Saturday, April 22, 2006

spirit' keeps downtown Fairfield businesses evolving

April 9, 2006

Pioneering spirit' keeps downtown businesses evolving

By Brian Miller and Karl Dumas

If you are a lover of California history, then you probably realize that in each decade, there have always been people who were considered "pioneers" in real estate development.

Some of those pioneers may have developed the first hardware store, the first classy office building or the first shopping center offering "drive-in convenience."

Today, in our effort to strengthen the historic downtown business district, we would like to recognize a different kind of pioneer: The local owners and contractors who see the value in rehabbing the original pioneering buildings, old commercial structures that may have been devalued over the past decades but still have unique features attractive today.

Downtown Fairfield was once the commercial hub of the city with restaurants, general stores, hardware shops, soda fountains and even small department stores.

The buildings constructed by these pioneering businessmen largely remain today, altered over the years but still forming a unique, pedestrian scale and historic business district.

In the last few years, a couple of local residents have emerged to seemingly take a page in history as downtown development pioneers seeking to restore their buildings to new uses and new businesses. Their efforts are helping to create a more attractive, active downtown with new opportunities for nightlife and fun.

The city of Fairfield has established a Business Revolving Loan Fund designed to assist small businesses or individuals in acquiring the necessary capital to either start up, expand or continue operating their company within Fairfield.

Funded by community development block grants, the program is targeted toward small businesses with the potential of long-term job creation.

The goal of the loan fund is to create new jobs and increase the diversity of Fairfield's economic base.

This program has been useful in assisting some of our newest generation of downtown pioneers.

One of these pioneers is Wayne Mayhew. He opened Pepper Belly's Comedy & Variety Theater in downtown Fairfield a few years ago. Mayhew, a Fairfield resident, purchased the former Fairfield Cinema (closed when Edwards Cinemas opened in 2001) to fulfill his dream of bringing entertainment into downtown.

The building underwent a major interior remodel to transform it from an obsolete movie house into a glamorous gathering den for comedy.

This investment required quite a bit of boldness - the thought process of a pioneer.

The city's revolving loan fund program assisted in bringing the project to fruition.

Mayhew also had the foresight to purchase the building adjacent to Pepper Belly's. The building, which once contained Hickey's Bar and Witt Barbershop, is now being rehabbed into an upscale gathering spot.

Patrons of Pepper Belly's will have a new place to hang out, imbibe and perhaps dine, before the comedy show.

The rehab includes totally gutting the former Hickey's portion of the building interior and installing new bathrooms, flooring and a new bar area. The exterior will also get new glass front doors and windows, and granite accent material. Most importantly, an interior opening between two buildings will allow patrons of Pepper Belly's to move between the new space and the comedy club without going out into the rain (or heat).

Once again, the city of Fairfield's Business Revolving Loan Fund is assisting with the project.

Although the ownership of Pepper Belly's itself has now changed (Jim Ignatief and Kathy Cima purchased the business), Mayhew still owns the building and is working with his tenants to ensure that this pioneering entertainment venue succeeds.

There are plenty of development pioneering opportunities available throughout downtown that could help resurrect the area.

We are thankful that some local owners have taken the initiative to help strengthen downtown.

Economic Notes is an update from Fairfield City Hall written by Brian Miller and Karl Dumas of the Fairfield Planning and Development Department. They can be contacted at 428-7461 or e-mail at or

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