Art of the dart

Widdy Dart Board busi­ness still thriv­ing on Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue after a cen­tury of op­er­a­tion. 

  • Finished product: A handmade, finished dart board sits in the Widdy Dart Board workshop on Kensington Avenue. MATTHEW HAUBENSTEIN / STAR PHOTO

  • Widdy darts sit and dry after the logo and feathers are added. MATTHEW HAUBENSTEIN / STAR PHOTO

When you walk in­to a bar, there is a good chance there’s a dart board some­where in the back corner with a light above it. 

Your fath­er might have had one in the base­ment. 

Grow­ing up, you prob­ably nev­er knew how to play, but that didn’t de­ter you from send­ing darts through the air and try­ing to make them stick on the board, risk­ing in­jury or break­ing something (I speak from per­son­al ex­per­i­ence). 

The most pop­u­lar form of darts played by bar pat­rons and leagues alike is the tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish darts, with Amer­ic­an darts com­ing up second, ac­cord­ing to Steve Marafino, own­er of Widdy Dart Boards MFG. 

An easy way to tell the dif­fer­ence between Eng­lish and Amer­ic­an  is to simply look at the board: Eng­lish is played on a round board, while Amer­ic­an is played on a square one. 

While the Eng­lish style of darts may be pref­ered, for those who en­joy play­ing the Amer­ic­an ver­sion, there’s a brand of darts and boards that have been homegrown for more than 100 years: Widdy Dart Board MFG. 

Sur­roun­ded by the roar­ing sounds of the El whizz­ing by, Steve and Joe Marafino make and ship out thou­sands of darts and dart boards to whole­salers from their shop on Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue. 

With four gen­er­a­tions man­ning the com­pany over a span of 106 years, the one-of-a-kind style that are Widdy darts and dart boards are con­sidered a loc­al treas­ure in the River Wards. 

The com­pany was foun­ded by Charles “Widdy” Wid­mei­er in 1910. 

Back then, the com­pany made lad­ders and chairs.

It wasn’t un­til the 1930s that the switch was made to mak­ing darts and dart boards. The busi­ness was ori­gin­ally loc­ated at 2235 N. 5th St. for its first 50 years, be­fore mov­ing in 1970 to its cur­rent home at 2844 Kens­ing­ton Ave. 

“We’re still truck­ing along” said Steve Marafino, the cur­rent own­er of the com­pany. Marafino’s fath­er, Joe Marafino, took the busi­ness over from his wife’s fath­er, Charles Wid­mei­er’s son, in 1996. Steve Marafino’s fath­er passed the torch to him last year. 

Marafino and his fath­er hand make all the darts and boards that bear the Widdy name. 

The screen­ing and press­ing of the boards, the glu­ing and cut­ting of the tur­key feath­ers, drilling and stamp­ing, all of it is done in a pro­cess that takes “ex­cep­tion­ally long,” ac­cord­ing to Marafino. 

The crafts­man­ship on their products in one of the ma­jor com­pon­ents that makes Widdy darts and boards unique. 

Al­though Amer­ic­an darts are not as pop­u­lar com­pared to Eng­lish darts, many bars in the area prefer Amer­ic­an darts and have their very own Widdy dart boards. Many even have their own leagues.

Tommy Mack, who is known for his work with the Port Rich­mond Ti­gers, runs a dart league out of The Ven­ango Club on Rich­mond Street in Port Rich­mond. 

The league meets once a week to play base­ball, the more pop­u­lar game of Amer­ic­an darts. Al­though it is an in-house league where play­ers com­pete with one an­oth­er in­stead of oth­er teams, Mack and his fel­low play­ers still en­joy a fun game of Amer­ic­an darts with the pref­ered brand: Widdy. 

“They’ve been around for a mil­lion years,” said Mack about Widdy darts. “People tried to du­plic­ate them, but they nev­er seem to last.” 

In Eng­lish darts, the op­tions seem al­most lim­it­less, with thou­sands of styles of darts to choose from. For Amer­ic­an darts play­ers, the only real choice is Widdy due to the fact that every­one uses them, ac­cord­ing to Mack.

James “JR” Row­sln, own­er of JR’s Place on Nor­ris Street in Fishtown, prefers Amer­ic­an darts over Eng­lish darts. 

For Row­sln, Widdy darts are not only the best, but Amer­ic­an dart play­ers are a dy­ing breed es­pe­cially when it takes more skill to play Amer­ic­an style, ac­cord­ing to Row­sln.

Row­sln man­ages three leagues, two Eng­lish and one Amer­ic­an. The Amer­ic­an league is called the St. Anne’s Dart League. Bars that are part of the league in­clude JR’s Place, Star­board Side, Tail­gaters, and a few Am­vet As­so­ci­ations. 

With­in the Amer­ic­an League, Widdy is the king. 

“They’re Amer­ic­an made, which is a won­der­ful [thing] in it­self,” Row­sln said. “It’s a good product. They last forever.” 

Play­ers like Row­sln prefer the sturdi­ness of Widdy products solely on the fact that they are trus­ted. The darts can with­stand the con­stant throw­ing, and the boards can take the hits. Oth­er im­it­at­ors are junk com­pared to Widdy, so why buy them, Row­sln said. 

Back when Widdy opened its doors, the River Wards were filled with in­dustry. Many com­pan­ies and in­dus­tries called Port Rich­mond, Brides­burg, Kens­ing­ton and Fishtown home. Today, com­pan­ies like Widdy are a dy­ing breed and yet it’s still thriv­ing, a test­a­ment to the qual­ity of the com­pany’s goods, ac­cord­ing to Row­sln.

“They’re still here. They are still do­ing it,” he said. “The product is ri­dicu­lous. It speaks for it­self and that’s why they are still around.”

On av­er­age, a 12-pack box of Widdy darts sell for about $25 on Amazon or at Wal­mart stores. Boards av­er­age between $130 to $160, de­pend­ing on where you go to buy them. 

With a new man­age­ment lead­ing the com­pany in­to 2017, Steve Marafino hopes to bring back some oth­er products to the Widdy lineup. Such items in­clude wooden cab­in­ets to house boards and even wooden dart boards. 

Even with changes, the re­cipe for suc­cess has been the same for more than 100 years at Widdy: a fam­ily-driv­en busi­ness with qual­ity products that are known well throughout the coun­try, and es­pe­cially in the River Wards, where the com­pany’s roots run deep. 

For Joe Marafino, the suc­cess is all in the product that people want. 

“We keep on mak­ing the same product and we keep mak­ing it good,” he said.  

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