The detailed leg of a pool table is shown at Golden West Billiard in Milwaukie. Of the roughly 45,000 pool tables sold in the U.S. last year, 5,000 were forged in Oregon using domestic raw materials in a family-owned shop. - AP

A cushion against tough times

Of the roughly 45,000 pool tables sold in the U.S. last year, 5,000 were forged in Oregon using domestic raw materials in a family-owned shop in Milwaukie.

As Terry Moldenhauer, sales manager at Golden West Billiards, gave a tour of the factory just north of Milwaukie one recent afternoon, U.S. and Oregon State University flags hung from the ceiling, capturing the national and local allegiances that have kept this family-run company alive for more than 40 years.

All of Golden West's handiwork, from woodcutting to final laminating, is done at 5505 S.E. Johnson Creek Blvd., where the company moved in 1992 after more than two decades in the Los Angeles area. But the privately held company's customers are spread across the globe, from Washington, D.C., to Saudi Arabia. They accounted for annual revenue that surpassed $1 million last year.

"We've sold tables to every movie star and big athlete you can think of," said Golden West's president, Don Brostoski. "In fact, we just made a real tall pool table for Randy Johnson," the 6-foot-10 retired major league pitcher.

Moldenhaur said Golden West tables have been in dozens of movies, purchased by A-list celebrities and rented by the Rolling Stones.

The in-house craftsmanship comes with a hefty price tag, climbing all the way to $70,000 for antique restorations. The company sells some of its more affordable tables on Craigslist, starting around $1,500.

For comparison, the typical price of a prefabricated pool table from a chain retailer hovers just under $1,000. Those tables might be more economical, but Golden West says its cachet and big-name clients are a testament to quality. Even the tables it sells on Craigslist have customizable features, with variations in cloth, wood inlays and table rails. Assembly takes up to six weeks, depending on the order's complexity.

No matter how granular the detailing, all plywood is sourced from North Pacific Lumber in Portland. For hardwood, the company turns to Sherwood-based Hardwood Industries, which gets cherry, maple and pine from the East Coast. For exotic mahogany, Hardwood Industries imports from South America and Africa, adding a caveat to Golden West's homegrown seal for special orders.

Yet even in a highly specialized market, the economy has battered Golden West some; the company has halved its production workers, who make up about 80 percent of the company's employees, from 60 to 30.

Nearly all of Golden West's employees, who typically earn $15 to $20 an hour, migrated to the Portland area with the company 18 years ago. Jeff Snyder, 31, of Portland is one of the few local hires. On his way to apply for another job eight years ago, Snyder passed Golden West and then spun a U-turn.

"I walked in at the right time," he said, adding that Golden West hired him in the shipping department. He has been the wood turner, carving table legs on a spinning lathe, for four years. "Seeing the whole chain of command right in one office is a pretty amazing thing," Snyder said.

In what was once an aircraft manufacturing plant, with metal bridge cranes still hanging on roof trusses, Moldenhauer drifted through clouds of wood chips and battled the earsplitting grind of industrial sanding machines and wood saws to underscore the company's determined resistance to outsourcing.

"Pool tables are like a mathematical equation; most people don't understand the geometrics involved. So big retailers turn to China and Vietnam to do the work," he said as he passed a wall sign that read "Import" with a diagonal strike through the word and "Made in the U.S.A." below the cross-out.

"We just don't mess with it," he said of offshore production. "Because once you start, even if it's for something really small, you end up sending more and more of it overseas. We might lose some money, but we're not about to compromise our integrity."

Share This Story