SPRING HILL — Over the years, many talented local billiards players have upped the score in Hernando County's quest to be known as the place for pool.
"This was the hotbed of pool" in the early 2000s, said Tony Crosby, a Brit who recently moved his business, Billiards & Dart Supplies, into tastefully upscale and spacious quarters along Spring Hill Drive, near his previous location.
The area's renown and its accompanying sponsorships is what attracted one of billiards' rising stars to the west coast of Florida when he relocated from Manchester, England, in 2000.
A former U.S. Pool Association Rookie of the Year, Crosby later opened his first shop as the economy tanked and sponsorships dried up. While other stores selling pool tables and supplies shuttered, Crosby's thrived because of its niche.
"I'm selling used tables," the now 40-year-old said.
Crosby reconditions them, as they often need new felt, sometimes new bumpers, likely wood refinishing. He readily recognizes their needs because pool tables have been his playground since he was a child growing up in his parents' pool and darts pub.
For an average of $1,000, his customers today can buy a complete pool package and setup with a slate table that originally sold for five figures.
From his long affiliation with the game, Crosby maintains a network of contacts who alert him when tables become available. Individual owners also contact him.
"They're usually downsizing, moving out of state or just don't play anymore," he explained.
Aficionados line up to buy the bargains. Crosby noted that seven tables he recently sold had been in the showroom for only a day or two each.
Tables come in various designs, from "workhorse" pub tables, according to customer Tom Maffatone of Spring Hill, to what he called "lady tables," with Queen Anne, baroque or other furniture design.
Currently undergoing restoration in Crosby's workshop is the first of four 1940s vintage 10-foot tables.
"I searched all over for these things," he said. "I'm going to put one on display and give lessons."
Moving in December from a 1,900-square-foot space to 5,000 square feet has enabled Crosby to display not four tables tightly, but 12 tables comfortably. And with his business now fronting the main thoroughfare, he noted, "I've already started getting walk-in traffic."
Pool cues — from $10 "bargain cues" to $45 standards and up to $900 customs and collectibles — are in constant demand.
"There's technology in cues now, like golf clubs," Crosby pointed out, mentioning deflection, weight, length, joint material, even tip size to fractions of a millimeter.
The shop carries racks, balls, gloves, cue holders, retip kits, overhead light fixtures, high-seat spectator chairs, books on billiards and pool, and Crosby's own Stroke It clothing line.
From the time he opened, the owner said, customers inquired about darts.
"Every bar in England has darts (because) people are always running in to get out of the rain," he explained.
A section of his shop features dart boards, wall protectors, dart cases and darts with tungsten, chrome or brass tips — also various shafts and countless decorative flights.
With his relocation now complete, Crosby says he's getting the itch to compete again.
"I think I'm going to go back on the circuit," he said. "I've been missing it."
Recently, he beat three world-class players at Capone's, a billiards center on County Line Road, famous in those "hotbed" days, Crosby said.
Some of Crosby's impressive credits are memorialized in posters and photographs on the walls of his shop: beating the No. 1 player in the world on international TV from the Philippines in 2006; No. 1 on the Seminole Pro Tour; Florida state champion in 2010 and 2011; and sixth top player in the world in 2009-10.
The credentials bode well for Crosby as he attempts to attract players seeking lessons and customers who can count on his expertise.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]