The Food Court Gambit

There’s a chess club in Vancouver, British Columbia that meets at a local shopping mall. They’ve been meeting there for a while now. How long? Fifty years. Recently, the management of the mall issued a letter to the club stating the food court was only for paying customers not chess loiterers. The chess club was told to pack up their rooks and rent space at a library. That was on April 1st. Here is what happened next…


Park Royal Shopping Center, West Vancouver, BC

Park Royal Mall
Park Royal Mall

The Park Royal Shopping Center is Canada’s first covered mall, having been open in 1950. The mall has 1.4 million square foot floor space, 280 stores and two stories.  This makes it roughly twice the size of our own Lakes Mall.

It was here that a rag tag group began their five decade long tradition of meeting to play chess.


A 50 year tradition

Muskegon needs a chess club
E.S. Lowe’s Chess Set

The mall has been home to an informal chess club. With no official newsletter or website, the club simply showed up to the mall pretty much every day since the  Lyndon Johnson administration. Or the Lester Pearson administration if you’re Canadian.

George Ingham has been going there for the better part of 50 years. Indeed, he even met his wife there while playing chess. (Note: I wish I met my wife while playing Twilight Imperium).


Another chess playing comrade is Terry Fellows. Terry was living in Inuvik back in 1983 when rumors of a chess club in Vancouver reached him. Don’t know where Inuvik is because you’re a Yankee?  Well Inuvik is in the arctic circle, due east of Alaska’s northern coast.

Terry took a vacation in West Vancouver in 1983 to see what the chess scuttlebutt was all about. He was so enamored by the group, he moved to Vancouver. I’m sure the difference in weather (Vancouver’s weather is like Seattle’s) played only the teensiest part in his decision.

The rag tag group isn’t just for geriatrics and retirees. Ashley Tapp, a 16 year high school student, meets with the group. And she is a competitive player. She has represented Canada in international championships in Slovenia and the United Arab Emirates. She drops in on the Park Royal Mall group, mopping up the competition.

With a such a prolific history and such rigorous competition, one must wonder why the management of mall told the group they were no longer welcome.


“No alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police”

Muskegon's Harry Morgan
Muskegon’s Harry Morgan

The mall has a sizable food court. The chess group occupies seats and tables there to play games. And the management of the mall had enough of that.

Park Royal’s management sent a letter to Terry Fellows regarding the new direction of mall. The food court was for paying customers. Occupying tables and chairs for over an hour was loitering, leaving “no alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police”. I imagine the police in W. Vancouver have nothing better to do than round up dangerous chess players.

Billy Mitchell, King of Kong
Billy Mitchell, King of Kong

But the letter does conjure up an image. When I read the letter issued from the manager, I thought to myself: is the Park Royal Shopping Center being run by Billy Mitchell?

The letter (linked below) does offer the club a few alternatives. All of them charge for space (including the library). The mall offered the club $500 stipend as a one time hush money.

Terry and the chess club were aghast that the mall no longer welcomed them.


An April Fool’s Day Joke?

Fast food sushi at Park Royal
Fast food sushi at Park Royal

The mall had originally wanted the group to meet there. There was a 12 foot by 12 foot chess board in the middle of the mall. The group purchased thousands of dollars in equipment and stored it at the mall.

Renovations over the years forced the group to move from one area of the mall to another. But the group always met at Park Royal. Eventually, the food court was the only place where adequate table space was afforded to the general public. And it was here that the chess players would play.

Members of the club state they have always yielded seats to other patrons. The chess players also said they patronized the food court everyday, eating A&W and drinking Tim Horton’s regularly. The notion that they are non-patrons using the food court’s seating is confusing and absurd.

The group has not gone down quietly. Which brings us to a cunning chess counter known as the Food Court Gambit.


The Food Court Gambit

Queen's gambit
Queen’s gambit

The group reached out to the mayor of West Vancouver. On their behalf Mayor Michael Smith intervened. He told the management that the decision to disallow the chess players was not a “shrewd move”. I love it when municipal leaders make chess references.

Unfortunately, the mall inexplicably stood their ground.

A local church, the West Vancouver Presbyterian Church, is going to have a sit in and play chess at the mall. The minister said he does not anticipate mass arrests, this despite Billy Mitchell’s threat.

The group was officially offered the use of space in the mall by some of the mall’s tenants. White Spot and Whole Foods don’t want the chess players to leave. Management from both retailers have said the chess players are welcome there.


The End?

Chess players
Chess players Credit: Arlen Redekop

As of this blog post, the chess club of Park Royal Shopping Center is still meeting in the food court against the whims of the management. There has been no police intervention as of yet. The group has the support of the community if not the legal standing for use the mall’s private property.

Since the story is still ongoing, I’ll keep my finger on the pulse and keep you up to date.

Here are some links for you to read if you are interested in this story.

Front page


The Park Royal Chess Club is always welcome here…

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