Institution is a term applied to so many businesses (and people) that it ceases to mean what it’s intended to.
So how do you know? How do you know if a business qualifies?
Try this. Walk into a building at 300 E. Tremont Ave. that was built in 1947. Sit on a big wooden chair plucked from a long-ago pool hall. Beneath you is the building’s original tile floor, around you are the building’s original brick walls, and next to you are the building’s original dark wooden columns.
Beneath neon lights and whirring fans are five antique pool tables, the oldest of which was built in 1912. The 103-year-old table features the original nameplate. Your game might not be elegant. Dilworth Billiards is.
Dilworth Billiards opened on Halloween night in 1979. Eric Sprouse, who created the one-of-a-kind pool hall, has an announcement to make. He’ll close at the end of April. He’ll lease the 2,800 square feet to two women who will run a gourmet wine and cheese shop.
“They’re really passionate about it,” Sprouse, 65, says. “They remind me of me in 1979. It’s the right time.”
Sprouse was an insurance broker. He had been shooting pool since he was 15 and worked primarily with small-business owners. He opened his small business, a club, with five tables that he and others had restored. At the time, at almost any time, pool halls came with a hard edge. Dilworth Billiards was a place you could bring a date, and, no matter how good or how mediocre you were, find a game.
Tables were as easy to find as games were. Sprouse, who is from Rock Hill, didn’t have to venture far. When real estate took off during the 1980s, small-town pool halls with suddenly sought-after Main Street addresses couldn’t keep up with the rent. Sprouse stayed in South Carolina, buying tables from halls in Abbeville, Laurens and Pickens.
He sold those tables for as little as $5,000 and as much as $90,000.
Ninety, as in nine 0, 0, 0, 0?
“Ninety,” Sprouse says.
Who buys a $90,000 table?
“Somebody with a $6 million home,” he says.
He has sold tables to Mark Richardson, Steve Beuerlein and Johnny Harris.
I tell him I’ve been saving for one. I need one. I promise.
“It’ll be here,” Sprouse says.
After April, he’ll continue to sell tables and pool paraphernalia on E-commerce.
The tables attracted players. At the weekly 9-ball tournament, I watched a guy go on an incredible run. “I think I ran two racks,” said the shooter, Sprouse, when somebody asked.
“Three,” I said.
Not everybody played. Some came to sit on the outdoor patio. Some came because for the past 30 years Susan Hilger worked the bar, and for the past 29 years Kim Stout has. Some came because this is Charlotte the way it was. Customers saw and touched old Charlotte, and unlike so many of our institutions, Sprouse was not going to let anybody tear this one down.
I once was a regular. The table in the right corner, when I could get it, belonged to a buddy and me. On the brick above the table was an 81x81 broadside, a poster displayed outside a movie theater. This one promoted “The Hustler.” Paul Newman was Fast Eddie, and Jackie Gleason was Minnesota Fats. “The Hustler” would have been great if it had featured basketball or boxing. It featured pool.
My game never was worthy of the corner table. The beauty of Dilworth Billiards is that the table never cared.