Putting a Building on Their Tab

By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

For 30 years, T.T Reynolds has been a mainstay of Fairfax City's Main Street, serving up burgers, beer and live music to the city's residents, workers and many students from nearby George Mason University. But the tavern's days may be numbered unless its owner can find enough money to buy the building that has been home since 1977.

He is hoping that T.T. Reynolds's patrons will help him do it.

On Aug. 1, Jeremy Gifford was notified that his landlord, Ebrahim Babazadeh of Arlington, would offer the building at 10414 Main St. for sale at $800,000. If it were sold at that price, Gifford said, he believes that his rent would increase and his business would be priced out. The current lease runs through March 2009.

"Our fear is that no matter who comes and buys the property, the mortgage . . . will be so much more that they will have to jack our lease. It would literally force us out the door," Gifford said. Babazadeh, who said he holds the property in trust for his niece, bought it in 2001 for $680,000.

The potential loss of the Main Street fixture comes as Fairfax is preparing to open the Old Town Village shops on the next block. Some are questioning what the future holds for older, established small businesses in the downtown. "Many local businesses are unable to compete with . . . the big-box retail [stores] and restaurants that have overtaken the area in recent years," Gifford wrote in a news release.

In an interview, Gifford said that he was shocked by news of the possible sale and that a friend, trying to cheer him up, had jokingly offered him $10 to help buy the building. That planted a question in his mind, Gifford said: Would T.T. Reynolds's customers be willing to donate a few dollars to save their favorite watering hole and music spot?

Gifford said he raised about $4,000 within 48 hours by putting up a Web link asking for donations through the tavern's MySpace page. Offers to perform free began to pour in from bands who make T.T. Reynolds a regular stop, as did offers of support from the owners of other music spots such as the District's 9:30 club and Jaxx in Springfield. Some bands have been known to have a fierce loyalty to T.T. Reynolds; the Fairfax band Bob used a photo of the bar on the cover of its latest CD, "Raised on Main Street." Bob frontman Matt Santoro said that Gifford is a true believer in local original rock music and has been a major supporter of Bob and other bands. "He is the realest person we have met in this scene," Santoro said in a phone interview.

The bar now has a dedicated Web page to raise money, and the donations have been steady. "I've been pretty awestruck by how much money has come in," including a gift of $500, Gifford said. He said he thinks he will get a lot of support from musicians who have fond memories of playing at T.T. Reynolds.

"Our belief is that somebody who played here 20 years ago is 45 years old now and can afford to" make a donation, he said.

Plans are underway for several fundraising events. "If we can come up with 800 ways to raise $1,000," Gifford joked, the problem will be solved. Possibilities include a fastest-bartender contest with other bars, a benefit concert at the State Theatre in Falls Church and a motorcycle-washing event.

Gifford said he would like to raise enough cash to make a large down payment to buy the building, which would allow him to obtain a mortgage with affordable monthly payments.

If the effort is unsuccessful, Gifford said, he would use the money raised to help secure a new location for T.T. Reynolds. Failing that, he would donate the cash to charity.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company