Marilyn Courtenay is the owner of The Boarding House, Vernon’s first board game café, which officially opened Dec. 23, 2019. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Marilyn Courtenay is the owner of The Boarding House, Vernon’s first board game café, which officially opened Dec. 23, 2019. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Owner of Vernon’s first board game café a lifelong gamer

The Boarding House Café opened doors on 31st Avenue on Dec. 23

Board games have long been the favourite family pastime of Marilyn Courtenay, and as the owner of Vernon’s first board game café, she’s now providing a space for anyone to get their game on.

The Boarding House Café opened its doors Dec. 23 in a spacious storefront on the corner of 31st Avenue.

Courtenay has stocked the shelves with more than 220 games, and her plan is to keep adding to the collection.

There’s a $5 fee to play the games and there’s no time limit — a reasonable price considering many board game venues charge that amount or more as an hourly rate.

“I decided a flat rate was best,” she said. “If you’re a slow learner that’s okay.”

With the fee comes all the staff support customers may need to learn how to play the many games on offer.

The Boarding House Café is Courtenay’s first business venture, and she credits the 2019 Community Futures Enterprize Challenge with helping her get on her feet.

“It’s to encourage entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door and to help them to succeed,” she said of the Dragon’s Den-style competition in which she placed third out of a record field of 15 participants, most of whom were owners of already established businesses in the North Okanagan.

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Courtenay held countless game nights with her children back when they were young and home-schooled.

As they got older, she noticed there were few places for teens to spend time together downtown — a gap she intends to fill with her new business.

“My plan was to stay open until midnight or 1 a.m. on the weekend. That’s the niche I wanted to fill,” she said.

For now, she’s keeping the doors open until 9 p.m.

Courtenay established herself as something of a board game expert at Teeter Totter Toys, where she was hired specifically to sell games around the holiday season and wound up staying on for three years.

“They kept me on because I raised the games’ sales because I knew them well and I was excited about them, and that was contagious,” she explained.

In the summer of 2018, she visited Interactivity Board Game Café in Victoria, a place that made her question why Vernon didn’t have its own dedicated space for game lovers.

“I couldn’t believe nobody had done it (in Vernon) and I thought, ‘Yeah, I can do this. Vernon needs this.’”

Courtenay has plans to serve home-style, baked goods, add wall decorations and install a living room area to make for a place to play games that feels like home, which is where it all began for her.

“My kids have all gone and I don’t have that kind of fun in my life, and young people just bring that kind of joy,” she said. “Older people too.”

She has even bigger plans further down the road.

In June, she hopes to open a dedicated “dungeon room” for Dungeons & Dragons players to congregate, and a special table for Warhammer 40,000—a popular miniature-based game set in a distant, dystopian future.

Courtenay said her greatest pleasure in running the business so far has been watching patrons find something they love on her shelves.

“What I’m enjoying about it is people coming in and looking at the games and saying ‘Oh, they’ve got this!’ And they’re excited about it,” she said.

“To think that I’ve created the place where that can happen, it’s really special.”

Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
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