James and Jessica Parsons opened Sapphire City Board Game Parlor last month above Main Street Grille in downtown North Canton.
NORTH CANTON The Parsonses want you to put down your phone and pick up a pair of dice.
James and Jessica Parsons opened Sapphire City Board Game Parlor last month above Main Street Grille downtown. For $5, guests can play as long as they'd like and have full reign of a selection of about 300 games. They also offer a smaller collection of games for sale.
"It's low-key. Come up, pick a game you want to try. See if you like it. If you don't, there's a lot of other games," James Parsons said. "The goal is to be relaxing. There's no pressure."
The parlor is designed for game play, with tables of varying sizes and a couch area for more casual hangouts. They've partnered with Main Street Grille for a custom menu of tabletop-friendly food such as wraps and sandwiches, as well as baked goods made by Jessica Parsons.
Sapphire City is waiting on its liquor license, but the Parsonses plan to serve beer and wine. For now, guests can indulge in pop and pour-over coffee drinks.
The business, the first of its kind in Stark County, is years in the making. The pair are gamers themselves — about one-third of the parlor's games come from their personal collection — and knew the area had plenty of others who shared their hobby.
"We just heard a lot of lamenting that you had to travel to Cleveland or Hudson or Columbus," Jessica Parsons said.
"The closest (board game parlor) is at least a half-hour. There's just nothing like it," James Parsons added.
The Parsonses have kept their opening purposefully low-key but have drawn guests through word-of-mouth and a last-minute booth at the latest 720 Market in downtown.
Board games have exploded in popularity in recent years. According to Bloomberg, U.S. sales of board games hit $1.1 billion last year, a seven percent increase from 2016.
There aren't many opportunities for friends to participate in a communal activity that isn't exclusively eating, Jessica Parsons said.
"On top of just being fun, it's the desire to have some kind of structured social activity in the age where you're just looking at your phone," James Parsons agreed.
And for those who aren't great at socializing, "I can use a board game as a crutch. ... I can go on a date with someone and not have it be super, super awkward," Jessica Parsons laughed.
That desire to unplug is why Sapphire City is largely screen free. The exception is a tablet that can be used for games that make use of an app or for players to watch tutorials and access instructions for unfamiliar games.
Open to all
Sapphire City is open to all ages and abilities and has drawn a diverse crowd, from parents looking to play a quick game with their kids to groups of more serious players launching an hours-long campaign.
The game selection is designed to appeal to a large demographic. It's organized by type — party, family, high strategy and low strategy — and some games carry a sticker marking them as a family-favorite.
"The goal wasn't to have some exclusive club with only hardcore gamers. We wanted to have a spectrum," James Parsons said. "If you wanted to try something you grew up with, like Monopoly or Life or Guess Who or Stratego, we have those. If you wanted to try something more recent or more complicated, we have that too."
On Aug. 25, in celebration of Tabletop Appreciation Day, Sapphire City will host its first big event — a fundraiser for Extra Life, a nonprofit that raises money for children's hospitals. All cover charges that day will go to Akron Children's Hospital and the business will hold several auctions.
They're planning more events and tournaments. And are welcoming suggestions from guests.
"We're still getting a pulse on the community," James Parsons said. "We built it, let's see what people actually want."
Sapphire City is open Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, see sapphirecitygames.com.
Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.