Scoping Out Locations

By their nature pool halls are large. Even if you are going to have a small room of 10 tables you still need about 4,000 square feet. That means rent is going to be your biggest monthly recurring cost. You need to get educated on the commercial real-estate in your prospective area.

The best way is to simply call commercial real-estate brokers. When I started I looked for vacant retail space and simply called the number posted on the “For Rent” sign. Some would brush me off the minute they heard the words pool hall, but most were interested in my concept and willing to let me take a look at the space. Remember, in the beginning your goal is to see as many places as possible to get a good sense of the market.

Be honest with them as to what stage you are in with your plan. Again, many brokers will be happy to help you out. After all, they may be the ones who rent you a space when your ready.

Note that the broker’s commission is paid by the landlord, so understand that it is the landlord’s interest he is looking out for not yours.

Here are some of the initial questions you want answered. Keep a log or spreadsheet so you can compare different locations.

What is the asking rent?

What are the taxes?

How is it zoned?

What concessions is the landlord offering (free rent, build-out allowance)?

Some things to look for:

Ceilings, are they exposed or closed with drop ceiling? Exposed is cool if a warehouse style is what you want. Painting the ceiling or hiding cables may be more expensive however. Also high, exposed ceilings mean the space will cost more to heat and cool.

What is the condition of the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system? How old is it? Is it sized properly for the space? I recommend you get the HVAC inspected before you sign a lease. For a couple of hundred bucks its best to know what you are dealing with as most HVAC system maintenance is the responsibility of the tenant.

Bathrooms, are they big enough? Are they Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant? The building department may require older bathrooms be upgraded to ADA compliant as a condition of getting your public assembly license.

Storage is crucial. You need a fridge and freezer for food even if your menu is very small. Does your concept call for lots of draft beer? You’ll need space for a cooler for the kegs. Aside from that you’ll need room for liquor storage, cleaning supplies, office space, and a place for employees to store their personal belongings during their shift.

What is the parking situation? Figure an average of 3 people per table. If you have 10 tables thats 30 customers, plus bar patrons and staff. Where are they going to park? Is there a parking lot you control or is it all street parking?

What about the smokers? Where do they go? In my town smoking inside is illegal so they congregate outside the front door. Not an issue because I don’t have residential neighbors, but if your prospective site does, this could be a potential noise problem.

Is the space wide open or are their columns? This will affect pool table placement and hence your floor plan.

What is the foot and vehicle traffic? Can your storefront be seen from the street?

Is there ample building space for signage? If the building is set back from the street what other signage options exist?

Is there stairs? I have 2 floors and the stairs are my biggest risk. If customers have to go up or down stairs to get to your room, that could make you a higher insurance risk.

What is the proximity to houses, schools, churches, and other bars? Check your state liquor laws but most have restrictions on how close you can be to schools, churches, etc. when applying for a liquor license.

Does the space have sprinklers? This is a deal breaker in most cases because the fire marshall will require it for public assembly.

Is there a basement or is the site on a slab? Basements are perfect for storage and offices. But don’t assume you can use it for customers. I found a great place with a full basement. I figured I would convert half of the basement to a VIP party room. A follow-up with the local building department quickly dashed that when I learned that no public use was permitted below grade (street level).

This should be enough to get you started. Again, call as many brokers and landlords as you can and visit as many spaces as possible. You want to learn as much as possible about the local market.

If you want learn more about commercial real-estate leases (and you do) check out the book “Negotiating Commercial Real Estate Leases”, by Martin I. Zankel. Its an easy read on the subject, and will position you for success when it comes time to negotiate your own lease.

I hope you found this article useful. If you find yourself at a crossroads or need to discuss this topic or any other aspect of your business, I offer 1-on-1 web-based consultations. If interested you can contact me at or visit my website and book a session.

All the best!


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