Gym for the Mind


Carlos Justiniano, aka cjus, here at, had posted a marvelous photograph of the interior of a place called Gym for the Mind.  I really liked the photo and asked him about it. His response was:
              "batgirl, Gym for the mind was a converted home in 
              woodland hills California which the owner turned into 
              a game store, game parlor and gym!  Chess was the 
              overwhelming focus, but other games were played.  
              The owner held chess lessons, tournaments and as far 
              as I could tell made his living at the shop.
              I'm not sure if it's still active, but I found a link online at:

              . . .
              I always wondered what became of the place."


I looked at the link and did some searching and what I found touched the extemes of the spectrum - both ingenius and repulsive.

It all starts, and ends, with a man named David J. Esser.

A brief visit to my own chess site uncovered one bit of information"

Marriage of Mind, Muscle" Curtiss, Aaron. Los Angeles Times (June 20,
1991), p. B3.
David Esser's "Gym for the Mind" in Woodland Hills was having trouble
staying in business. "Most people are not a bit interested in mental
activities," said Esser, 45. He opened up in 1988 by placing chessboards
next to barbells and encouraged patrons to try both. On any afternoon
the place is filled with chess players, and bodybuilders sweat and
grunt a few feet away. So far, there's little crossover. Chess players
tend to do nothing more physical than move a rook across the board.
Bodybuilders find enough mental stimulation in counting reps on the
bench press. In 4 years, Esser said, only 7 people have stopped to pull
a book from the shelf and open it.


In an arlticle in the July 05, 1999 issue of the  L.A. Times, Finding Sociability in the Cards By Roberto J. Manzano we find Esser, 8 years later still in business:
"Esser, 52, operates Gym for the Mind, a combination store and game room where kids play everything from traditional games such as chess to the various incarnations of Pokemon, the popular Japanese import in which heroes defend the Earth against fantastic attackers."
. . .
"Kids apparently like the concept, given that more than 100 gather for weekend card tournaments, Esser said. Plenty of adults have an affection for the place too. About 200 people show up each week, ranging in age from 6 to 75, he said."
. . .
"The store has been there since 1990, though it has gone through some changes. At first, Esser tried offering a combination of games and exercise equipment, hoping to emulate the ancient Greek ideal of exercising mind and muscle. His slogan was “dumbbells for the weakling, and books for the dumbbell. But that idea never took off. People showed up to pump iron, but few played chess or cared to read the philosophy and literature books on the shelves. "
He takes all these risks, and he gets lucky a lot,” said Mark Andrews, a longtime friend and former business partner. “He almost lost that place a lot of times, but he always seems to pull it together, sometimes miraculously.”
Esser said loans from friends have often kept the business afloat. He said he affords his lease by renting out a bedroom and selling trading cards, such as those for the Pokemon game. It’s usually a break-even proposition, but Esser said he has made a profit so far this year. And he is even opening another store in West Los Angeles today."
. . .
"For many years Esser was obsessed with chess, becoming an expert. Then he started playing and teaching other games. 'I would’ve gone higher, but I lost my obsession. It amazes me people can go through life playing one game,' he said. 'If you play just one game, that’s unchildlike.'”
. . .
"Nick’s mother [Nick was a 9 year old customer]  has noticed Esser’s easy way with kids."

for this article, along with a photo of David Esser.




"Esser used to believe that chess was the only thing a young mind needed. It was the only thing his mind needed. When the former nutritionist, rediscovered the game in the '80s, he couldn't focus on anything else. It slowly took over his Gym for the Mind, the storefront he had initially designed around philosophy and exercise. But during a decade of teaching, his strategy has shifted.
`There's a danger in chess,'' he says now, offering a tour of his complex, the house he stocks with both strategy games and weight-lifting equipment. 'It's such a wonderful game that you need will power not to play it all day, every day.'''


The L.A. Daily News covered Esser again in 2006:

David Esser, 58, was arrested March 7 in Cottage Grove, Ore., where he owned and operated Gym for the Mind, a children's game store. He ran a store by the same name on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills from the early 1990s until 2001.
In March 2001, he moved the store to Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, and relocated to Oregon sometime after that, officials said.
Police have been searching for Esser since last fall, when a 21-year-old man accused the suspect of sexually molesting him for five years beginning when he was 11. The alleged victim suffered from Asperger's syndrome, a disease similar to autism
`Esser's business was a magnet for children,'  said Lt. Paul Vernon of the Los Angeles Police Department  'It catered to children's games and popular trading cards, like Pokemon. It was a perfect lure for young boys.'
Esser is awaiting extradition to California, where he will face three felony charges of suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts against children. Police said they believe he might have molested other boys and are asking potential victims or their parents to call Detective . . ."


I was unable to find any information on the outcome.