Amid the noonday bustle on Flatbush Avenue – just off the tables piled with paperbacks or perfume – Darryl Jones worked the crowd.
“Skelly courts!” went his patter. “Twenty-first century Skelly courts!”
David Gonzalez reports from corners of the city in words and pictures.
Well, actually they’re from the last century, which is when Mr. Jones patented a version of Skelly, the street game that generations of kids played in the middle of the street, sending wax-filled bottlecaps zooming from square to square. Back then, people thought his patent was crazy.
Fast forward into the next century. Mr. Jones, 51, a k a Skelly D, is doing brisk business, selling the game, at $20 a pop, where else — on the street, outside the Five Guys burger joint off Nevins.
“I know this area,” he said. “So many people are around here, and they come from all over Brooklyn. Selling to them is like planting seeds. They play the game, their friends see it and then they want one too. And so on and so on. It keeps me from having to worry about a 9 to 5.”
His version of the game – and what earned him the patent – consists of plastic and ball-bearing pieces that are played on a court made from vinyl squares that can be arranged to fit most anywhere. He went through various versions and materials until he settled on the current model, which went into production in China with the help of several investors in 2005, and none too soon.
“It almost broke me,” he admitted. “It took me to the bottom. I had to get outside and get the momentum going.”
One recent morning, he sold about 20 of the games in half an hour. Mike Van Zandt stopped by the sidewalk display, craned his neck and reached into his pocket while asking how much.
“It’ll give me something to do outside,” said Mr. Van Zandt. “Man, I played this as a kid in Brooklyn, baby, Brooklyn. The best tops were the ones we made from the bottom of school chairs. We got in trouble, but man, they were heavy. When we hit the other guy, it went BAM!”
When five hard-hats walked by, the neatly packaged boxes caught their eyes. Immediately, Mr. Jones slashed the price to $15 and sold five sets. Soon, another customer showed up, wanting to buy the game for her nephew.
“This helps kids with numbers and concentration and gives them something to do instead of just watching television or playing video games,” said the customer, Stella Felder. “This nourishes their mind.”
Mr. Jones, who lives in New Jersey, but is originally from Brooklyn, hopes it will nourish his bank account. In addition to the game he sells on the street, he has teamed up with some West Coast investors to develop phone and iPad Skelly apps. Having faced down the doubters before, he is pretty calm these days. He sees it as being true to a higher calling, leaving a legacy for his children.
“If I just wanted to make fast money, I would’ve sold the patent,” he said. “But this is for my son and grandchildren. I want them to get royalties from the family business. That’s when my grandson will know the real pleasure of Skelly – when the money comes flowing in.”
He might also have some help with that last goal. In recent months he’s learned about several bootleg versions of his game being sold, all of which infringe his patent.
“I’m not stressing, but I know they’re illegal,” he said. “When my business is stabilized, I’ll see them. I hope they make a lot of money until then, so when I take them to court it won’t be a waste of my time.”