WALLINGFORD — Yale Billiards started out 20 years ago Wednesday as a family business. In that time, many families have had their beginnings there, and many say the whole place feels like a family.
“It feels like an accomplishment. We’ve had a lot of struggles,” said owner Bobby Hilton, who started the business with his father-in-law, Terry Taylor, on New Year’s Day 1994. “I feel blessed and lucky.”
The biggest struggle, Hilton said, was when indoor smoking was banned in 2004. “We lost half our customers just like that,” he said, waving toward the door.
The billiards parlor also had to weather the bad economic climate and growth of Internet poker that began in 2008, Hilton said.
“It’s all coming back now, he said, looking out over the filled tables. “We’ve got families who started here, husbands and wives who met here. It’s like the TV show “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name.”
Old-school rock music plays in the background, football is playing on a couple of TV screens, but the main focus is the 15 green-felt pool tables, which next week will become light blue tournament color.
“We’ve got to keep up with the times, you know,” Hilton said, laughing.
Fathers, sons, husbands, wives and all-around friends, chalk up pool cues. The clicks of balls hitting each other resonates above the music, laughter and chatting.
Bree Lange, of Meriden, was playing pool with her family.
“I’ve been coming here since they opened. My husband and I didn’t meet here, but we’ve been coming here together for 16 years,” she said.
Mike Bartolmeo, of Durham, did meet his wife, Kristen, at Yale Billiards when she was a bartender there.
“We don’t get here much anymore, but my stag party for my wedding was here and my daughter’s a direct result of this place,” he said, laughing. “I love to play pool and there’s pool tables everywhere, but this is a family. Here, I met my plumber, electrician, boat guy, and there’s my contractor.”
Katy Singleton, of Meriden, said she, her friends and her then-future husband, have been coming to play pool since it opened when they were teenagers and now they bring their kids.
“We come down all the time with our kids. They’re the next generation coming up,” she said. “We are a family here.”
Ten-year-old Beth Arnold, of Wallingford, said she was also enjoying the family gathering at Yale Billiards.
“When I was playing, I beat my dad at pool,” she said, smiling proudly. “We all come down here for Super Bowl parties and anniversaries and birthdays.”
Beth’s friend, Teal Singleton, 11, of Meriden, was also there with her parents.
“My mom and dad basically met here and I got a puppy here,” she said. “Bobby (Hilton) called us and said he had a puppy and knew we were looking for one so we got it.”
Andy Gow, of Wallingford, said he remembers the announcement that Yale Billiards would be opening.
“I saw it in the paper that they were having the grand opening New Year’s Day,” he said, adding that he’s been coming back ever since. “It really is like a family here, new people come in, others go out, but it’s still a family.”