Gov’t could shut down Ikea over traffic issues

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Gov’t could shut down Ikea over traffic issues

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A month after Ikea Korea opened in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi, the city government has accused the company of failing to properly manage its huge crowds of visitors and has threatened to suspend its business license unless the home furnishings giant solves traffic congestion near the store.

In response, Ikea Korea said Wednesday that it will reduce the maximum time period that shoppers are allowed to park for free from five hours to three hours and will also expand its parking lot. The city government previously said that the stream of cars heading to Ikea has affected traffic and noted that the five-hour free parking does not allow cars to circulate quickly.

For additional spaces, Ikea said it will rent out a parking lot owned by the Land and Housing Corporation that can accommodate 800 cars.

As of Jan. 4, a total of 577,000 shoppers had visited the store, arriving in 154,000 cars. The number of visitors surges on the weekends and holidays, with an average of 42,000 people and 13,500 vehicles making their way to the big box store each weekend day.

With so many cars lined up down the road moving at a snail’s pace, many people who live in Gwangmyeong are dealing with nightmare traffic jams.

Choi Jin-ha, 28, said she happened to drive near the store over the weekend.

“I was on my way to the southern side of Gwangmyeong from Seoul where my mother and father live,” she said. “Driving two kilometers [1.2 miles] took nearly an hour, even though it was less than 10 minutes before Ikea opened.”

Korea’s first Ikea store opened near the KTX Gwangmyeong Station on Dec. 18, and the municipal government granted provisional approval for the opening.

The approval is up for renewal on Jan. 15, and the city has made it clear that it will deny it if the traffic problems are not fixed by then.

The municipal government will review Ikea’s proposed solutions, but said that traffic is not the only issue.

The government also wants Ikea to close twice a month on Sunday, the same as other big discount chains, to protect independent stores in the area.

Presently, Ikea is not subject to the regulation because it is categorized as a specialty store rather than part of a discount store chain.

The city government asked the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to revise the law to include the home furnishings giant.

Furniture manufacturers and retailers at the Gwangmyeong Furniture Complex, a street of small furniture stores, seven kilometers away from Ikea, have called for the government to impose restrictions on Ikea.

Making matters worse, a crack was found in Ikea’s parking lot earlier this month, prompting the city to carry out a safety check at the massive store. The parking lot takes up the first floor of the store.

Ikea Korea said that it will try its best to maintain safety, and that the parking lot crack was not dangerous.

“The crack is a minor fissure that doesn’t pose any immediate danger,” said an Ikea representative. “But we will take measures to fix it and keep paying attention to consumers’ safety.”

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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