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Monday, March 16, 2009

A Big Box Tale

The massive parking lot of the College Park Ikea. Photo from Flickr by technotheory

When I moved into Laurel in late 2003, it seemed as if the city's primary industry was furniture sales. I found the jewel of the bunch, Carolina Furniture. I purchased the bulk of the furniture for my hew house at Carolina Furniture, then located on the corner of Main Street and Rt. 1. It was a small business, but had a very helpful staff and one of the best selections I have ever come across, especially impressive considering the modest size of the store. I loved it. I bought a couch and a love seat for half the price of what the Laurel Marlo (prominently located at Rt. 1 and Contee Road) was offering me for just the couch!

Then came the College Park Ikea. I'll admit, as far as big box stores go, I don't mind Ikea too much. But the College Park location was devastating to local businesses.

Carolina Furniture was the first to go. First it moved to an obviously cheaper site in an industrial park off Bowie Road. By early 2006, it had closed up shop. Galaxy Furniture, located on the site where Burtonsville's Dutch Country Farmers' Market was scheduled to move, fell shortly after. Another mile down Rt. 198 was Regency, a huge warehouse-like store located in a strip mall next to a Target. It closed up shop shortly after. Empire Furniture in Laurel Mall went next, followed by another smaller store that briefly opened in the mall. The tiny family-owned shop across from Galaxy closed just a few months ago. Several others have closed throughout the years in the industrial parks between Rt. 1 and the train tracks. Even the Peir One has closed its doors

Currently, Bargain Furniture is going out of business. This store sold scratched or irregular new furniture at a huge discount, and they offered delivery service only on a few select items. I thought this place would never close. It was always crowded with people looking for a deal on another store's rejected items. But today it is liquidating its stock, as you'll clearly see if you drive through the intersection of 197 and 198.

All in all, at least 9 furniture places have closed in Laurel in the last three years. The only furniture place left in Laurel is mega-chain Marlo, the only store in Laurel I've never recommended because of the poor service I recieved there when purchasing my furniture. All of them were either independent or small chains. I'm sure our recession has played a large part in shutting down these stores, but I can't help but think there were almost a dozen furniture stores before Ikea and now Laurel is down to one or two.

Ikea's iconic 200 foot sign visible from the Beltway for a mile in either direction draws people in to its acres and acres of parking. While the upper level features furniture, the lower level has all kinds of housewares, much like your average Wal-Mart (though of much better quality, generally). The store even features a Swedish cafeteria and a child day-care center. The furniture, however, is do-it-yourself. It is difficult at Ikea to find the country-style furniture I prefer. All the furniture is self-assembled. And no matter how friendly and courteous the staff at the store may be (they tend to be rather hard to pin down), you are one of thousands of shoppers. If you don't buy it, the next person will.

When I bought my living room and dining room sets at Carolina Furniture, everything was delivered and (if needed) assembled at my house at no extra charge. A year later, I took some Army buddies there who had just been stationed at Fort Meade. The sales rep recognized me immediately, even remembering my name and what I had bought. But in Laurel, it appears, those days are long gone. If I want to buy furniture locally, I have to stand in a long line at Ikea or get ripped off by Marlo.


ipso said...

I am not a graphics expert, but might be able to help you with some of the route mapping you mention. I was part of a group that suggested routes similar to yours to MNCPPC during a recent event in College Park. I dread the thought of posting me email address, but this does look like a good cause and someone has to make suggestions or suffer the results by expecting bureaucrats/special interests to do all the work.

Dave Murphy said...

If you are so inclined, email me at