Tampa Bay Pickleball recently opened at the Oldsmar Flea Market. For pickleball enthusiasts, now shielded from the summer heat and rain, life may never be the same.
On the outskirts of Westchase, the Oldsmar Flea Market (“The Mightiest in The South’’) is the place to find fresh produce, vintage clothing, golf equipment, furniture, vinyl records and out-of-print books.
Now it has indoor pickleball.
It’s OK for people under special circumstances — such as those who just arrived from Mars — to ask the question, “What the heck is pickleball?’’ The rest of the population already knows the cult-like sport has grown to more than five million players (of all ages and fitness levels) while expanding to professional leagues, television coverage and even talk of adding it to the Olympic Games.
It’s a racket/paddle phenomenon — part-tennis, part-badminton, part-ping pong, all-fun. That’s why a Westchase man and his two ambitious sons have gone all-in on transforming a 12,000-square-foot warehouse into pickleball heaven. Tampa Bay Pickleball — a well-lit, colorful, meticulously surfaced, climate-controlled, upbeat six-court setting — already has become one of the sport’s area epicenters.
Eric Klaus calls himself a financial advisor. Really, he’s an entrepreneur, open to any and all ideas, always gauging the risk against the reward, but knowing a hot trend when he sees one. Pickleball was really the passion of his business-savvy sons — Kennedy (20, a University of Alabama sophomore) and Ben (16, an Alonso High School student) — who made their “Shark Tank’’ dreams into reality. They frantically came to Klaus last New Year’s Eve and said they found just the right facility for a pickleball emporium.
At first, Klaus wasn’t sure what hit him. But with patient but skeptical wife Jennifer in tow, he decided to humor his sons. They checked out the abandoned flea-market warehouse, which, to be charitable, needed a bit of sprucing up.
It could’ve ended there, but it didn’t.
Klaus and his sons checked out other real-estate offerings, but they kept returning to that warehouse, just the right dimensions for multiple courts. After hurdling a dizzying number of obstacles — then partnering with instructors Erin Brown and Greg Goodson of the Tampa Bay Pickleball Academy — the facility opened in late April.
With only word-of-mouth and social-media advertising, Tampa Bay Pickleball held a Saturday night social mixer with open-play opportunities and the chance to network with other players. Klaus wasn’t sure if anyone would show up. That night, they got 187 enthusiastic customers.
Where will it go from here? Who knows? With appropriate demand, Klaus said the facility can easily expand to adjacent land, perhaps doubling or tripling its court offerings. Klaus doesn’t yet have all the answers, but he’s sufficiently intrigued.
“Either way, it’s going to be an adventure and a learning experience for my boys in terms of starting a business,’’ Klaus said. “They had an idea. Now let’s execute that idea. Let’s work through things that we didn’t anticipate. Let’s find the sweet spot and respond to what people say they want. If it fails, we learned something. If it goes just OK, we learned something. If it’s wildly successful, we learned something.”
Brown, who was introduced to the sport by her 88-year-old grandmother, Doris Taylor, said pickleball has become her way of life.
“Pickleball definitely saved my life,’’ Brown said. “I had gotten into a situation where I truly had lost my purpose. I played softball in college and was always identified as an athlete. When I didn’t have the competition, the camaraderie, the discipline, I just lost my way.
“I found pickleball and loved it. It’s my favorite game ever. I play all the time and I started giving lessons. I have been doing that with Greg [Goodson] for a few years now. Now we’re connected with Eric and I feel like we’re all like-minded people who have a passion for this.’’
Beyond the competition, Brown said pickleball’s appeal involves social interaction. It’s generally a friendly, inclusive game and beginners are always welcome. It can be played passionately — and used as a weight-reducing exercise at times — or passively with lots of laughter.
Either way, it’s addicting.
“We signed a lease that began on April 1, we found a company in West Palm Beach to pour the floors that are like an outdoor surface, we got the fire marshal approval and the county approval … and if nothing else, we’ve all learned how to hustle,’’ Klaus said. “This went from idea to actual generation in about 100 days.
“People are coming every day. They’re having fun. And we’re having fun. It’s already an incredible adventure.’’
Check out the facility’s web site at tbpickleball.com, text (813) 278-6880 or send an email to info@TBPickleball.com.
The address is 180 Race Track Road, Building H. There are schedules for all ability levels and times for open play as well with reservations secured on an app. There are plans to stage tournaments and social events throughout the summer.
“I promise you’ll have a great time,’’ Brown said. “Whether you’re crazy competitive or you just want a fun social outing, whether you’re a true athlete or just somebody looking to stay active, pickleball has it all.’’