What I love about New York are the quaint little shops you pass in the neighborhoods. So last night I was walking up Thompson St in Greenwich Village and I passed not one but TWO chess shops across the street from each other! I suppose this makes sense given they are around the corner from NYU and down the road from Washington Square Park where most of their customers must reside:
Clearly chess has a huge following in this part of the world. Who can forget that wonderful movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer", where a seven year old chess prodigy practiced his moves in said park?
So I was prompted to find out more about these neighborhood spots. According to their website, the "Village Chess Shop" has been in the same locale since 1972 and was the first to create a place where chess fanatics could come and play, as well as choose a set to take home. The shop is open until midnight seven days a week which would suggest a loyal player following. Certainly when I peeked in the window at 7pm, there weren't any empty chess boards.
Across the street, the "Chess Forum" is also open until midnight every night. Both offer an extraordinary range of chess sets, from kitschy "Pirates of the Caribbean" and Robin Hood sets, to porcelain "Wizard of Oz" pieces, intricately carved alabaster sets and a 3D set from Nepal!
Nepalese set in 3D
The Wizard of Oz
As I delved deeper into this new-found world, it appeared that all is not calm in New York chess land. Apparently things were tough enough when the Chess Shop ruled this piece of turf solo. But after an unclear and still unresolved dispute in the early 90's, Mr Khachan, once the manager of the Chess Shop, left to start his own business across the street - the Chess Forum. The battle lines were drawn, lawsuits filed, skirmishes ensued and the tight knit chess community was forced to pledge their loyalty to one store or the other. Apparently things have quietened down now, but both shops are hanging in there by a thread.
Who would have thought that chess could be so exciting? It's enough to make me want to channel my own inner Bobby Fischer.
Images: Chess Shop, Chess Forum, Kenilworth Chess Club, movies.sky.com