by Jennifer Chick
At Farmington Billiards, the pool tables draw people in, but it’s owner Dan Rider’s warm welcome that keeps them coming back.
Rider and his wife, Barb, bought Farmington Billiards, 933 Eighth St., in January 2010, when Rider was looking for a way to spend his retirement. At that time, he was working for the Sara Lee Coffee and Tea Plant in St. Louis Park. He would work at the pool hall until 1 a.m., then get up at 5:30 a.m. to go to his other job. When the plant closed in February 2012, Rider found himself in that retirement phase he had first envisioned two years earlier.
For Rider, owning Farmington Billiards was a natural progression. A love of math led Rider to earn a college degree in mathematics, and pool played into those strengths.
“I’ve been playing pool since college,” the 66-year-old Rider said, “and I used to run pool leagues in southern Minnesota. I like the geometry of it, the strategy of it. It’s a sport you can play all your life. My goal is to be at the national tournament in Vegas and competing when I’m 100.”
When he heard Farmington Billiards was for sale, he thought the place was a natural fit. The game catered to his mathematics prowess, and the customers fit his friendly personality.
Regulars Joe and Karen McCauley of Farmington play there several nights each week. Karen said it makes a difference when the owner greets you at the door.
Every time his front door opens with a ding, Rider makes sure he greets the customers, whether they are regulars like the McCauleys, or first-timers. The McCauleys’ friends, Tony and Carol Malbury, also play at Farmington Billiards regularly because of the atmosphere.
“I appreciate Dan’s zest for trying to get people in here and promote the game of pool,” Carol said.
Leagues play Sunday through Thursday nights, with tournaments on Friday and Saturdays. Leagues have summer, fall and winter sessions. Spots are still available every night in the winter session, which just started a few weeks ago.
Since Rider bought the business, he has been building up the leagues, bringing in players from as far away as Mankato and Owatonna. Recently, people drove from New Prague to play on the new 5-foot by 10-foot snooker table, a 1945 Brunswick Anniversary table.
Rider’s friend refinished the table and was looking for a place where it would be appreciated. Rider offered to put it at Farmington Billiards, where it could draw in interested customers. He said his is the only snooker table on the south side of the metro.
“We just keep trying to build the business,” Rider said.
Much of his marketing comes through Facebook and ads at the local liquor stores. Farmington Billiards is one of only two pool halls in the area. The other is located in Burnsville. Every year, he hosts the “Rider Cup,” where teams play golf in the morning and then shoot pool in the afternoon.
On Saturday, Feb. 9, the annual Minnesota Pool Association’s Mixed Scotch Doubles Tournament will play at Farmington Billiards.
Last Tuesday night found several teams playing in the Advanced League at Farmington Billiards. Mark Weaver of Inver Grove Heights was one of those players. He had recently returned to the sport after a long hiatus.
“Dan was so nice right off the bat, and he reminded me of what I liked about pool, which was the getting out and playing pool with your buddies,” he said.
Weaver is in sales and says playing pool is a great way to relax after a stressful day.
“You can forget about everything stressful in line and just zone out on the game,” said Josh Halverson of Northfield, another Advanced League player.
Former owner Larry Jones does miss the kids who used to congregate at Farmington Billiards. It used to be a place where they would meet to set plans for later, he said. Now, texting has taken away the need to meet up. But Rider said a few kids still play at Farmington Billiards.
For instance, April Larson, 12, of Bloomington, has been playing in the Wednesday night league. She traveled to Germany in December to compete in the world youth championships.
Although with 16 pool tables and one snooker table, pool play is the main focus of the business, Rider also serves pizza and hot dogs. He is in the process of upgrading his liquor license to strong beer and wine.
“I love coming down here,” Joe McCauley said. “It’s a great atmosphere. Everybody gets along with everybody. We’re all friends. At the end of the night, you shake hands and everybody had a good time.”
For more information about leagues and upcoming tournaments, contact Rider at (612) 226-7665.