A friend of mine recently visited Toronto, sending back these pictures you see to the right. They show Snakes and Lattes, a board game cafe on Bloor Street.
Boasting a library of 1500 plus games, Snakes and Lattes also has, unsurprisingly, drinks and food. The owner(s) recognized the key fact that people playing games like to snack. Good for them.
Others have pointed the weird dichotomy in game stores: they’re places of business, but they can also serve as community centers, in either form of shooting the breeze at the counter or spending time in a designated play area. There aren’t a lot of retail businesses around these days where this still happens. People might have used the archetypal general store in a similar way, but not so much the Gap or Waldenbooks. Which isn’t to say a game store can’t fill that role, but it’s atypical these days, particularly as social interaction moves online in the parts of the world where the internet is available.
For game stores that offer play area, it’s always been a question of how to make that space pay for itself. There’s rent on that space to be paid, but the people using it are not necessarily buying product at a rate to make the proposition feasible. I’ve heard of some stores that rent table space for a couple bucks an hour, not unlike a pool hall. Myriad Games in New Hampshire has a somewhat byzantine customer membership program that I didn’t really grok when I read the flyer. It must work, though, or they wouldn’t offer it.
So how can you have a semi-public space where people can play games that is financially feasible? Sell them food! A board game cafe not only allows people a place to play a board game, but they’re still doing a trade in coffee and food, not just to people who’ve come for Fireball Island, but all the usual passersby who want a quick bite.
There are some drawbacks to the model. A cafe isn’t going to want to host space- and time-intensive games like Twilight Imperium or Arkham Horror. Role-playing games probably wouldn’t fly too well, either. But the relatively short board games that are on the rise these days are a terrific fit for a business model where people may stay for an hour or two, then go along their way.
The one thing a business like this needs is population density. Snakes and Lattes will do just fine in Toronto because they can hawk coffee all day and night. In Vermont, with significantly fewer people, this would be a much tougher proposition.