Monday, February 11, 2008

Washingtonians like to party. At least, that’s the reason one new entertainment company is placing its first retail store in the area.

American Heritage Billiards is branching out beyond pool tables with an entertainment and party business called Great Gatherings. The first location is scheduled to open Saturday in Gainesville, Va.

The 17,000-square-foot store will be stocked with products such as bar stools, appetizer platters and outdoor furniture.

It will also sell games, such as chess, croquet or bocce ball sets. It will carry the American Heritage Billiards line; Cast Classics, Tropitone and Laneventure outdoor furniture; and Mikasa and Waterford glassware.

Great Gatherings also plans to have monthly classes with specialists who can teach customers how to pair wines with food or make special appetizers.

The store will target a broad income demographic with items such as bar stools ranging from $19.99 to nearly $1,000, said Joe Pucci, president of Great Gatherings.

American Heritage Billiards found through its research that most of its pool tables were bought by people who liked to entertain in their homes. The company’s management thought it was only natural to expand its business to meet all party needs, Mr. Pucci said.

The company first targeted the Washington area because it has a lot of residents who like to host private parties, he said.

“People really love to connect in Washington, D.C. They network,” he said. “It’s a great culture here of entertainment.”

The company plans to open a second store in Annapolis in October. It then plans to open four other Washington-area stores, targeting areas such as Fairfax, Chantilly and Rockville.

Great Gatherings plans to have 20 stores in a “few major markets” across the country in the next five years.

Great Gatherings is located at Virginia Gateway Center, 13177 Gateway Center Drive in Gainesville.

Battening the hatches

Pundits and analysts are debating whether the U.S. economy is in recession, but one Fairfax business owner says she knows it is.

Mary Beth Cox, who has been operating Ship’s Hatch nautical and military gift store since 1978, said holiday sales were poor this year — probably the worst in 10 years. And the future doesn’t look too bright, either.

“If I can’t do it at Christmas, I won’t be able to do the rest of year,” she said. “I made it my New Year’s resolution to close the store.”

The Fairfax City store, which opened in 1978, is scheduled to close by June. A second location in the Crystal City section of Arlington, which opened in 1984, will remain open.

The stores specialize in military and nautical gifts, including custom products for retirements.

Specialty stores such as Ms. Cox’s that sell luxury goods or gifts are typically the first to feel the pinch when shoppers stop spending. Many luxury retailers reported poor holiday sales this year.

“A lot of it has to do with the economy. When people start hearing about a recession, they basically put their hands in their pockets,” Ms. Cox said.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Send news to Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or

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