Pokemon players pair off at Tabletop Village on July 7, 2023 • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

Tabletop Village seems like an unlikely spot to be a regional mecca for Pokémon players. The one-story purple building at 8th and Lane St is marred by graffiti. It’s located in the “armpit” of the Chinatown International District neighborhood, as owner Brian Myers puts it. And the whole building is slated for destruction and redevelopment into 13 stories of apartments, a project that has been controversial since 2015. 

That doesn’t stop it from being a gem for Pokémon players in the Northwest. On July 7, about 30 players of all ages came to practice, socialize, and earn points for Pokémon championships, a regular Friday evening gathering at Tabletop. Pokémon decor surrounded them: Figurines, a giant blow-up Pikachu, an LGBTQ+ Pride flag on the wall made up of Pokémon cards.

“There’s a very large amount of very talented people here,” said Eric Carlson, who has been playing at Tabletop Village for the past seven months. “It’s a good community.”

Pokémon is a massive international Japanese franchise including TV, video games, merchandise, and the card game. At Tabletop Village, 100 to 250 players come each week to play the card game, competing with their customized decks of collected cards. On Sundays, families bring their kids to play in kids’ tournaments and events. 

“The beautiful thing about Pokémon is that you can start playing it as soon as you can read,” explained Myers. 

Pokemon players pair off at Tabletop Village on July 7, 2023 • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

Some play competitively, some play for the story. “It’s hard work, but it’s still that excitement, that same joy that you get when you’re watching the anime where the Pokémon evolve,” said  Elainea Kesler, who started playing recently.

Myers got involved in Pokémon around 2014 thanks to his five-year-old son. Playing together at stores in the Seattle area. Myers noticed there wasn’t really a dedicated Pokémon store. 

Myers and his son were buying cards from a friend, who owned the Tabletop Village brand. Eventually Myers’ friend sold him the business and his Pokémon inventory.

Myers had a taekwondo gym at Tabletop Village’s current location at the time, but the gym wasn’t working out. With the COVID-19 pandemic beginning, Myers decided to wait out COVID and then open a Tabletop Village storefront.

People couldn’t play in the space yet, but they eagerly bought cards. “Then as soon as we were able to play again, like, we became extremely popular,” Myers said.

Tabletop Village now has four employees. Myers aims to make it “almost like a community center,” where people help each other learn, and parents come to teach other kids. Tabletop also offers rental for parties, events, concerts, classes, barbecues. 

Brian Myers, owner of Tabletop Village, stands with a collection of Pokémon cards in his office. • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

Owen Xia, a newly-hired employee, has volunteered with the store since 2021. During the pandemic, Xia was helping seniors and business owners in the CID get vaccinated when he stepped into the store. A longtime fan of the Pokémon TV series, Xia was new to the card game. “Brian’s like, I’ll teach you how to play Pokémon. So I started playing and I work here now.”

Myers and Xia are proud of what their players have achieved. A kid who was playing at Tabletop for less than a year won a junior regional championship in Portland. Myers’ son won the Oceania International Championship.

“We have definitely the strongest player base in the state,” said Xia. “We have people come from Olympia and Bellingham to our Wednesday and Friday tournaments, because they just want to play a good competition.”

It can be difficult to learn how to get better at Pokémon and develop long term strategies, Xia said. Much of the information isn’t readily accessible even online. But Tabletop players share strategies and help each other. “Here we have people who are very willing to share information, share cards, and teach each other how to play,” Xia said. “So we have an inordinately strong and close player base.”

At the big regional Pokémon tournaments, Tabletop players have a formidable reputation.

“Sometimes I hear, ‘Man if this guy’s from Tabletop Village, I’m screwed,’” said Xia.

Pokemon players pair off at Tabletop Village on July 7, 2023 • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

“So in a kind of roundabout way, we’re like a village – we raise each other up,” said Myers.

“I think that’s one of the beautiful things about our community that we’ve grown is like, we don’t allow people to be toxic. We don’t allow people to cheat. We don’t allow people to be mean to other people.”

Kesler was drawn to Tabletop because of its inclusive ethos — the LGBTQ+ Pride flag made out of cards on the wall, the accommodations for players with disabilities, like herself.  She used to play the popular Magic: The Gathering trading card game, but felt she had to leave because of “toxicity” within the community.

With the aim of creating a safe and inclusive space, Xia recently hosted a talk about allyship for the transgender community at Tabletop. Later, the community will have a talk focused on racial equity. 

“I think it reflects well on the store that like we are in CID it’s important for us to be in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city,” Xia said. 

Plus, the CID needs a community space for kids and families to come and play games, said Myers.

Pokemon players pair off at Tabletop Village on July 7, 2023 • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

With redevelopment on the horizon, it won’t be this space for long. But Myers plans for Tabletop Village to continue after the building is torn down. 

Since 2015, the hotel management group Hotel Concepts has been presenting various iterations of a high-rise project on the site before the International Special Review District (ISRD) Board, which oversees changes to the CID.

Most recently, the developers presented to the ISRD for a sixth time in May 2023. The latest plan is for a 13-story building called 616 Apartments, featuring 203 units, ground floor retail and underground parking. 

As one of the first planned high-rise projects in the neighborhood, the project has been controversial from the beginning. In 2015, Cynthia Brothers, founder of the Vanishing Seattle project on Facebook and Instagram, wrote an article about the project in the Seattle Globalist, titled “Will Grandma have a place in the new Chinatown-International District?” The article motivated activists to form the Chinatown International District Coalition, also known as Humbows Not Hotels, which has organized in opposition to other high-rise, market-rate projects in the neighborhood like Koda Condominiums and the planned Jasmine project at the site of the former Bush Garden.

International Community Health Services • Courtesy

The project has also drawn concern from International Community Health Services (ICHS). ICHS’s Legacy House assisted living facility for seniors is right across the street from the site.

“International Community Health Services remains very concerned about neighborhood impacts from the 616 8th Ave S development,” said Kelli Nomura, ICHS CEO in a statement to the International Examiner.

“The seniors in our assisted living facility, Legacy House, live across the street from the construction site and face very real health threats due to impacts of noise, dust, pollution, and other environmental hazards. More broadly, ICHS is concerned with the ongoing affordability crisis in the Chinatown International District. It becomes more difficult each year for our staff and patients to find affordable family-sized housing units close to where they work and where their community ties are historically rooted. Our communities risk being displaced and dispersed.”

In its May presentation to the ISRD Board, the developers acknowledged the myriad concerns the project has received in the community, from its scale to traffic impacts to fears of gentrification.

A visualization showing some of the proposed design elements of “616 Apartments,” a 13 story project from developer Hotel Concepts. Image taken from materials presented at the International Special Review District Board’s meeting on May 23, 2023.

Addressing ICHS’s construction concerns, the developers noted in their presentation that they are “committed to advancing a construction outreach plan earlier than usual and will directly engage with ICHS on staging and timing to minimize impact to ICHS and Legacy House.” The developers noted that they purchased the site of Eng Plaza, which was destroyed by a fire, and will use it for construction staging, “which will minimize community impact, particularly for ICHS.”

The ISRD board has generally expressed support for the demolition of the existing building and massing of the new project.

Hotel Concepts has modified the project in response to community concerns, they said during previous ISRD briefings. For a time, the proposal was for a 16-story project, and originally it would have had condominiums and hotel rooms. 

The redevelopment leaves Tabletop Village in an uncertain place. Myers has not received a timeline for when Tabletop will need to leave probably, he said, because the developer doesn’t know either. “It’s frustrating to not know, and then kind of worrisome,” he said. “But we know that it’s soon. And so we’re looking at making moves.”

Myers is eyeing a vacant, former print shop on 616, 6th Avenue South for Tabletop’s new location. Even if things moved quickly, they would have 90 days to vacate, and he knows the community would help. If nothing else, they could even move the whole business into Xia’s place for a while.

Tabletop Village is open Wednesday through Sunday. 

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