When Christian Whitted’s daughter turned 16 and became more independent, he began to wonder what he would dedicate himself to next.
Luckily for Prospect Heights, he turned to another of his passions – chess.
The result is , which, with its trademark oversized chess board out front, has been a Flatbush Avenue fixture for the past three years.
A passionate veteran of the game, Whitted was formerly a train conductor, riding the rails while raising his daughter.
“I was a dad first, but after my daughter came of a certain age she really didn't need me too much. I found myself trying to figure out what (I'm) going to do for the next 40 years.”
Whitted started teaching privately, and eventually ended up giving classes at York College in Queens. But with a game that requires so much practice, his students wanted more.
“After all of the sessions, the same questions kept coming up: 'Where can I go? Where can I bring my kids? Where can I continue in the same kind of class?'” Whitted said. “I did not have an answer.”
So he decided to start his own shop and school.
“I remember reading something that said sometimes it's not what you want, but what people keep asking (for),” he said. “Like, listen to the universe. So the more I kept thinking about it, it kind of resonated.”
With the support of a longtime friend from Brooklyn Tech who's now a business partner, Whitted started scouting for locations. The building at 192 Flatbush caught his eye, with its brick exterior and wood floors. Whitted said that when he first brought his idea to the table, the landlord loved it. The only real reservation he had was whether or not the store could stay open just selling games. Whitted told him that was only half the story.
The shop sells chess sets and board games, but it’s also a community hub, regularly filled with children and adults taking chess classes or engaged in some community play.
“I explained to him that we offer board games and game accessories, things like that, but we also offer the teaching service part,” Whitted said. “We go out into the schools and teach. We use chess as a strategic partnership for learning and teambuilding exercises for businesses. We have the adult clients and the kids' programs, weekend classes, summer classes, after-school classes."
Whitted puts his potential instructors through a rigorous training process to prepare them to help students of all levels with a game that can be frustrating for anyone.
Instructor Giuseppe Minniti, paused from helping a dozen young beginners to explain what drives him.
“I love working with kids,” he said. “At first they might feel a bit discouraged by a chess board. They'll be all 'Aw man, I can't do this! I can't do this!' But then you break it down for them and it's great just to see them go 'Yeah, I can do this.' It's great seeing their confidence build up.”
Ben Apatoff, an instructor who's been on staff for two years, said it's “exhilarating” to work with students all over the city – the shop has taught classes at schools in every borough except for Staten Island.
“One of the things I personally love about chess is that it's a level playing field,” he said. “Girls can compete with the boys, kids can compete with adults. There's no divide between age, race, or anything.”
And the intense nature of chess really allows for personal growth, assuming one keeps at it, Whitted added. To him, that's what makes running the shop, classes and all kinds of children's camps worth it.
“It's a very personal thing, chess,” he said. “One of the reasons why I was interested in it is because you learn about yourself. If you're impatient, it comes across in a chess game. If you're not that observant, if you're not paying attention to detail like you should, it comes across. (It shows) your strengths and your weaknesses.”
is located at 192 Flatbush Ave. at Dean Street. 718-398-3727. The shop is open 11 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. seven days a week.