Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Village Chess Shop


The Village Chess Shop has been at 230 Thompson Street since 1972. And now it's gone. A tipster sent in these photos of the empty windows and the "for sale: everything" signs. "They were cleaning out everything on Sunday and this is the empty storefront today," writes the tipster, who heard from the management company: "They were evicted."

The Chess Shop's Facebook page has officially announced: "Chess Shop is now closed however, it was a great 40 year run but while we attempted to preserve it, The Chess Shop became more of a curiosity or portrait than viable retail environment...Indeed, those who thoughtfully bid us farewell in the final days, admittedly had never set foot in the place lol...The Chess Shop lives on though. We'll be opening several smaller different type of sites for play, learning, competition and laughter...stay tuned."

photo: New York Magazine

I don't know how to play chess, but I always marveled, when walking on Thompson Street, that a little block could sustain not one, but two chess shops. I thought it made the street seem more gemutlich. Turns out, the two stores were bitter rivals. A former Chess Shop partner opened Chess Forum in 1995. Reported the Times, "Not since Bobby Fischer declared his last checkmate in 1972 has the downtown chess world been so torn asunder."

But The Chess Shop was there first, a classic. Its sidewalk was lined with battered tables and chairs for players to come together, its windows cluttered with odd and interesting chess sets. It had character. It felt like New York.

Here's how The Observer described The Village Chess Shop's owner: "Well into his 70′s, Mr. Frohlinde walks with a cane and speaks slowly with a thick German accent. He wore a brown leather jacket and the kind of bulky nerdy glasses sported by hip 30-somethings in the neighborhood; his thick, shoulder-length white hair hung messily under a wool hat. The outfit is one you’d see all the time in the East Village, but you get the sense Mr. Frohlinde was wearing the same thing well before it was cool. He was friends with Yoko Ono; casually references a conversation with Bertold Brecht; and had no idea who Russell Crowe was when the actor bought a $500 board a few years ago."

photo: Anomalous A's Flickr

The owner of the rival Chess Forum is hanging on, but as their owner said in 2008, "We are en route to vanishing." The Internet, of course, has been devastating--many people would rather play digital chess than to put their hands on the real thing.


esquared™ said...

That moment when it got heated and violent at the Village Chess Shop.

And Chess Shop had been featured in several movie scenes along with many celebrity sightings -- "The ultimate NYC, before coffee bars, only in New York...could never ever duplicate this..."

And per a commenter on this:

"I’ve been talking to my darling mother, getting about about moving out to NYC. Last night, she was telling me how back in the 60s, you used to take a train or a bus or sit somewhere, and people were just constantly talking about IDEAS*. Like everywhere was discussion, you would overhear people talking abut Trotsky or Ginsberg or Steinbeck or Martin Luther King, Jr or Jackson Pollack(sic) or just anything. She didn’t know who or what any of it was, and was just learning English to boot. But she says all you had to do was sit down in a bar or a restaurant or a laundry place and you could hear people “talking about revolutionary things”, with passion and commitment.

Then she said this: “but now, all everybody talks about is their shoes. And what they didn’t like about the food they had last night."


Anonymous said...

I'm also horrified to note that the late, much-lamented news stand at the corner has had its facade painted black. The subject of much dispute, I guess someone was trying to make the statement that it isn't coming back.

Ed said...

These fall into the category of I was never a customer, I don't even really like chess, but I was really glad these places existed.

The idea of doing all my exploring and living most of my life on the internet, like a brain in a vat, does not appeal to me.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Nooo! I've always thought of this area as the "chess block" especially with the chess tables in WSP so close by. A true shame - this was a truly unique part of the neighborhood.

Jeremiah Moss said...

esquared, great links and quote (as always). thank you.

Ed, agreed--i'm glad a lot of places exist, just for their existence.

Lisanne said...

And that's why everyone should shop at C'est Magnifique before THAT disapeers!

Brian Dubé said...

I am a huge chess fan, and to see this shop closing down is very sad. At the time I wrote my own story on this place back in 2008, I wasn't sure myself of the fate of this place, a small shop in quite a niche market.
I once came across people playing outside the shop on makeshift tables mounted on cinder blocks...

Nate said...

I drew a portrait of Larry several years ago as part of a series of NYC's ever-dwindling independent business owners. See him and a few more familiar faces here:

Anonymous said...

Such a cool place. I was there in the late 1960s. I hate chess. I went with my older brother. It was a odd place for a little girl. I am sorry that it is gone.

Lev D. Zilbermints said...

Good Lord! Chess Shop evicted?! What is happening these days? I am sorry to see Chess Shop go. Admittedly, I did not go there too often, but when I did visit, it was a pleasurable place to be. Chess Shop will be missed by all who knew it.

James C. Taylor said...

How sad. My wife and I always used to call that stretch of Thompson Street "Chess Row". I've always loved how in New York similar businesses can continue to exist in close proximity to one another, like all the art supply/paper shops and camera shops around 18th & 19th between Fifth & Sixth.

Anonymous said...

it certainly is a shame that such a unique shop has closed. it saddens me further that village chess shop has not been able to honor what by many accounts is a long standing and strong reputation until the end - chess sets 'sold' and paid for almost a year ago have not been delivered to their customers.

Ted Panken said...

An interesting documentary on Nicolas Rosolimo, who founded the first chess shop, where Mr. Frohlinde entered the business.

(his earlier years are covered in part 1 --

wmnwheels said...

George, my uncle, ran the shop with dignity but ruth, my aunt, was the soul of the shop. Larry kept it going for a while. From 1972 till ruth's death, the place was poppin.

Eric S. said...

12/12/12 - Last night I went down to buy a new wood board for my children and was shocked to see it was closed. I probably made 6 to 7 purchases a year and had been there only 2 months ago to buy tournament bag sets for my children's public school classrooms. The Chess Forum is ok but has never felt the same. but it will be a shame when they are both gone. an era will have passed us by. - Eric

Anonymous said...

I started going to the Chess Shop in the mid 90's when I was a high school student near by in the West Village. It is really a shame that they closed and is filled with controversy that no one seems to understand here. Michael Proper bought the Chess Shop from George (the original owner who opened the place in 1972) for a "criminal" and exploitative price (really cheap) along with all of the sets that had been collected from around the world and were valued at more than the price he paid. The only agreement was that he kept the Shop open. Michael Proper is a habitual criminal who didn't pay employees (some for over months) at their incredibly underpaid salaries. He ordered tens of thousands of dollars of materials and sets from India and then didn't pay. He ordered dvds from individual coaches and teachers and didn't pay them. Ultimately, he exploited this precious gem of a place and then stripped it bare and left. It is a deep, deep shame. Michael Propper runs Chess NYC where he works with children. I wish there were more people who would write about this. Better than I can. I know it doesn't matter because it is an underground scene, but Michael Propper should be exposed. He is a liar and a thief and fools so many people (mostly rich people), and exploits so many people (mostly poor).
The Chess Shop is a vanished New York City soon to be a Starbucks. I have so many stories about people in that place. A starbucks couldnt replace it. The world gets worse, homogenous, conformist, and bland. Michael Propper types proudly spearhead it all for selfish, gluttonous personal gain. The nothingness of the world in view of gems, presciousness and art will still always cancerously creep into people and steer them awry. The cancerousness of Michael Propper is Dickensonian and peoples ignarnce is orwellian.

That's all. I wish someone else could put it in better words than mine. If you ever talk to anyone from the chess community in the village, ask them about Michael Propper (aka: the fat man, aka; the chess terrorist). And I hope that people can spread this truth around.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anonymous up there, I'm a former employee who time and again got shortchanged and even occasionally verbally abused by Michael Propper. He didn't have a damn about chess, he was all about crooked-business. It was a great shop though, and the people who frequented it were a family of misfits, I hope they've found another place to socialize and play chess. For all the faults of its owner, it really was a lovely place to be.

Michael said...

An unfortunate aspect of blogging is the cowardly ability to post in anonymity.
The last 2 posts require no reply but the prior were a fun read.



Anonymous said...

Curious retailing. I've spent hundreds of dollars in the store and was planning to take my son there this morning to buy a new chessboard and timer and sign him up for private lessons.

I called the number on the web page and got a "disconnected" message. I called the number on Michael Propper's card (he gave it to me personally) and learned from the person who answered the phone that the location had moved. I tried to do the guy who answered a favor by suggesting that they put the information about the move on the Web Page, but he said it was enough that they put it on Facebook and then talked over me and hung up. The person on the phone claimed to be Michael Propper, but I can't imagine that it was as he wouldn't have been so rude; Michael, you have someone impersonating you!

Bottom Line: I'm taking my business and quest for a private tutor elsewhere and I'm also suggesting to my school that they look for another partner for their chess program.

Michael said...

Thanks for the heads up, we'll update the website.
Sorry it angered you so, we are aware of your phone call.

Village Chess is not really "vanishing", more " reinventing ".

The Shop became more of a curiosity than business over the years.

By moving Staff and operations into another practical, very cool environment, it promises to survive
for years to come.


Mark Phillips said...

The location is now a coffee shop called "The Uncommons," where people can play chess or a choice of numerous board games. It seems to be inhabited mostly with NYU students. At least it seems to be partially in the spirit of the Village Chess Shop.