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Matching pool tables to homes

That's the mission of family-owned Robertson Billiard Supplies, which sells custom-made tables to fit the way you live.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 26, 2002


TAMPA -- When is a pool table not just a pool table?

When it's hand carved in Bali of solid mahogany, adorned with burl walnut, abalone and mother-of-pearl inlays and carries a $14,500 price tag.

Then it's a piece of furniture, or, perhaps, a work of art.

The masterpiece sits inside the front door of the Robertson Billiard Supplies showroom. Behind it are pool tables for the rest of us.

Robertson general manager Chad Gainey confesses that the billiard table from Bali has sat in the store for quite some time.

Most people opt for pool tables made by major manufacturers, such as Beach, Golden West and Vitalie, or by Robertson, which makes tables in a warehouse a block from the showroom. Prices range from $1,500 to $6,000.

Robertson custom designs every one of its pool tables using mahogany, oak, cherry, poplar or stainless steel and a choice of finishes to match a room's decor.

"We cater to people who want a game room but don't want it to look hokey," says owner Tom Rogers.

"In Florida, with no basements, the game room has to be viewed from other parts of the house. When you do that it's important that you understand the refinement of the look. Suddenly it's a nice piece of furniture; it's a beautiful piece of wood," Rogers says.

Robertson's has made and sold pool tables in its downtown Tampa location for more than 70 years. The firm was started in 1928 by T.E. Robertson, who supplied tables to Tampa pool halls during the game's heyday and ran promotions at the shop with the legendary Minnesota Fats.

T.E.'s son, Charlie Robertson, took over the business in the mid-60s and soon shipped tables to pool halls across the United States and around the world. In the 1980s, he earned his stripes as three-time president of the Billiard Congress of America and president of the Billiard and Bowling Institute of America.

Charlie handed the reins to his daughter, Debbie, and her husband, Tom Rogers, in 1991. This year, their 18-year-old son, Thomas, was the first of the fourth generation of Robertsons to join the company.

Debbie and Tom added home game-room supplies to the Robertson inventory in 1997. In addition to pool tables, the showroom now holds bars, bar stools, dart boards, poker supplies, air hockey and foosball tables and a huge range of accessories. Robertson's carries a pool table that can be converted to a dining room table and another with a cover that turns it into a pingpong table.

"You would be shocked at all the people who have taken their formal living room and ditched it because no one goes in there," Rogers says. "You'll spend $25,000 on formal living room furniture and it's a museum. Everybody walks right through it to the family room. No one wants to go in the living room and sit on the white couches. Take down the usher ropes and play a game of pool.

"It makes the largest room in the house a fun, useful room."

Robertson has installed pool tables in the homes of retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Alstott and billiards World Champion Buddy Hall, who lives in Brandon and was recently inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. The company shipped one to Derek Jeter's home in New York City.

Most of their customers, though, are regular folks who want a room where they can hang out and have fun.

Suzanne and Jim Marks chose a $2,500, eight-foot pool table that dominates the family room of their north Tampa home. Suzanne says she plans to get a dart board and a top that will convert the pool table to a pingpong table.

"We wanted to have a room that would be a good playroom for teenagers and grown-ups," Marks says. "The family room had all the little kid toys for so long, and finally the kids outgrew that. We wanted to create a room where they would be able to be with their friends, plus a place where our friends could hang out."

Suzanne says she and her husband play several times a week, and daughters Dani, 13, and Leah, 10, are honing their skills.

"If they have a few minutes here, a few minutes there, they'll go in and throw some balls down and play instead of watching TV," she says.

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