If you think of IKEA only as a place to get lost and then end up spending way more money than you meant to, you should start thinking outside of the flat-pack cardboard box. That's what senior citizens in Shanghai are doing, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, they've managed to turn their local IKEA into a hot spot for meeting potential love interests.
Apparently, it all began because of the free coffee. An IKEA Family membership card gets you free coffee from the cafeteria. (Take note!) So each week, a group of elderly acquaintances gathers, someone swipes their card, and then they all get complimentary coffee and sit around and chat, which often leads to romance. Tang Yingzhuo, a 62-year-old retired widow, comes to IKEA to meet men because she doesn't think it's "appropriate to scope out men at bars, clubs, or Karaoke joints." She says she gets a lot out of the gathering:
I make more senior citizen friends when I come here. There's more to offer than meeting a boyfriend at IKEA.
Of course there is! They have cheap bookcases, cute chairs, and don't forget the yummy meatballs. But seriously, while these meet-ups sound kind of charming, they've become quite a nuisance for IKEA, who, after all, is in the business of selling furniture—not engineering elderly hook-ups. The weekly gathering is quite large, with anywhere from 70 to 700 people in attendance. Zhou Hong, who is in charge of swiping the coffee card for the group, says she hands out about 500 coffee cups on any given day. That is A LOT of free coffee! The seniors also like to linger in the cafeteria:
They sit for hours in the cafeteria, leaving behind orange peels and egg shells they have picked off boiled eggs brought from home. Occasionally, security guards intervene to try to keep order.
And it's not just elderly people who are causing trouble, people of all ages are making themselves at home all over the store:
Young people, often with kids in tow, plop on chairs to watch videos on their smartphones. People aren't shy about kicking off their shoes and tucking into display beds for a nap.
I can't say I'd find it relaxing to sit among the screaming children and exhausted shoppers at my local IKEA cafeteria, and the idea of crawling around on public sheets just paralyzes me with fear of bringing home bedbugs, but I guess I can see the appeal of having a comfy chair to hang out in if you get sick of shopping. Still, even though it's kind of IKEA's fault for being so damn appealing in the first place, all of this hanging out has become quite a problem for the store's managers.
They decided to take action earlier this year against the seniors' lonely hearts club by posting extra security guards during the weekly gatherings and roping off a special area in which they must sit, in order to make room for actual paying customers. They also posted this notice to the group:
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.
Unfortunately the sign has had little effect because management hasn't been able to find a leader of the group with whom they can negotiate. Damn, it's like Occupy IKEA over there!
Anyway, it seems like overall IKEA has been more than accommodating. Perhaps the giant blue box of a store cannot bear to be responsible for breaking the heart of Qian Weizhong, a retired chiropractor who showed up at a recent gathering looking to get the number of a gal he called a "nice lady" so he could ask her out. Let's hope she says yes, and then let's keep our fingers crossed that they head home after their date—and not to a bedroom display at their favorite IKEA.
In China, IKEA Is a Swede Place for Senior Romance, Relaxation [Wall Street Journal]