Plymouth business asks customers to sit, roll, play

Chris Erwin and Angela Space like board games a bit more than the average married couple. 

"We're not going to lie," Space says. "We have had cocktails and played Whack-A-Mole before."

Having amassed a collection of 800 games in their basement, the couple decided to transform their passion into a business. Space and Erwin are the co-owners of 3 & Up, a board game lounge opened last month in downtown Plymouth. For a small fee visitors can take their pick of over 1,000 games ranging from "Sorry" to "Settlers of Catan," the majority of which were culled from the couple's personal collection. 

The original inspiration for 3 & Up came three years ago, when Erwin and Space visited a Toronto board game cafe called Snakes and Lattes. The café offered open gaming for a $5 admission fee.

"We paid the cover charge and had a great time with our friends," Space says. "We thought, 'This is a great business idea. But we want to morph that idea a little more and kind of refine the idea.'"

While Snakes and Lattes is also a coffeehouse, Space and Erwin chose to put games first and foremost; snacks are available at  3 & Up, but they're not the focus of the business. 3 & Up also promotes unplugging from electronic devices and refocusing on real-life interactions with friends and family. Artwork on one wall of the business decrees it a "Wifi-Free Zone." 

"You and I could be conversing and I could check my cell phone and we're still talking, but I'm looking at it," Erwin says. "We're very comfortable with that as a culture. You'll see in here people will start to do that and then they'll check themselves."

In the last five years old-fashioned non-electronic games have been becoming more popular than ever, with European-style strategy games like "Catan" prompting game nights and dedicated gaming spaces at many hobby establishments. Ann Arbor boasts two such spaces, drawing a regular and enthusiastic crowd. Space sees 3 and Up as the next evolution of that movement, tied to a desire to get away from personal devices and back to personal connections.

"We're taking it a step further and saying your kid's birthday party doesn't have to be at Chuck E Cheese, putting tokens into electronics," she says. "It could be here, spending time with their friends. Your senior citizen group doesn't have to go to the casino to have fun for a few hours and push a button and stare at a machine. They could come here for a few hours…There are other shops where you can go and try board games or play board games. It's a little bit different because we're trying to build a community that understands our mission to unplug."

So far, the couple says they've been pleasantly surprised at reactions to their rather unconventional business. As lifelong residents of the Plymouth-Canton area, the couple wanted to open their business in Plymouth and Space says city officials have been "wonderful." She thinks that's because –not in spite of– the unusual business she and Erwin are bringing to town.

"It's actually been almost unreal," she says. "Sometimes you think, 'Oh, it's really hard to deal with the city.' It is not. It has been great."

The couple say they're also pleased with the reaction they've received so far from customers. They've already hosted some larger party groups, but say there's still plenty of momentum to be gained in making themselves known to the community. They plan to draw more customers in by introducing afterschool programs and other regular gaming groups once school starts again. 

Both Space and Erwin work full-time day jobs –she as an attorney, he as a manager for a large transportation company. But through having two children, pursuing college and law school and establishing their careers, Erwin says they've managed tight schedules together before. The couple seems to relish a challenge in real life just as much as they do in board games. 

"Opening a new business is risky," Space says. "Really, really risky. But it's those calculated risks that are part of life that make you think, 'Wow, this was so amazing.'"

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Metromode and Concentrate.

All Photos by David Lewinski Photography