic and growing market, making it ideally situated for a future mixed-use redevelopment," she said.
In November, IKEA Group's new CEO announced the company would focus on new stores and showrooms in metropolitan areas, and invest in e-retail and pickup locations, the news service Reuters reported.
The company opened a kitchen showroom in Stockholm, a bedroom store in Madrid, and showrooms in London and Copenhagen, Reuters reported. Last Thursday, an English-language Swedish news outlet, The Local, reported that IKEA planned to open at least nine stores in South America.
Earlier this year, the company pulled out of two planned stores in the United Kingdom.