I run the St Louis Board Game Meetup Group. It’s been actively meeting for approaching 7 years now, and it’s quite successful.
But it’s not always easy to run such a group. This year has had some interesting challenges – and lots of things go on behind the scenes.
I think our biggest challenge this year was Borders’ closing. Of the 16 or so regular events each month, four were held at the cafe of a local Borders store. There had been a round of closures earlier in the year, but our Borders had escaped that. It actually looked like things were going to be OK. Then, suddenly, in July, Borders announced it was closing all its stores. The next day, the cafe was closed, chairs and tables put aside, as the liquidators moved in to sell everything in the store off.
This brought up immediate issues – where to hold the already scheduled events, and finding places to hold events on a regular basis.
In the first instance, a couple of events were moved to one of our other venues that we regularly held events at, as a very short notice resolution to the problem. Once that was taken care of, the hunt was on for new venues.
Firstly we had an easy solution for our Last Thursday event. The group had started once a month on the Last Thursday. The other Thursdays had events at a local game store. How this came to be has quite a long history, including a flooded basement, some other stores opening and closing, and finally finding a location that seemed fairly stable. But the Last Thursdays were special. They were right at the foundation of the group, with that first event in the Borders store. Now that store was no longer an option, there was no reason to keep the Last Thursday events any different from the other Thursdays. So, those events moved so every Thursday was at the game store. That was the simplest of the solutions.
My goal was to try, if possible, to keep events reasonably close to the Borders that had closed. If that wasn’t possible, I wanted to move the events to venues that were in parts of the St Louis metro area that we weren’t already catering to. We asked members to make suggestions. Several people also asked people outside the group about places that might be suitable.
Then came the leg work. I tried to visit potential locations before having an event there. If the venue simply wasn’t suitable, then there was no need to have an event there to prove it. Also, by visiting, I could talk with the manager or owner, and make sure we would be welcome, or discuss any difficulties that might arise. I also wanted to be sure we weren’t being burdensome, so wanted to limit the events at any of the new locations to once a month. With the Thursdays going to an existing location, that left three more events, and thus three new venues to try and find.
Our next easiest venue replacement was the Tuesday night. A member who lived close to a small independent coffee shop suggested we try it. I had a look and it was spacious, had reasonable lighting, and although they officially closed at 8, they were willing to extend their hours until 10 once a month, so that we could have a reasonable amount of time to play. They were available Tuesdays, the other days they had regular things happening, so we tried them out one Tuesday, and it was a success. We’ve been meeting there since.
Next up was the Wednesday event. I tried a restaurant very near to the closed venue that had an upstairs space that got little use during the week. I went and spoke to a shift manager who assured me that the general manager would give me a call to discuss the possibility. Despite my calling and leaving messages subsequent to my initial visit, I never had a call back. I guess they just weren’t that interested in the idea. The next possibility was a local bar, that again had an upstairs that got little use during the week. Meeting the manager, the venue looked promising – good tables, and reasonable lighting. When our test event on the Wednesday came around, though, the bar was packed downstairs, and the noise (both from the loud music, and the people talking loudly so they could be heard over the music) was simply too much. We played some good games that evening, but it was clear that it was not the venue for us. With places in the neighbourhood of the old Borders looking scarce, we once again looked elsewhere. There is a small local chain of coffee shops in St Louis area. Two of them are in locations that aren’t very close to any of our other venues, so we decided to try them out. The first one was OK. The space inside was reasonable. It had a few larger tables. The parking was not at all the best, but it was near a MetroLink station. People seemed to enjoy it, including a few people who, while they’d been group members for a while, hadn’t come before because there wasn’t a location very close to them. It was great to see people come out of the wood work as we found a location that was better for them. We’d already committed to looking at their sister location, which wasn’t very far. So the next month we tried that. The parking was much better, but the tables were small and the space was a bit cramped. So we decided to go with the former of these two, and this month we start meeting there regularly.
Lastly, the Sunday. A venue had been suggested by an acquaintance. It was in an area of St Louis that we’d not got very much presence at all in. This could be good, or bad. Good, in that it could be a venue that people who felt our other venues were too far could come to. Bad, in that it was possible that some regulars would think it too far for them to come. However, when I went to look at the venue, it seemed great. Spacious, not too busy on a Sunday afternoon, and the tables were square, and easy to move together to make a larger gaming surface if needed. It looked like we’d found a great space. The location was a little problematic, and attendance at the first few events was a little low, but I’d expected that somewhat, and decided that we would keep trying there, and seeing if we could encourage people from that area of town to join us. Then, last month, as we sat down to play, one of the employees told us that they would be closing at 3pm instead of the normal 6pm. It turned out that the owner was out on medical leave, and a business decision had been made to cut the hours at the weekends. While understandable, and I am sympathetic towards the owner and his unexpected illness, it was nevertheless somewhat frustrating. So, I looked back at other places that had been suggested during the search, and thought that a cafe attached to a grocery store looked like a reasonable contender. It was also in the neighbourhood of the Borders, so would likely appeal to those who had liked that part of town. I checked out the place, and then spoke to the store manager, who said he was trying to encourage groups to use that space. He confirmed that Sunday afternoons were not typically busy and that we would be welcome. We will try out the location later this month, and it will, I hope, be suitable. With the 4th Sunday in December being Christmas Day, we won’t be meeting then, so it will hopefully officially become a regular location in January, a full six months after Borders shut its doors. If it’s not suitable, the hunt will be on again.
I hope that all our new venues continue to work out. It’s an exhausting process finding new places, making sure we’re not a problem (in fact, we’re typically extra business for them, as most people at least by a drink and many people buy food).
This hasn’t been an easy process, not least because every other time we’ve looked for a location, we’ve been fortunate and found suitable places on first try. That meant my expectations for finding great locations very quickly were much higher than they probably should have been.
I could not have done this on my own. I am thankful for the members and friends who suggested locations. Even though some of the suggestions were outside of the target geographical area, it’s nice to have them as possibilities in the future, and it’s also nice to know these members care enough about the group to want to make the suggestions. I am also thankful for the Assistant Organizers I have in the group. They checked out locations that I’d visited to make sure they really did seem suitable. They gave honest opinions on the venues we tried. They even helped calm me down when the frustrations of the whole process was getting the better of me.
Hopefully, we have come to an end of this particular problem, and we can get on with the business of just playing games.