Drive-through board games? Another COVID-19 innovation.
Tired of spending quarantine assembling and disassembling that same old landscape jigsaw puzzle? An Albertan game shop is offering customers the opportunity to get outside and pick up a new game or puzzle, drive-through style.
Located in St. Albert, 16 km northwest of Edmonton, Mission: Fun and Games is hard to miss. It’s an imposing building, designed to look like a castle. While the store has changed locations three times throughout its history, it’s been a staple of the community for 30 years. “We opened on June 29, 1990,” says John Engel, the store’s owner and proprietor.
Engel first got the idea for drive-through board games around the middle of March when Los Angeles ordered all non-essential businesses to close. “I realized it was probably a matter of time before this catches up to us,” he says. He was right. On March 27, Albertan premier Jason Kenney ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To build the drive-through, Engel used a shipping container on the east end of the property where the shop stored excess merchandise. They built a wall that was painted green and detailed it with the words “drive-thru” and “pick up.” A small sliding window was placed in the centre of the wall. This window opens into the container where employees stand and hand games to customers.
“Then there was the matter of maintaining social distancing,” Engel says, “so that when customers picked up the goods, there’s the necessary minimum of six feet, preferably more.” To accomplish this, Engel bought a conveyor belt. “$1,000,” he says, “but money well spent since it spans from six feet all the way out to 10 feet.”
Similar to a fast food drive-through, customers pull up in their cars at an order station near the front of the store. Here, there’s a traffic light with three signs. Above the red light is a sign with a phone number that customers call to place their order. When the light turns from red to yellow, it means staff are processing the order. Customers then exit their cars and walk to a nearby window. Here, they tap their debit or credit cards against an outlined square on the window to pay. “There’s no contact whatsoever,” Engel says. When the customer has returned to his or her car and the light turns green, they can proceed to the pick-up window.
The pick-up window is operated by employees wearing protective masks and gloves, who pass the orders to the customers in their cars by pushing it along the conveyor belt with a hockey stick.
Despite providing the option of online orders, the drive-through board games service has proven popular, with people buying everything from puzzles to role-playing books. “On the Saturday of the Easter long weekend,” Engel says, “we had approximately 112 cars go through.”
To keep the drive-through cost effective, the shop requires a minimum order of $35. Previously, they had a maximum order of eight items, but Engel says they’re changing it to six. “On Fridays and Saturdays, people come up and order six or eight items, and it really slows down the drive-through,” he says. “We have 14,000 different SKUs (store keeping units), and it takes a bit of time to find them.”
The drive-through is open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., weather permitting, Engel adds. “The conveyor belt is out there and the traffic lights are out there, and when it really gets too darn windy, it’s not operable.”
Engel isn’t sure whether the store will keep the drive-through going once the pandemic has subsided. “It might be a service to offer to seniors one day of the week,” he says, “but it remains to be seen.” Either way, with our current situation, Engel sees it as an opportunity for people to get out of the house while maintaining social distancing. “It’s a bit of a unique experience,” he says.