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New retail idea a winner with ‘board’ NYC shoppers

A new café is opening on the Upper East Side as part of a booming trend that has seen old school board games breathe new life into the befuddled retail sector.

Greg May, one of the owners Hex & Co., said, “We consider ourselves experiential retail trailblazers. It’s a big buzzword, but we’ve been doing this for years as the core of our business.”

Hex & Co. has signed a 4,000 s/f lease at 1462 First Avenue to open its fourth New York City outpost that has people of all ages flocking to play games and puzzles.


RKF retail broker Ravi Idnani represented the tenant and the landlord in the lease transaction.
Hex & Company already operates Manhattan’s largest board game café at 2871 Broadway at 112th Street. Patrons gain access to a library of hundreds of board games to play during their visit, with even more available for purchase.

The store also serves small plates, locally-roasted coffee, beer, wine, and cider. The space is set up like a normal café, only there’s a wall of games to choose from, and about 200 square feet of retail.

The Upper East Side location, at 76th Street and First Avenue, is currently under construction and expected to open sometime in the fall. The café will take up 2,200 s/f of ground space plus basement space. It will feature a menu developed in consultation with Ducks Eatery chef Will Horowitz and it will serve cocktails, mocktails and craft beer.

“We’re really proud of what we bring to our neighborhoods,” said Mark Miller, co-owner. “Our mission is to create safe spaces where all ages can come in and be engaged socially and intellectually.” Walk-in players are already welcome at similar café and bars throughout the city, including Brooklyn Strategist in Carroll Gardens and The Uncommons in the Greenwich Village.

Uncommons opened six years ago

The Brooklyn Strategist was founded by Jon Freeman nine years ago and The Uncommons by May six years ago, taking over the space formerly occupied by a chess shop that operated more like a club.

May, Freeman and Miller later teamed up to open Hex & Co.’s uptown outpost. That original location has been so successful that the owners plan to double its size.

The venues cater to a clientele from seniors to pre-schoolers with everything from backgammon and checkers to Pokemon and Dungeons and Dragons tournaments. There’s even an after-school program and a summer camp at The Brooklyn Strategist with 65 children currently enrolled.
The growth of game cafés both among individual and group players has been credited with helping fuel more demand for old fashioned board games among adults and teenagers looking for more meaningful interactions than Instagram and Facebook.

In the US, over 5,000 board games cafés were opened in 2016 alone, according to Research and Markets.

But any retailers looking to bring in more traffic with a new gimmick should know that there’s a lot more to this particular concept than investing in some board games as props.

“There’s the bar side and the coffee side,” said May. “We’re not going to be the best bar, but we can be a very solid bar that’s also an incredible game store.”

Hex & Co. is among a slew of bars and cafes around the city filling demand for a more personal gaming experience than X-Box or PlayStation that has seen sales of board games soar to $9.6 billion in 2016, according to Euromonitor International.

Additional reporting by Sabina Mollot

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