The perennial “Is IKEA coming to Winnipeg?” story recently took a new twist. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, an IKEA spokesperson characterized Winnipeg as “the market that we are taking the most serious look at right now for expansion.” She said IKEA has identified a location, but refused to say what it was and fed the air of mystery that has surrounded this story from the beginning by adding: “It is very premature for us to say anything at this point.”
Still, it was enough to leave Winnipeg’s legion of IKEA fans bubbling with enthusiasm. A typical comment on Skyscraper.com: “The fact that this city is even on the radar shows that we are not some deadwater city with no potential, as these kinds of stores don’t set up in places like Sudbury.”

IKEA’s strip-tease approach to announcing its intentions one tantalizing detail at a time has all the earmarks of development strategists who are savvy in the ways of exploiting the collective inferiority complex of a slow-growth city. Many Winnipeggers feel bad about their home because they consider it to be, not the excellent place to live that it is, not a great place for dining out and enjoying every variety of the arts, which it is as well, but a backwater, not worthy because it is not as big as Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.
Inferiority complexes offer excellent opportunities for head games, and nobody plays them better than developers. If IKEA does come to Winnipeg, the first step in preparing for the move will be negotiation with the city about the terms and conditions for locating here. IKEA, we may be sure, will be seeking concessions: possibly cheap land, tax concessions, a good deal on the cost of infrastructure, or maybe favourable terms regarding design and location of the store.
Every concession the city grants IKEA extracts costs us, financially or in other ways. By letting representatives of the company, and our political leaders, see how avidly we desire one of their stores, and how deeply that desire is tied to our sense of self-worth, we put pressure on politicians to make concessions. Let’s hope that Winnipeg doesn’t join the ranks of those who, notoriously, are born at the rate of one a minute.
29 December 2008
I returned from a business trip to Tokyo to find that IKEA is already a done deal. From news reports, it does appear that some substantial concessions may have been made in the cost of infrastructure needed for the new development. News reports are unclear regarding other possible concessions.

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