As an old rerun of Three’s Company plays silently on the TV, Dart Central’s owner Don Campos smiles and points to a dart board on the wall of the sitcom bar.
This little cameo is proof to Campos that the game of darts is a lasting piece of the culture.
Campos is an energetic 64-year-old with black hair. Most days he wears at least one dart-themed piece of clothing. Often it’s a tan baseball hat embroidered with a dart flying out of a red circle.
While many Ingleside residents see the store at the corner of a busy five-way intersection on Plymouth Avenue, less have been inside or are sure whether it is still open.
The outside is covered in aging handpainted murals and barred windows. The peppy phrases on the murals, including “Diddle for the middle” and “OK! Let’s play darts,” seem too exciting for the area, as if the shop is fighting for attention.
Inside, two small rooms are full of memorabilia and posters from long-past big-prize tournaments put on by cigarette and beer companies. Even the walls of the bathroom in the back corner of the store are covered in posters.
Although Darts Central is the last shop in the Bay Area to sell only darts supplies Campos isn’t discouraged. In fact, he collects the posters and signs with aims to move to a larger location when the opportunity presents itself.
“My next step is hopefully find a new place to expand it and promote (darts),” Campos says.
Campos’s plans are in the face of a local darts league scene in slow decline. The San Francisco Darts Association had its highest membership in 1984, when it reached 419 members, according to the group’s president, Tom Carroll. The league currently has 131 members. The problem Campos sees is that darts has become an afterthought for many people. A lot of bars in the city have dart boards but very few places bother to maintain the boards or provide enough space for players to use them.
Because of the decline of the local leagues and the disappearance of large American tournaments, Campos believes that an influx of new amateur players will power any darts comeback.
“There’s maybe like 150 league players and a percentage comes here but there’s 700,000 of the public out there. So my focus is on the public. Serving the darting public,” Campos says.
Because of this, Campos’s business model is centered on service and his deep knowledge of the game. Campos is the top-rated player in the Peninsula Darts Organization, a small Bay Area league, and Darts Database, a tournament earnings ranking website, lists Campos as the 802nd highest earning player in the country for 2011.
Teaching new comers the tricks of the game in person is the only thing he can offer that Internet vendors and general sporting goods stores cannot.
Todd Ard, a regular customer who drives up from Pescadero twice a year to restock on darts, says he would shop for darts online if Darts Central shut down.
When a new customer comes in Campos spends about 30 minutes finding a dart that feels comfortable in their hand.
“Darts is a very tactile activity. It’s a feel, everything’s a feel, either emotionally or rhythmically or mentally or sense-wise, it’s all about feel,” Campos says. “When they start trying them all out, they start to learn what kind feel works well (for them).”
Despite the lull here, darts is still popular in other countries. In January, the William Hill World Championship darts tournament wrapped up in London, with a prize pool of £1.25 million.
Although he played pool and other games while growing up in San Francisco he didn’t play darts. Campos was properly introduced to darts by British expats while he was in Saudi Arabia after serving in the Air Force.
Campos attributes the game’s popularity in Europe to the pub culture that it is connected to.
In his case, darts is appealing because of the ease and sociability of the game.
“It’s almost like eating potato chips and singing karaoke,” Campos says. “Once you start you won’t let go of it.”