It's a Friday night, and the noise level at 3&UP Board Game Lounge is rising — and that's exactly how husband-and-wife team Christopher Erwin and Angela Space want it.
That's because families of all ages are using the Plymouth venue to talk to one another, laugh over Monopoly or argue about whose turn it is to play Life or Sorry. The couple created 3&UP as an "electronic-free space" dedicated to connecting people face-to-face with board games as the "medium for social interaction," Erwin said.
"When a family or friends visits 3&UP Board Game Lounge, they are fully engaged with each other. Children's eyes light up with excitement as their parents spend time with them and only them," Erwin said.
In an era marked by iPhone obsession, tablet fixation and laptop preoccupation, some parents struggle with how much "screen time" they should offer their children. As a result, there is a growing backlash against using electronic equipment during family times — and crafty retailers, play areas and entertainment hot spots are stepping up to fill that space.
Like building on popular video game Minecraft? Then try Birmingham's Robot Lounge, where kids of all ages build with Legos, LaQ or other design-centric toys. Want to run around like you would on Xbox or PlayStation? Then try AirTime in Troy, Sterling Heights or Westland, a trampoline and game park that bills itself as "engineered for fun." Or there's the Mt. Elliott Makerspace in Detroit, where kids are encouraged to take computers apart instead of logging on.
"We're a hands-on program where you can come in and learn anything from electronics to entrepreneurship to sewing," said Mt. Elliott director Danielle Ray-Gore.
Parents who crave one-on-one time with their little ones say they like the tone of these shops and programs. Mother of four Carla Whitton said as a teacher she insists that her kids have "down time" with books, board games or plain old quiet before they go online or zone out with electronics. As a result, the St. Clair Shores family are regulars at the Robot Garage and The Henry Ford.
"It may be easier to let them turn something on rather than focus on a project," Whitton said. But no one ever said parenting was going to be easy, she added.
With five kids, Char Sloan is always looking for a way to keep them occupied. The massage therapist and former Gymboree instructor created Zen Play and Movement Class, a new fitness and relaxation program in Ferndale where kids and their parents can chill out together. The goal is to enjoy some inner peace while learning tai chi, stretching and breathing.
"It's something families can do together that takes them away from everyday distractions," said Sloan, an Eastpointe native. "I wanted something that blended what I learned from massage therapy with exercise that felt like play. Nothing seemed to exist, so I created it."
In Ann Arbor, the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair looks like a normal storefront. But behind that fundraising retail curtain is 826michigan, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for students 6 to 18. 826michigan serves more than 3,000 school-age students with programs in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Detroit.
"We have a low emphasis on electronics; we're all about relationships," said executive director Amanda Uhle. "What we're offering is the chance for young people and adults alike to sit together and connect whether it's over algebra homework or a book that they both want to read. That's the magical thing that happens in our center — it's not an app."
The idea for 3&UP Board Game Lounge began with a trip to a cafe in Toronto with an extensive collection of games, Erwin said. After that visit, Erwin and Space considered the idea of opening a similar business with a new twist: a focus on communication and social interaction.
Its collection of more than 1,000 board games ensures there is truly something for everyone. 3&UP Board Game Lounge also hosts private events, offers programs and events such as themed gaming nights, chess lessons for adults and children, field trip packages and preschool play groups.
During open gaming hours, individuals pay a $5 admission fee for 90 minutes of play (additional time is available along with memberships and day passes).
"It was becoming more and more difficult to go out to dinner without having their cellphones on the table, to go to a party without updating social media and to spend time with their children without a request for a tablet, video game console or television program," Erwin said.
"From the observation that electronics were interfering with their ability to look at each other, speak uninterrupted, share time together, laugh and learn without distraction, the concept for 3&UP Board Game Lounge was born."
Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.