When Kathleen Donahue lets me into Labyrinth Games and Puzzles (645 Pennsylvania Ave SE), the lights are off. It’s a Monday — the only day of the week her store is closed — and she and her son are in the store to show me around.
We weave around the displays—classic abstract strategy games in the front, paint and role-playing games with odds and ends of board games in the center and then downstairs: classic games, adult designer games, European style games (like Settlers of Catan), hard core European style games (which take 2-3 hours to play rather than, say, 45 minutes).
We take a turn into the store’s recently added wing, with primarily children’s games and a party room behind it. We then proceed back into the downstairs area, with tables set up at the back for community events. Like a labyrinth.
Donahue opened this store in 2010 after working a series of corporate jobs. In addition to the store’s concept of “intelligent gifts for kids and adults,” she hoped to “bring people together to enjoy time.” She donates board games to local teachers, participates in everything from parties to auctions, hosts board game nights and runs a role-playing club for children that will host its first ever camp this week. The store is almost like a community center, she says.
There’s something deeply nostalgic and reassuring about the store’s brimming displays of games — stacks and stacks and stacks of games, and no technology to be seen. Almost all of the games are unplugged, Donahue says. It’s part of the charm of board games.
“You get to spend time with other people, which is fun,” she explains. Face to face time means learning to read other people and acquiring empathy. “That’s my joy with board games,” she says.
Donahue has always loved games. She played Scrabble with her mother as a child, Rummikub with her friends and card games in college. But she was always more of a puzzle person until she opened her store — and, a labyrinth person, of course.
As a child, Donahue once hand-drew a maze that spanned six poster boards in length and stretched across her living room floor. No one could figure it out.
The store name is inspired in part from her fondness for mazes, but also more specifically Donahue’s favorite game as a child, Labyrinth, which she pulls out to show me. It’s a game that involves turning knobs to avoid having balls fall in holes.
Running Labyrinth is hard work. This past Saturday was Donahue’s seventh Saturday off since the store opened almost eight years ago. Property taxes continue to rise, competition with online distributers and counterfeiters on Amazon are a problem, a transient population means constantly having to market.
But, ultimately, having a store like this one is overwhelmingly rewarding, Donahue says. Labyrinth Games and Puzzles has a community that stretches not just across the city, but the world.
Labryinth Games and Puzzles is open Mondays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. starting June 25, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Labyrinth is a participant in the Saturday Kid’s Corner put on by Eastern Market Main Street (EMMS), and the store hosts many other fun events, including a drop-in games night for kids between 4 and 5. Check out their website for more information and events!