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.