EVERETT — There was only one piece missing from Bob Briggs’ puzzle and game business — a brick-and-mortar location.
Briggs finally completed the picture when he opened The Best Puzzles & Gifts at 1315 Hewitt Ave. in Everett this winter.
The puzzle store is another new addition to the city’s downtown, and one of a handful of new retailers who’ve set up shop within a three-block radius of the completed Rucker Renewal project.
Briggs also joins the rank of courageous folk who’ve opened new stores or businesses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been an online company based out of Lynnwood for three years,” said Briggs, who launched the online version in retirement to combat boredom and amuse his grandchildren.
“I’m not a traveler and I’m not a gardener,” said Briggs as he straightened a display of artwork puzzles. ”I just enjoy working.”
The puzzle business is a labor of love and will eventually be turned over to his grandkids.
“I’m having fun with this. I don’t take a salary,” said Briggs, who once owned a sporting goods store.
He originally planned to open a pop-up store, but changed his mind when he got a “great offer” from the landlord for the 1,700-square-foot space, he said.
Online sales continue, but now puzzlers — as aficionados are called — can drop by and browse real shelves.
“I’ve got 1,000 puzzles in stock and I plan to add another 2,000,” Briggs said.
Farm animals, the solar system, Disney princesses and U.S. presidents are among the most popular patterns.
The first jigsaw puzzles were developed around 1760 when British cartographer John Spilsbury fastened a European map onto hardwood and used a small saw to cut along the countries’ borders.
Ever since, fans have been eyeballing loops and knobs and gauging slots and sockets (that’s what the notches and divets are called) to figure out which piece goes where.
The pandemic-induced popularity of puzzle assembly has made procuring new designs a pain, he said.
“I was on the phone with three distributors this morning,” Briggs groused.
Like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, they’re in short supply.
Whenever people spend more time at home, puzzle-mania takes hold and sales surge, industry groups report.
It’s true now, and it was true during the Great Depression when the world economy nose-dived and unemployment in the U.S. reached a high of 25% in 1933.
Pre-pandemic, a wholesale order would normally include 300 or 400 new patterns. “Now it’s 50,” Briggs said.
An expert panel composed of Briggs’ grandchildren — two 10 year-olds and an 8-year-old — help choose the board games and educational toys.
“I give them a catalog and they pick the ones they like,” he explained.
Toys that hold their interest for more than a day get a second look, he said. Their picks include Chewing Gum Lab (make natural chewing gum from trees); Rocket Ball Laboratory (make your own mass-accelerating ball launchers); and Dino Poop Excavation Kit (rummage through faux dinosaur coprolite).
“This is their store,” Briggs said.