Wisconsin wants Ikea…badly

Commentary

When BizTimes Milwaukee broke the news on our website that Swedish furniture retailer Ikea plans to build a store in Oak Creek, reader traffic on our site exploded to record levels. The story immediately went viral as media outlets throughout the state rushed to catch up with our reporting.

While we were working on the Ikea story, I knew it would be big deal. But I didn’t know it was going to be THAT big of a deal.

The reader reaction to the story proves that Ikea has a cult-like following and there is a huge pent up demand for the retailer to build a store in Wisconsin. For years, Ikea-loving cheeseheads have had to make the drive to the Ikea store in Schaumburg, Ill., while enduring the Chicago-area traffic and tolls.

That will soon be a thing of the past. Ikea says it will break ground next year on a 295,000-square-foot store along I-94, at South 27th Street and Drexel Avenue in Oak Creek. The store will open in 2018.

Oak Creek has been going through a major transformation in recent years, attracting several significant developments, most notably the mixed-use Drexel Town Square project that is creating a downtown the city never had before at Drexel and Howell avenues.

But Ikea would bring something Oak Creek, and the entire south side of the metro Milwaukee area, has not had: a major destination retailer. Because of the popularity of Ikea, it is reasonable to expect that shoppers from throughout the region and even the state will come to the store in Oak Creek.

There will likely be additional retailers and restaurants that will want to be near the Ikea store and will build stores in Oak Creek and Franklin, providing an economic boost to that area. The Ikea store is expected to anchor a major mixed-use development planned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., which owns 128 acres at Drexel and South 27th Street.

Some national retailers with locations in most major metro areas of the U.S. have avoided the Milwaukee area for years. Maybe that’s because of our frugal culture, or maybe it’s because we are too close to the Chicago area and the stores there.

But now, the Milwaukee area’s under-retailed reputation finally appears to be changing. The addition of Nordstrom, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and others in recent years, plus the future openings of Von Maur and Ikea, demonstrate that more national retail chains see opportunity here.

It will be very interesting to see how these stores perform over the long haul.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.