Mayfair Realty had a large open entry room with four desks and the appropriate number of chairs. Telephones and multiple listing books were in abundance. There was no receptionist, but a fat middle-aged man wearing a toupee you could spot across Soldier Field rose from behind his desk and asked if he could be of help.
“I’m looking for a commercial building with about fifteen hundred square feet of open floor space, preferably all on one floor. I want to open a poolroom” Danny said.
“Do you have any preference on a location?” Toupee asked. He stretched out his hand. “I’m Jim Collins.”
“Danny B-- Barbone” Danny said, shaking hands. “Along Frankford Avenue in Mayfair would be great. If not, let’s see what you have.” Mayfair Realty had looked to be strictly residential at first glance, but Danny had picked up their name and address from a sign in front of a former bowling alley, so they had as good a chance as any of having what he wanted. Besides, he felt it wise to patronize local businesses. For all he knew, this guy could be a future customer.
“Let’s see what we have” Collins said.
For the next day and a half, Collins took Danny all over Mayfair, Holmsburg and even into Tacony. The closest place he could find that looked like it might do was a former floor covering store right on Frankford Avenue just north of Cottman Avenue. The main floor was a little small, but it had a full basement with an eighteen by twenty-four foot room in the rear that had been used for storing floor tile. At one time boxes of tile were fed into the basement by way of a slide that could be extended up through ground level trap doors outside in the back. The slide was gone, but the doors were still there and functional. If business demanded, he could expand into the basement with at least six more tables. The installers could lower them into the basement through the trap doors. It even had a rest room on the first floor, a sink with hot and cold-water taps and a toilet in the basement. With a little money, he could install additional rooms on the main floor and turn the basement room into a studio apartment with a shower stall and a mini-kitchen.
“What if I put in some improvements like a shower and a stove? I’d pay for them myself” Danny said.
“Considering that the place has been vacant for over six months, the owner would probably not have a problem with that if you signed a three year lease” Collins replied.
“Why don’t you see what he says?” Danny asked.
By the end of the day, Danny had signed the lease and went looking for pool tables.
Collins had a number of contacts to handle the changes Danny had in mind for the apartment, and the lease agreement stipulated that the place be broom clean. The landlord arranged to put a dumpster in the alley behind the building to collect all of the trash from the previous tenant. Danny made a trip to his storage locker and retrieved some of his tools. While the carpenter and plumber were working downstairs, Danny built a counter, or “desk” as he called it, at the front of the poolroom in the corner opposite the door. It was six feet long in the shape of an “L” with an opening near the wall to walk through. It was four feet high and had a two by four frame with quarter inch paneling on the sides closest to the players. On the inside were shelves for pool balls, pool chalk and other pool paraphernalia. Behind the desk were racks for potato chips, pretzels and other snacks as well as a lockable glass display case for cue sticks for sale. The desk had a Formica on plywood top that he had bought ready-made from the local home supply house. Besides the extra pool balls, Danny also kept his nine millimeter pistol within easy reach. He bought a stuffed barstool with a sturdy back to keep behind the desk.
The landlord arranged to have the old floor covering company’s sign taken down, but Danny hired the carpenter and plumber. They installed a second rest room for ladies on the first floor. Danny had them add a utility room between the rest rooms with a large sink and storage shelves for toilet paper, trash bags and extra snacks and enough room to stack cases of soft drinks. The plumber and carpenter were downstairs installing a small bathroom, kitchen counters and cabinets in what was to become Danny’s new home. Danny called a number of sign companies in the area for design ideas and prices for his new poolroom that he decided to name Banker’s Hours.
Danny also talked to an accountant in the Federal Building that Corvino had put him onto to see how much money they would give him to buy as many pool tables as he could conveniently install on the first floor. He had a sneaking suspicion that he could lease the pool tables, but if the Feds would buy them for him, what the hell, let them. In the meantime, he would call Brunswick, Victor, Gandy and any other pool table manufacturers he could find to see how they do business.
Banker’s Hours Layout
By the end of the month, Banker’s Hours opened for business. Danny had some hand bills printed and hired some high school kids to put them on car windshields, especially in parking lots near competitors’ poolrooms, but not on their property. He advertised in the local newspaper, the Northeast Times, and bought advertisements in the free mini-paper delivered weekly. He also ran short commercials on late night cable TV stations. Soon, he began to get some customers.
By now, Danny had gotten to know some of his neighbors. He made a point of introducing himself whenever he patronized any of the other small businesses up and down the block. At first, some of the other business owners were wary of him, something which puzzled him and which he couldn’t put his finger on. However, once they learned that his was a legitimate small business just like theirs, they began to open up to him. He shelved the idea of making sandwiches in his place after he made an agreement with the delicatessen two doors down for them to post a sign advertising their sandwiches and sodas (not pop here in Philadelphia). They paid him a commission on anything they sold in his place. He even offered them free pool in exchange for free sandwiches, but they weren’t pool shooters, so he learned yet again that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
He bought all of the hardware for his studio apartment from the hardware store across the street, even though there was a huge discount home improvement chain store less than two miles away. He did his financial business at the bank two blocks over and hired the same window washer the other businesses used. He contributed to the local Police Athletic League and even sponsored a men’s softball team. This turned out to be a good move because his business name was the same as the team’s, and many of the ballplayers from all over the league began to shoot pool at Banker’s Hours. Overall, he wasn’t knocking them dead, but he was beginning to make a decent living, and once, when he thought about it, he decided he was pretty happy. His studio apartment was now complete, and he moved his furniture in from storage and had cable television run in. The only problem was the hours. The poolroom was open from noon until midnight on weekdays and from noon to one in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays. Although business was good, particularly in the evening, working seven days a week was beginning to get to him. He decided to hire some help.
A few days before, a boy of sixteen had stopped by his place and asked if he had any part time work. Danny had said that he didn’t, but he had taken the kid’s phone number just in case he changed his mind. Danny liked the idea that the kid had the gumption to go looking for work. As far as Danny was concerned, kids his age chased girls, did drugs, played sports and just hung around getting into trouble. Anybody who showed that much ambition deserved a shot. He thought about what he wanted the kid to do, and how much he would pay him and gave him a call. The kid’s mother took Danny’s number, and within an hour the kid called him back.
“Have you gotten the part time work you were looking for?” Danny asked.
“Not yet” the kid answered.
“Good. I’ve decided to take on some part time help” Danny said. “When can you get over here so we can talk about it?”
“I’ll be there in half an hour” the kid said, and he was.
“What hours can you work?” Danny asked the boy.
“I get out of school no later than three every day but Thursday, when I stay late to work on the yearbook, and I can work both days of the weekend.”
“How late at night can you work?”
“Ten on weeknights and twelve on weekends.”
“Could you stretch that midnight till one every once in a while? It wouldn’t be every weekend” Danny said.
“Let me talk to my mom about that, but I think it’ll be okay. What do I have to do and what do you pay?”
“Just clean up around the place and mind the desk when I’m not here. Easy stuff. As far as the pay, what’s minimum wage?” Danny knew, but he wanted to see if the kid gave him an honest answer. What he got was right on the money. A few more questions convinced him that he would probably not go too far wrong to hire the kid.
“How about starting Friday at three-thirty and working till midnight? I’ll stay with you all Friday to show you what I want done and how to run things when I’m not here. It ain’t too fuckin’ hard. Just keep the place clean, hand out balls and shit and collect the money when people finish playing. Figuring out what they owe is easy. Just punch in their starting and stopping times and the fuckin’ computer does the rest. Most of the time, if I’m not here on the playing floor, I’ll be in my place in the basement. I’ll put a buzzer under the desk so you can buzz me if you run into anything you can’t handle. Sound okay to you?”
“Sounds great” the kid, who’s name was Evan said. “Do I punch a time clock or anything like that? And what do you want me to wear?”
“No time clock and no taxes taken out. I’ll pay you on Mondays. And wear what you want, as long as you look decent. No shorts, tank tops or tee shirts. Just be sure to wear clean long pants and a shirt with a collar. Your school clothes will be okay” Danny said.
“Thanks, Mr. Barbone. I’ll be here three-thirty sharp on Friday” the kid said, turning to leave.
“Wait a minute. None of that Mr. Barbone shit. You call me Mr. Barbone and I’ll think something’s wrong. Call me Danny.”
At three twenty-five on Friday afternoon, Evan walked briskly into Banker’s Hours dressed in a clean white shirt and freshly pressed cotton pants. Danny promptly showed him how he wanted the carpets vacuumed, the ashtrays emptied and the pool tables brushed. This took about an hour and a half, and Danny watched with a critical eye while opening the occasional table for the infrequent players. Things wouldn’t really pick up until after six. Evan proved to be conscientious and relatively thorough. Danny only had to remind him once that he had to brush the tables from the break end to the rack end. A little after five Danny showed him where to wash out his rags and stow the vacuum cleaner. He then led him to the desk where the cash register was.
“Here’s the most important part of your job” Danny said. “Whenever anyone wants a table or to stop playing, ‘time off’ it’s called, you stop what you’re doing and take care of them. Always be sure to announce that the special is over at five-thirty. All you do is press this button and talk into the microphone.”
He demonstrated by saying “Welcome to Banker’s Hours” into the microphone and making the two kids on table fourteen jump. “Players on the special are told they are on their last game and, unless they bring the balls up to the desk, they go on the clock. The special is six bucks in advance. Our regular prices are on the sign behind the desk. There’s a two dollar minimum per player no matter how long they play, which reminds me.” He made a note to himself to have a sign made advising players of the two-dollar minimum.
“Offer to give time accumulation cards to players who don’t have them and stamp the cards of those who do.” He pulled a cigar box from below the desk to show the cards and stamp. “These don’t count for the special. Always cut a player a break if he’s spending more than five bucks and his time comes in under fifty cents. For example, if a guy’s time comes to seven thirty-five, only charge him seven bucks, but make sure he sees the seven thirty-five on the register so he knows you cut him a break. Always close the cash register between transactions. When giving change, always put the bill you’re changing on top of the drawer until you’re done. That way nobody can flim-flam you.
“What’s a flim-flam?” Evan asked innocently.
Danny looked at Evan and thought “I hope I’m not making a mistake with this kid.” Instead, he said “A flim-flam is a dodge, a scam, a way to separate you from your money. For example, somebody could give you a ten-dollar bill and claim they gave you a twenty. Got me?”
The kid nodded.
“Don’t take any shit from anybody. Be firm, but I don’t expect you to get into any fights. If things get out of hand, just hit the buzzer and I’ll be up in a jiffy if I’m here. If not, call 911. If anybody sticks you up, give up the cash, but try to memorize all you can about the stick-up guys so you can describe them to the cops and maybe pick them out of a lineup. Then call me on my cell phone first chance you get. Understand?”
“Yes. What’s your cell phone number?”
“This kid’s pretty quick” Danny thought, and said “I wrote it here on this card taped to the cash register. Anything else?”
“No. Not right now, but I’m sure there will be” Evan said.
“I’m sure there will be, too. Don’t be afraid to ask me anything, even if you think it’s a stupid question. As far as I’m concerned, there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Just use your fuckin’ head and everything will be okay.”
“It sounds like just common sense” Evan said.
“Let me tell you something, kid” Danny said. “It’s been my experience that common sense ain’t all that common.”
Danny showed Evan how the cash register and computer worked and how to hide the cash receipts over the ball return on table ten if he ever had to close up by himself.
Just then, two older players came in and Danny showed Evan how to work the cash register and computer to clock them in.
“Once you’ve done your chores, things can get pretty dull around here. You’ll notice there ain’t no televisions or radios.” He pointed to a sign that said “No radio playing allowed.”
“The juke box doesn’t need any competition. You can read or do your homework as long as you keep alert and know what’s going on around you. There are plenty of signs around saying ‘No Gambling,’ but for the most part, you can ignore them. They’re there for you to fall back on if any of the players get too boisterous. You can also ignore the ‘No Masse’ Shots’ signs if it’s obvious that a player knows what he’s doing. Don’t tolerate any abuse of the equipment by anybody, though. That means no jump shots, throwing balls or sticks on the tables or sitting on the tables. No drinks or cigarettes on or near the tables and don’t be afraid to bar anybody, either temporarily or permanently. I’ll back you up on that.”
“What’s a masse’ shot?”
“It’s a shot where a player jacks up the butt end of his cue to get extreme English when he wants to shoot around a ball or get lots of draw close up. Basically, it changes the path of the cue ball from a straight line to a curved line, like a curve ball in baseball.” Danny demonstrated a masse’ shot, curving the cue ball around the one ball to pocket the fourteen ball in the corner.
Evan laughed. “Hey, that’s pretty neat” he said.
“Not so hard when you know how. Everything’s easy when you know how. Getting back to business. Just try to maintain order. Most players, especially the good ones, wouldn’t dream of damaging the tables or getting abusive. It’s the amateurs and wiseasses you’ve got to be careful of. Just be firm but courteous and you’ll be in control.”
Danny reached under the desk and pulled out his cue case. “Have you ever shot pool?” he asked.
“Never have” Evan replied, “but it looks like fun and I sure would like to learn.”
“We’re not too busy now, so grab a cue” Danny said.