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Ikea sets sights on Avon site

Despite Somerville setback, firm anxious to crack Mass. market

AVON -- Determined to bring its affordable, assemble-it-yourself home furnishings to Massachusetts as soon as possible, Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant, wants to build a showroom next door those other icons of home furnishings -- Barry and Eliot.

Negotiations for a site just off Route 24 here have intensified following a failed attempt to mediate the court battle over construction of a proposed Ikea at Somerville's Assembly Square.

"We've been dealt another setback at Assembly Square and while we're committed to the Somerville location we want to open a store in the Boston market sooner rather than later," said Joseph Roth, an Ikea spokesman. "We believe the Boston area can support several Ikea stores, but until we have approvals we don't comment on specific sites."

Ikea, known for its trendy and inexpensive Scandinavian-style designed chairs, cabinets, wall units, and futons, is a favorite among college students and first-time home buyers.

Ingvar Kamprad founded Ikea in 1943, when he was 17, with money his father gave him as a graduation gift. The cash was used to start Ikea, named for the initials (I.K.) plus the first letters of Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd, the farm and village where he grew up.

The store originally sold pens, wallets, picture frames, and jewelry. Today, the privately held company operates more than 150 stores in 22 countries.

But the stores are not without controversy. Because they are about twice the size of a Home Depot and have legions of fans, stores attract customers from many states, often creating traffic problems that can overwhelm a community. In 2001, Ikea withdrew plans for a store in New Rochelle, N.Y., after months of fierce opposition by residents, clergy, and elected officials.

The Avon location is about 25 miles from the proposed Somerville site. Ikea's Roth says such a scenario is not unusual. The new store in Paramus, N.J., is 27 miles from its Elizabeth, N.J., store, and the Carson, Calif., Ikea is about 30 miles from the Costa Mesa, Calif., store.

A representative of a regional developer who has been briefed on the negotiations in Avon said Ikea has signed an agreement with Messina Enterprises, a Braintree developer that owns the 16-acre parcel adjacent to Barry and Eliot Tatelman's headquarters store, Jordan's Furniture at Avon Merchants Park.

A Messina spokesman declined to comment saying, "At this point, we don't have any information we can talk about."

The wooded parcel, visible from Route 24, straddles the Avon-Stoughton line, and poses several challenges. The entrance on Stockwell Drive will require traffic mitigation because the single lane road is already congested, according to Stephen Rose, the chairman of the Avon Planning Board.

"Before we would approve another development at that location, the developer would have to prove that traffic can be managed," said Rose. "The entrance to the site is at traffic capacity already."

Another option would be to create a second entrance to the park through the nearby Stoughton Corporate Center, Rose said. Such an alternative would be slightly more complicated because several landlords own adjoining parcels, according to records at the Stoughton assessors office.

Besides Ikea, Boston Interiors, a local furniture retailer, is seeking approval to build a showroom and distribution center off Page Street, near Route 24 and Turnpike Street in Stoughton.

"The location offers great accessibly from everywhere," said Meghan Loring, Boston Interiors' vice president. "We have five stores and Stoughton helps fill out our presence in the region."

Barry Tatelman said he's unfazed that Ikea or any other retailer wants a South Shore location.

"We're used to retailers following us," said Tatelman. "We were the first ones in Nashua, and now everyone is there. We'll be in Reading next year, and I'm sure others will follow. Any time there's a market leader, competitors want to chop at you. That's the American way."

The latest move by Ikea comes on the heels of an effort by Somerville officials to end litigation over a proposed store there.

Earlier this month, the developers of a Home Depot and an Ikea, and a community group, and city officials were unable to agree to mediate the four-year old dispute that has resulted in at least three lawsuits.

In March, the Mystic View Task Force, a Somerville community group, filed suit in Middlesex Superior Court to block construction of a 280,000-square-foot Ikea store at Assembly Square citing the potential for traffic jams and increased air pollution.

That suit is pending.

While Ikea stores often generate controversy, some communities welcome them, including New Haven.

The Connecticut city will break ground for Ikea's first New England store on Sept. 4 at the crossroads of interstates 95 and 91. New Haven officials say the new Ikea will serve as a linchpin of its efforts to revitalize the city's waterfront.

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