FAIRFIELD — When the chain-link fence came down in front of Pepperbelly’s in July, it freed up the sidewalk so there was no need to walk in the street at the corner of Texas and Jackson streets.
But that’s pretty much it, since a fire ravaged the popular comedy club in January.
Just prior to the removal of the fencing, the debris was cleared out of the building’s center so the walls could be shored up, said David Doyle, the city’s building official. The marquee sign, which is attached to some structural elements in the front wall, was also checked.
“It had to be cleared enough for the engineer to go in there,” Doyle said of the charred debris that littered the inside the building until recently.
Once the walls were determined to be stable enough, the fencing came down. From the ground floor up, you don’t notice it much any more, said Margaret Manzo, the executive director of the Fairfield Main Street Association. But inside is a different story.
“You look up and there is no roof,” she said. “It’s completely wide open. It’s pretty depressing when you go inside.”
Karl Dumas, the senior economic development project manager, said the recent cleanup and structural check were the first steps in the process.
“For (owner Wayne Mayhew) to make any decisions, he had to clean out the debris and shore up the walls,” Dumas said. “To my knowledge, he was going to sit down and figure out where to go from there.”
Dumas said the city is providing input to questions Mayhew raised and is identifying ways to “help with the process.”
“He has decisions to make and things he has to do insurance-wise, so he’s following the process,” Dumas said.
Mayhew refused to comment for this article.
But that doesn’t stop people from wondering what’s going to happen to Pepperbelly’s. Manzo said the community misses it.
“Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask about it,” she said. “It was pretty much our only nightlife downtown – other than when the (Fairfield Center for Creative Arts) does something.”
While Mayhew owned the building, Taranbir Dhanoa owned the business portion of Pepperbelly’s. He’s waiting to find out what’s next, as well.
“I would like to go back if (Mayhew) rebuilds, but who knows how long it’s going to take?” he said.
Dhanoa, a Fairfield resident, is working to keep himself afloat financially by working for his father. He still has a lot of money tied up in the comedy acts that didn’t get to perform after the fire. He said he was booked out three to four months in advance.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” he said. “Hopefully, everything will work out.”
Mayhew bought the building – the former Fairfield Cinema l movie theater that closed in 1998 and served Fairfield for more than 50 years – in April 2001. According to a Daily Republic article in 2001, Mayhew paid $225,000 and initially kept mum about his restoration plans. But he did reveal his admiration for the building itself.
“It’s a great building. When you walk into a building like that, you can’t let go,” he told a Daily Republic reporter in October 2001. He’s quoted as saying that the first time he stepped inside the building, he immediately went back to his childhood and how theaters were places of wonder, magic and laughter.
Bringing back that wonder of an old-time movie theater is what Manzo would like to do.
“Ideally I’d love to see the historic cinema restored and turned into a cafe movie house that are so popular in downtowns these days,” she said. “They’re doing it in Vacaville right now. A lot of downtowns are restoring their old theaters. Now, that’s just my dream; that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. That would take a big investor.”
Meanwhile, the wait continues.
“We’re all waiting, just like everyone else . . . waiting to see what happens,” Manzo said.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.