By Kassidy McDonald │[email protected]
Street Lights Billiards Academy is known to many professional pool players and legends worldwide, but many city residents may not know that this secret spot is located right here in Alexandria. The business is even billed as “the first and only private billiards academy on the East Coast.”
The pool hall is on the third floor of an office building at 205 S. Whiting St., which Deon Chapman, the owner of SLBA and a semi professional pool player, originally bought for his construction company. Chapman got his start in the game of pool from a young age – he began working at a pool hall when he was just 14 years old. He’s now been playing for over 30 years.
“I started pool probably on the incline wave of playing pool,” Chapman said. “Pool goes in waves – the popularity of it. Usually it gets popular after a movie or something, so ‘The Color of Money’ wasn’t too far behind when it came out that I started playing pool … I would say for the first five years of me playing pool I never missed a day playing pool, even when I was sick, I was still out there playing pool.”
Once Chapman officially owned the office space, he asked his landlord if he could put in a pool table – and one quickly turned into five which turned into 10. Chapman presented his landlord with a business model for Street Lights Billiards Academy, and she agreed. He opened the location in 2019, about a month or two before businesses started to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The members only pool club is different from what one might expect when they hear the words “pool hall.”
Chapman’s pool hall is about 2,000 square feet and is home to 10 diamond pool tables, which he said are the best quality, and what all the professionals prefer to play on. He got the idea of a “true pool club” from the popularity they’ve gained in Europe, by offering membership to people interested and a place for them to go to become more involved with the sport.
“We offer a clean, non-smoking, and judgment-free atmosphere for you to meet other pool enthusiasts who want to have fun, but are serious about improving their pool game,” the SLBA website reads. “We are not a bar who is driven by the bottom line profits of alcohol sales or how much money is lining our pockets with gambling machines.”
The atmosphere of SLBA makes it a perfect spot for everyone who loves pool – whether that is a professional player who travels across the globe for competitions, or a kid who wants to become better at pool and play a couple games after school. Chapman’s member base shows the popularity of the sport and how it is slowly becoming bigger and bigger. Right now SBLA has 115 members, and Chapman is looking to cap it off at 150 members. Members of the SLBA can even rent out time slots to reserve pool tables online to make sure when they arrive they have an area to play. This is something that Chapman said has been very convenient for himself and his members.
Besides the everyday pool lover playing at SLBA, it is a familiar location for many famous pool players. “Eagle Eye” Jayson Shaw broke a 65-year old record at SLBA back in January. In a recorded video that lasted two hours and 39 minutes, Shaw hit 714 balls consecutively. It was later noted by the Billiard Congress of America that on the 45th ball, Jayson Shaw inadvertently touched an object ball so the number now stands at 669. This was a major accomplishment for both Shaw and the SBLA, who have pictures of the “Eagle Eye” framed on their wall, and a jersey of his with the number 714 on the back.
Most tournaments are live streamed, Chapman said, and then archived on the SBLA’s Facebook page so that people can enjoy them from the comfort of their own homes whenever they choose. Each table in the pool hall has a camera for live recording games overhead.
In addition to looking for more members, Chapman and SLBA are looking to expand in a number of ways. One project Chapman is working on is creating a deli/cafe in the pool hall so that members can enjoy food and drinks while they’re playing or watching tournaments. He’s also interested in buying more office space on the third floor and constructing another space for snooker and billiard tables – both completely different games from pool.
Chapman also wants to expand to include an even bigger venue that would be available for leagues and tournaments. He’s not set on a space yet, but looking at a venue at about 15,000 square feet. It would be called Street Lights Billiards Academy Pool Arena, and would be set up as a venue like the one they would use for a U.S. Open for Pool, Chapman said.
Chapman said that creating “pool hubs” in major cities that are relevant to the sport would allow for tours to visit each city and not have to spend much money or waste resources setting up and breaking down.
“It would almost feel like you were in a banquet room of a hotel, which is what they do now. All these tours rent out convention space or hotel space for their events and what they’re doing is they have to truck those tables in, they have to set them up, they have to set up the lights … and they do that day in and day out from event to event,” Chapman said. “So, my theory is, ‘Why not create an actual arena where different tours could come in and lease the space?’”