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Bad economy makes Houdini's disappear

Mike Dolan lines up a shot at Houdini’s Billiards in Freeland. The sour economy has forced him out of business. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Mike Dolan lines up a shot at Houdini’s Billiards in Freeland. The sour economy has forced him out of business.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

FREELAND — It was a tight spot even Houdini couldn’t get out of.

“We got hit by a Mac truck,” said Mike “Houdini” Dolan, owner of Houdini’s Billiards in Freeland. “That’s what this economy feels like. We got blind-sided.”

Finally acting on a lifelong dream and years of market research and planning, Dolan and his wife, Tina Jarvis, opened Houdini’s in January.

They set up in a business park behind the Windermere office, across the street from the Island Athletic Club.

Among other things, they wanted to provide a wholesome, smoke-free environment for young people to hang out in, a scarce commodity on the South End.

Now they’re having a going-out-of-business sale: “Everything Must Go.”

Business was looking good the first quarter of the year, Dolan said Monday. They were making expenses and looking to hire some part-time help.

Dolan was holding tournaments, conducting classes. Serious local players mingled with families out for a relaxing time.

Then the bottom started falling out.

Bad news about oil prices. Bad news about food prices. Bad news about housing. People started getting nervous.

Business dropped 20 percent in April, 30 percent in May through July, Dolan said. The trend continued into September.

“People were getting hammered with bad news every night,” Dolan said. “It got people cozying up to their wallets, deciding that personal entertainment could come later.”

He said he figured it would take two years of deficit spending to weather the economic downturn.

“We couldn’t keep taking $4,000 a month out of our retirement account for two years, hoping things would get better,” he said.

He doesn’t blame the customers.

“These days it’s important to be prudent with your discretionary spending,” Dolan said. “And I can’t think of anything more discretionary than playing pool.”

Dolan began playing when he was 17, and ran pool tournaments in the 1970s in Federal Way.

He said he earned the nickname “Houdini” from his teammates during his competitive pool-playing days because he could get out of tight places on the table.

Not this time.

So now, “Just in Time for Christmas,” he’s selling everything 30- to 50-percent off: nine pool tables with leather pockets, balls, racks, cues, cue holders, chalk, table lights, pub tables, barstools, two flat-screen TV’s, pool accessories, computer equipment, cash register, credit-card reader, beverage cooler, fridge, freezer, desk and office chair.

“It’s a shame. But that’s the way things go sometimes.”

Dolan, 61, isn’t in the market for a new opportunity. He retired as a financial manager with the Boeing Co. in 2003, and still does consulting for small businesses.

He’s active in the Freeland community, and is a strong proponent of sewers and incorporation.

Meanwhile, Dolan plans to stay open seven days a week, as long as someone wants to come in for a game of pool, at least he will as long he has a pool table.

A resident of Freeland since 1997, he said he and his wife “are here for the duration.” They plan to kick back a little, do some traveling.

“I’ve got my hands full,” Dolan said. “At some point in time you have to look after your health.”

What about pool?

“I’m going to start bugging all of my buddies with tables at home,” he said. “Or they can come to my house.”

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