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The Last Chess Shop in New York City

Dec 03, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Lonelyleap

“I came here to get a Ph.D. in American literature, and here I am, with pictures of American writers on the wall—a chess vendor.”

That’s Imad Khachan, the owner of Chess Forum, the only remaining chess shop in New York City. A Palestinian refugee with no family of his own, Khachan has become “the father of everybody” to a community of chess enthusiasts, those curious to learn more about the game, and those whom Khachan describes as the city’s “invisible people.”

“When no other place will welcome you, you have a seat [here],” Khachan says in Lonelyleap’s short documentary, King of the Night. The film depicts the chess shop as more than a home for chess players; Khachan’s open-door policy has provided a haven for many patrons who have a difficult home life. According to Brass, some Chess Forum regulars have no home at all.

“There are very few places in New York that accept and welcome anyone—really anyone—to sit and spend as many hours as they want to, at negligible or no cost,” Molly Brass, who co-directed the film, told The Atlantic. “It's almost a revolutionary idea at this point.”

In the chess shop’s early days, it was open 24 hours. Khachan, working the graveyard shift, would often take breaks to roam the streets. He still practices the nocturnal habit.

“Each street has its own double life,” Khachan says in the film. “A curtain is raised and you see the homeless, the Con Edison guy, the garbage guy, the rat, the bat … all the creatures of the night. At 5 o’clock in the morning, somebody pulls a curtain, and all the theater of the night is gone. That theater is my place. You become invisible like these people.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.