Doormats for sale in at the IKEA marketplace. Photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
The sun has barely started to peek out, but we’ve still got weeks of wet weather ahead. When you’re facing another dreary day with cooped up kids, try the new IKEA store in Renton.
IKEA? Yes. It’s indoor playroom after playroom, with bathrooms and cheap food on site (that $2 Swedish American breakfast!). Technically, those are model homes, not playrooms, but whatever you want to call them, it’s a fun destination for kids.
Renton’s new IKEA, located on the site of the old store’s parking lot, opened Feb. 22, 2017, after a year-and-a-half of construction. (The old building will be demolished to make way for more parking.) The new store is 399,000 square feet; yes, that's only 1,000 square feet bigger than the old one, but the store is now two stories instead of one, and it has dedicated a larger share of its space to family-pleasing amenities. Upstairs you’ll find the bigger restaurant and showroom, with the marketplace and self-serve furniture on the first floor.
Before it was IKEA, the old store was an aerospace electronics warehouse. IKEA retrofitted the building and opened the retail store in 1994. Building a new Renton store wasn’t about attracting more shoppers to an already busy location, said IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth. “It’s about how now they can have a better view of all the products we have to sell,” he said. “And hopefully it’s a roomier and more enjoyable shopping experience.”
There are 392 IKEA stores in the world; I’ve visited IKEAs in four states and two countries. As a mom, I love that the covers of my IKEA sectional zip off and go into the washing machine. Spit-up, diaper blow-outs and vomit — it’s been toddler tested. Also as a mom, I’m always impressed (and slightly annoyed) by how crazy-organized a 270-square foot model home can be.
No one wanders into the Swedish flat-pack furniture mega-store by accident. The meandering maze of a showroom is wonderful for active toddlers — and tortuous for a certain husband who dislikes shopping. We went to the new store to get some new cups and came out with three-dozen glasses and some tips on making the most of your IKEA trip.
1. Get there early
The store is adding parking spots in phases, and plans to have 1,600 spots ready within six months. Until then, the early bird gets the parking spots near the store, and everyone else gets to take a shuttle from an offsite overflow lot. The bus will be fun for the kids, but not charming on the return trip when you’re juggling purchases and cranky little ones. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. (the store opens at 10) and snagged a spot in front of the entrance. By noon, police officers were directing traffic on the surrounding streets.
2. Ditch the kids
You could leave the kids at IKEA’s free, supervised play room, Småland, and go on a grown ups-only IKEA date. But, “it’s not date night unless your date is at IKEA,” Roth cautioned. Småland caps the maximum number of kids at 54, and you can drop off your potty-trained kids between 37 and 54 inches in height for 45 minutes to an hour. The new Småland is one big open area, with a ball pit, a movie-watching corner and cute woodland-themed décor. The adult-kid ratio can be anywhere from 1:6 or 1:11, depending on how busy the store is. The bottom line: Mary Poppins isn’t watching your kids, but free babysitting is free babysitting.
3. Or bring them along
Part of the fun is the sensory experience of walking through the showroom. You can try out IKEA’s furniture staged in a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom and even a complete, perfectly curated compact apartment. My kids’ favorite room was the rug area, where they could sink their fingers into faux sheepskins and climb onto a steel-wool mountain of doormats.
I was happy to see toddler activity stations scattered through the showroom, with mazes and colorful panels for little fingers to explore. It’s a thoughtful gesture by the store’s designers: parents can browse while the kids play. (However, mine skipped the toddler toys and preferred to climb on shelves and grab glassware.)
4. Fuel up at the bigger restaurant
The new restaurant now seats 600, more than double the size of the old one. My 5-year-old loved sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows with its view of the busy parking lot. Food is simple and cheap, and served cafeteria style so the line moves quickly. You can get a perfectly decent lunch of pasta and meatballs for $3, and the priciest entrée (smoked salmon and veggies) costs a whopping $6.99. There are plenty of high chairs, although I had to pick through a few to find a clean one. Bonus: At the tray-return island, I saw a microwave and a bottle warmer.
5. The bathrooms are a mixed bag
On the plus side, every bathroom we went into had a changing table, diaper pail and a child-height sink. On the downside, on a busy weekend, the bathrooms were heavily used. I never did find an open family bathroom (there are two downstairs, and one upstairs). The toilets are auto-flush, and lots of stalls had, um, leftovers in the bowls. There are no paper towels and no trash cans, which is good for the environment and bad for messy small children.
6. Get a cart even if you don’t plan to buy a lot
Because you will. And your kids will get tired and want to sit for a snack, but you have to keep going or you’ll never escape. There are bins of big yellow shopping bags through the showroom, but no carts, so grab a cart before heading into the marketplace. Sadly, the kid-sized shopping carts from the old store are gone.
If you go...
Address: IKEA Renton, 601 S.W. 41st St., Renton
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Restaurant hours are Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
Best buys at IKEA for young families
1. KALLAX shelves. It’s the ultimate tool in corralling toy clutter. Pop in some neutral bins, and presto! Spacious toy storage that fits in with your grown-up living room.
2. LILLA children’s potty ($4.99) and FÖRSIKTIG bathroom stool ($4.99). Potty-training essentials are disgusting, and you’ll want to chuck them the minute you’re done. IKEA’s versions are sturdy and cheap, with easy-to-clean crevices.
3. BEKVÄM step stool ($18.99). It’s a step stool, it’s a toddler table/bench, it’s an extra seat at the dining table in a pinch. So many uses, so little money.
4. SKUBB closet organizers. Putting onesies on hangers doesn’t make a lot of sense, so maximize that closet rod space with a hanging closet organizer. The bigger compartments ($6.99) are perfect for baby blankets and sleepers, and the smaller ones ($4.99) are great for stashing wipes, cream and diapers.
5. Toys! The MÅLA easel ($19.99) is nicer-looking and tons cheaper than Melissa and Doug’s version. The LILLABO train tracks ($9.99 for 20 pieces) are a good starter set and they are compatible with the much pricier Thomas the train sets. The CIRKUSTÄLT tent ($24.99) is lots of fun that folds away into a tidy compact disk.