View Full Version : Fire destroys pool table manufacturer

12-08-2004, 03:23 AM
Fire destroys pool table manufacturer
Tampa's Robertson Billiard Supplies has made custom pool tables for big-name buyers and pool halls for 76 years. The future is unclear.
Published December 8, 2004


TAMPA - From a nondescript concrete block warehouse on N Franklin Street near downtown Tampa, the employees of Robertson Billiard Supplies make pool tables for an impressive roster of clients: retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Alstott, billiards World Champion Buddy Hall, even New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Robertson has been supplying tables for U.S. and European pool halls for 76 years, ever since T.E. Robertson opened the business to supply Tampa's thriving pool halls of the late '20s and '30s.

Tuesday morning, the world-famous billiard factory at 1616 N Franklin St. was destroyed by a fire that started near a paint table and spread quickly amid the propane, wood and other flammable building materials inside. Five to six employees were inside when the fire started, but they ran out and were not injured.

Investigators haven't determined what sparked the fire, which prompted downtown workers to leave their offices so they could watch firefighters put it out.

Twenty-five firefighters were called to the scene, but they eventually came out of the building fearing that it would collapse or that the propane and other combustibles would explode. Then a few firefighters got on a ladder truck and sprayed water on the building from above.

"We just went into defensive mode," said district fire Chief Toby K. Hart. "The building had a lot of construction material inside, flammable adhesives. It's pretty well damaged now."

Fire rescue spokesman Capt. Bill Wade estimated losses from the fire to be $900,000, a figure that includes minor damage to a small strip center at 1703 N Tampa St. that backs up to the billiard factory.

But Robertson owner Tom Rodgers, whose wife, Debra, is T.E. Robertson's granddaughter, said that figure doesn't take into account all the business his family will lose now that his warehouse is a charred mess.

Several custom-built tables had been taken out of the building recently, but there were others being assembled inside when the fire struck.

"I'll have to give those people their deposits back now," Rodgers said. He rubbed his temple in frustration as he slumped over the counter of his showroom, a surprisingly ornate room in an inconspicuous storefront amid a cluster of other industrial buildings just a block from the warehouse.

"This is our busiest time of year," said Rodgers, 49. "Now what are we going to do?"

The warehouse also contained table-building equipment that the Robertson family designed over the years specifically for their hand-crafted tables, including the Black Max model that's sold to commercial pool halls for as much as $6,000.

"It'll be months, if ever, before we can build those again," Rodgers said. "I have a couple orders right now I'll have to cancel."

The company custom designs all of its pool tables using mahogany, oak, cherry, poplar or stainless steel. The showroom on N Franklin Street includes pool tables, cues, bar stools, dart boards and other accessories to properly outfit a game room.

T.E. Robertson's son Charles took over the business in the '60s, eventually expanding to include clients from across the United States and around the world. He died in September.

His daughter Debra Rodgers and her husband took over the business in 1991. Tom Rodgers said the business has built its tables in the Franklin Street warehouse for the past 20 years.

As it smoldered late Tuesday morning, Rodgers wasn't thinking about how or when the warehouse will be rebuilt. He fears his insurance won't begin to cover the costs.

Still, Rodgers managed a weary smile and a feeble attempt at humor.

"I guess now I could have a big fire sale," he said.

12-08-2004, 08:06 AM
Sad news.
I've played on Robertson Tables for a long time while I lived in Cincinnati. The pool room there, Snookers, had 17 of them and everyone that I know that played on them, liked them.

12-08-2004, 08:25 AM
I know the Robertson's and am very sorry to hear about this. I would like to mention also, that it looks like you do internet searches for pool related stories and then post them up from time to time. Thank you for the thoughtfulness, they are a nice contribution and I always enjoy reading them.