Ikea has changed course and will now offer its free ferry service to its customers first — and only then allow non-shoppers to set sail to Manhattan from the Red Hook superstore.
Stung by widespread use of the free cruises by people who had no intention of going to the Beard Street furniture outlet, the Swedish mega-chain will now hand-stamp all Red Hook–bound passengers — and then put them at the head of the line for the return trip to Manhattan.
“People who board [in Manhattan] or swing through the store, will receive a stamp, and if there’s a very long line, we are working to insure people who legitimately were in Ikea get preference in boarding the water taxis,” said company spokesman Joseph Roth.
“We needed to come up with some way to ensure there’s smooth customer flow to the store.”
But it’s unclear how well the system will work. When a Brooklyn Paper reporter bought some food in the Ikea’s cafeteria (the meatballs were fine, thank you very much), he was not given a hand-stamp to secure the coveted first dibs on the ferry to Manhattan.
In the end, it didn’t matter because everyone got on the ferry with weekday traffic is so light. But during peak times since the store opened a month ago, lines for the water taxis have exceeded the 75- or 150-person capacity of the vessels, leaving some paying Ikea customers waiting on the dock while joyriders have traversed the East River.
Free water taxis were originally promised to all travelers — couch- or meatball-buyers and moochers alike — as a way to mollify Red Hook residents’ fears their neighborhood would be overrun by car traffic.
Depending on customer volume in the blue–and–yellow Beard Street box, the catamarans depart every 10 to 40 minutes.
On a recent weekday afternoon, when there were few passengers, customers lauded Ikea’s shopper-first policy.
“It makes sense. With a big bag, you’d want to get on first,” said Jane Smith. “Since I’m buying something, I’m all for it.”
Other riders were happy to even have the option of sailing the seas.
“I’m here visiting my brother in Red Hook,” said tourist Tim Hackenberry. “I took the ferry to visit him yesterday, too. It’s pretty cool. A lot less crowded than the trains.”
— with Michael Lipkin