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Welcome to the Neighborhood: Hex & Co., 801 Broadway

Today we welcome a new small business to our neighborhoods — help us welcome the next. Tell us which new independent store in Greenwich Village, the East Village, or NoHo you’re excited about by emailing us at info@villagepreservation.org.

As advocates for local small business, we find great satisfaction in hearing of new independent establishments opening in our neighborhoods. These arrivals give us hope that reports of the death of mom-and-pops have been greatly exaggerated. Whenever such occasions present themselves, we like to share our enthusiasm with the world in the hopes that others will join us in wishing our new neighbors a warm welcome, and more tangibly, patronize and spread the word to help ensure their success and survival.

In these specialized times, when we go either to school or to work, to either the coffee shop or the therapist, it is rare to find multifunctional spaces that offer people of all ages the opportunity to learn, play, relax, socialize, and even meet the love of their lives. As luck would have it, however, one such place has recently opened south of Union Square, Hex & Company (801 Broadway), a board game cafe for everyone and for every occasion. 

Hex & Co. was born, as it were, of two parents, The Uncommons and The Brooklyn Strategist, both of which opened about a decade ago. The Uncommons, located down the street from Washington Square Park in the storefront once occupied by the Village Chess Shop, was the first board game cafe in the borough. It arose in part to accommodate and make profitable use of owner Greg May’s board game collection, which had begun to crowd him out of his apartment. Within its small footprint, the business has operated as a board game retail store and as a cafe where one can grab a drink or have a bite while playing, for a small fee, any of the hundreds of games in stock.

The Brooklyn Strategist, for its part, emerged as a response to a father’s search for an enriching after-school experience for his 7-year-old daughter. Jon Freeman had noticed how engaged, funny, and analytic his little girl became when playing board games and began to wonder whether there might be some broader educational utility to board game play. As it happens, Jon’s professional background is in clinical neuropsychology and, while he had never studied the developmental effects of game-playing, he was well positioned to do so. Before long, he started developing a board game-based educational methodology focused on focal brain development and trying it out in temporary spaces. Once he had developed and tested a full curriculum, he launched The Brooklyn Strategist, which offered participants a structured game-playing experience, led by trained staff members, but grounded in the insight that child learning depends less on adults droning on like grown-ups on Peanuts than on exposure to instances of problem solving by peers.

Word of the Brooklyn Strategist spread and, before long, the business was drawing a wide range of customers to its hosted programs. These included 2E children, many of whom thrived through game-play. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome, for instance, who were brought to the store to encourage their social connectedness, benefited from narrative-based fantasy role-playing games that exercise the capacity to express and experience empathy toward other characters. The program seemed to please everyone. While children would simply have a great time playing games, the parents marveled at their progress and at the change they noticed in their kids. 

In addition to structured after-school programs and summer camps, the Brooklyn Strategist also holds a range of events, leagues, and tournaments for board game aficionados, as well as accommodates walk-in families and friends looking to play one of the store’s many games. These include strategy games, military/historical games, mystery games, sports games, word games, adventure games, parlor games, and card games, among others. It is not by accident that the selection, vast though it is, contains no video games, multiplayer or otherwise. Jon has learned that, according to research, these do not advance the store’s goal of fostering social connectedness as well as their analog counterparts.

Jon and Greg joined forces when Jon started to consider an expansion into Manhattan. In Hex & Co., they came up with a business that combines the strengths of their respective models: the cafe and retail approach of The Uncommons, and the structured programming of the Brooklyn Strategist. The programming includes both the children-oriented kind, which tends to happen during daytime periods when school is not in session, as well as the adult-oriented kind, which can be staff- or community-driven, and which includes events organized around specific games or types of games. These accommodate all levels of play and offer ways for even absolute beginners to get involved. 

Like its progenitors, Hex & Co. offers more than just programmed game playing opportunities. It also welcomes drop-ins, who tend to come in groups of all sizes and varieties, from families to first dates. In fact, the cafe has proven to be an ideally suited venue for first dates. On the one hand, games offer an effective icebreaker. On the other hand, game-play facilitates the sharing of information, both through conversation and through the playing itself. For one, you can easily tell whether your date is a competitive jerk.

To conclude our brief overview of this welcome addition to the neighborhood, we might highlight some of the great games we discovered: Letter Tycoon, a mash-up between Monopoly and Scrabble; Pandemic(!), the first cooperative game; Ghost Blitz, a game of reaction time, memory, and response inhibition; Azul or Sagrada, both sort of tactile versions of Sudoku; and a whole range of role playing games that unfold in settings that would hold a special fascination for those of us with an affinity for historic periods. But really, there are as many different flavors as there are tastes; and the best thing to do is to swing by Hex & Co., welcome them to the neighborhood and let one of their expert staff members guide your adventure through the world of games.

If you would like us to welcome another independent business to the neighborhood, please let us know at info@villagepreservation.org.

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