If Starbucks has taught us anything, it’s that people are willing to pay a lot more for an experience — even for a product like coffee, which many retailers perceived to be little more than human fuel until Starbucks came along. The difference between a $1.85 cup of garden-variety coffee at Denny’s and a $14 Venti White Chocolate Mocha with 12 shots of espresso, two shots of soy, extra whipped cream, toffee syrup, hazelnut syrup, extra Mocha drizzle and extra Caramel drizzle at Starbucks comes down the luxurious experience of enjoying gourmet coffee customized the way you want it and the typically hip Starbucks environment. Spice Merchants, a new store in Downers Grove, Illinois, is counting on a sensory experience to attract the kind of people who want to indulge themselves in exotic spice flavors like Thai Coconut Rub instead of picking up a jar of Mrs. Dash at a grocery store.
The challenge is compelling: turn off your TV. Turn on your brain. Those words appear in the front window of Fair Game, a retailer that wants to re-define “interactive gaming” to mean friends and family interacting with each other over table top board games, as opposed to staring at digital screens and killing soldiers in grisly black ops scenarios. And Fair Game is succeeding — not only by selling games that empower people to socialize but also by acting as a social destination for gaming enthusiasts.
Advertised as a place “Where Fun and Family Meet,” Fair Game sells the kind of immersive board games that you can spend hours playing over a long winter’s night: like the popular Settlers of Catan, in which participants compete to build roads, homes, and settlements by trading goods with each other; or Lost Cities, which challenges players to mount expeditions into long-forgotten worlds in places like the Brazilian rain forest. With a game like Conflict of Heroes, you can create the frigid world of the World War II Eastern Front, aided by the power of your own imagination — instead of having a piece of software do all the work for you.
The games jump out at you from brightly colored boxes that form lopsided towers on the shelves of this comfortable, friendly space adorned with comfortable chairs, long tables, and many genres of music ranging from Hawaiian to rock, as programmed from the Pandora channel of owner Josh Stein — whose own childhood experiences are the reason the store exists.