The board game that launched a lifetime of errand running

Competitive errand-running prepped us for parenthood

September 17, 2012|Susan Reimer

Connie and Nancy and I have been best friends since the seventh grade, and when the three of us get together, it is middle school all over again.

Card games and board games are part of our mix, and I am happy to report that while I am no better at these games than I was nearly 50 years ago, I am much more mature about losing. I think the wine helps.

I have to say, nothing prepared me for life better than Park and Shop, a board game of competitive errand-running. Not even The Game of Life, with its kids and college funds and insurance policies, got me in shape for adulthood any better than Park and Shop.

We played Park and Shop again during our recent reunion in Seattle, and I lost every game. Perhaps it was because I was so distracted by the anachronistic errands I was required to run.

I had to go the Feed and Grain Store, but there was no lawn and garden center. There was a stop at the Telephone Company, but no cellphone store. A Beauty Shop, but no spa. And a Radio-TV shop, but no cable company. (And I pay all those bills online.)

Park and Shop was created as a board game in 1950 in Allentown, Pa., to celebrate the community's success in solving parking hassles downtown. Because there were not enough parking meters, the town fathers created the then-revolutionary idea of free lots near shopping areas.

The object of the game was to collect your list of errands, printed on little yellow cards, and choose the parking garage that would allow you to complete your errands and get home first.

Sound like your day?

There are speed bumps in the road, however. You can create a "disturbance" and end up in jail for a couple of turns. Or meet a cousin and spontaneously decide to go to a movie and lose two more. You can get additional errands to cram into your day, some requiring your car, such as the trip to the Coal and Oil Company for fuel for your furnace.

Yes. Fuel for your furnace.

But there is no soccer practice, no ballet class, no meeting at school, and no concession stand duty. Somehow, the Park and Shop day feels incomplete today. Kind of soccer mom vs. "Mad Men."

Milton Bradley bought the rights to Park and Shop in 1954, and Christmas advertisements in The New York Times offered it for $3, along with Go to the Head of the Class and Game of States, also popular for those family game nights that none of us remember having.

Park and Shop was dated almost before it arrived on the national board game scene. In the years immediately after World War II, regional shopping centers were moving to the outskirts of cities, where there was plenty of space to offer free parking to patrons.

But the cities fought back, offering "park and shop" plans. Each parking garage ticket validation by participating merchants earned customers a free hour of parking.

There were also attempts to create moving sidewalks, courtyards and traffic-free zones in downtowns to give urban retailers more of a "park and shop" feel.

Today, the park and shop model is reincarnated at places like Annapolis Town Centre at Parole and The Avenue at White Marsh.

A new edition of Park and Shop was issued in 1960, and the first thing you noticed was the Smoke Shop was gone. And the little metal cars were replaced with plastic. That's the version of the game that you will probably find for sale on vintage game websites for perhaps $60 or $70. I've seen the original 1954 game for sale for $85.

There are probably mothers out there who are scorned for disposing of our old games, just like they did our brothers' baseball cards.

I lost playing all kinds of board games in those days on Nancy's living room floor. Monopoly, Clue and Sorry. We played Mystery Date and told our fortunes with the Ouija board.

Some of the games were updated with the times — you can have a midlife crisis in the middle of The Game of Life, and Monopoly Here and Now introduced a little cellphone, a box of French fries or a laptop for player pieces, instead of the iron, the Scottie dog or the roadster.

But Park and Shop never moved forward. It is stuck in the past. Long before the days when I would be a wife and mother, rushing to get all the errands done and get home before the kids did.

I won that game every time, thanks to Park and Shop.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at Twitter: @SusanReimer.

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