Fantastic Fairfax

If there were a contest for cleverly named stores, the town of Fairfax would win, hands down. There’s Magpie, Yeah Baby, Lola’s Depot, Purple Haze and Crystal Chalice. And that’s just on one block. Are you hungry? You might try Barefoot Cafe, Cafe Lotus, Hummingbird Cafe or the Fat Angel Bakery.

Folks seem to have fun in Fairfax. Murals cover building walls, flowers grow from sidewalk cracks and smiles are on faces. Well, most people’s anyway. For instance, Vise Grips (he swears that’s his last name) is the owner of Gestalthaus, a new eatery on Bolinas Road specializing in locally brewed beers, homemade German potato salad and all kinds of sausages, hot dogs and bratwursts. “This town has great nightlife,” he bellows in a baritone that echoes throughout his modest-size beer hall. “As late as people come in, we’ll stay open,” he adds. “That means midnight or later.”

According to him, the town really rocks on Monday night. “There are open mikes at 19 Broadway, the Sleeping Lady and Peri’s,” he says, referring to three venerable Fairfax nightspots. “They have lines out the door.” A newer place attracting evening crowds is 123 Bolinas (that’s the address and name), an artisan wine bar with beer and light food items also on the menu. “If you ask me, it’s chichi,” Grips offers. “But they’re busy every night.”

Yet there’s more to Fairfax than nightlife. “We take conservation and sustainability seriously,” stresses Pam Hartwell-Herrero, a past president of Marin Master Gardeners who’s currently serving on the town council and is executive director of the educational nonprofit Sustainable Fairfax. “In 2008, our town voted overwhelmingly to ban plastic bags,” she says. “We were the first in California to do it.” Hartwell-Herrero also points with pride to Sustainable Backyard, a public exhibit at 141 Bolinas Road that demonstrates the reasons and procedures for rainwater retention, organic gardening and effective composting. “We’re all about preserving the social, economic and environmental well-being of Fairfax and its sphere of influence.”

As for where that sphere’s social center lies, few will deny that it’s Good Earth Natural Foods on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. It’s Fairfax at its greenest and most gregarious; it’s where everyone in town connects. Fair warning, however: There’s about to be a seismic shift of sorts. “Good Earth is moving!” exclaims Wendy Baker, a former Fairfax mayor and now executive director of the town’s chamber of commerce. “But only across town.”

By late October, Good Earth will occupy twice as much space at an entrance-to-town location left vacant when Albertsons moved out two years ago. “We’re excited about the move,” says Good Earth partner Al Baylocq. “We’re more and more becoming a ‘destination.’ ” Regarding who will move into the current Good Earth space, Baker cites a local rumor: “They say the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh wants it for a music venue, to jam with his friends, for special events, that sort of thing — it’s a bit vague.”

As for the overall business climate, one could say it is so strong that Fairfax is minting its own money. “A Fairbuck will be worth three dollars,” Baker says of the new trade tokens meant to promote local spending, to be introduced at the Fairfax Festival this summer. “Starting in mid-June, most of the town’s merchants will honor them as currency. First Federal Savings and Loan is our banker, and, because of the currency’s distinctive design, people will probably collect Fairbucks as souvenirs.”

If it’s civic pride or adherence to tradition we’re measuring, Fairfax might again win the prize. For many years, the following businesses — all with “Fairfax” as a prefix to their names — have survived and thrived: Auto Parts, Bakery, Barber Shop, Cyclery, French Laundry, Garage and Auto Body, Lumber and Hardware, and Market and Variety. “Fairfax Variety is Marin’s last ‘five-and-dime store,’ ” owner Polly Knox proclaims. “And that’s our annual ‘Lego Window,’ ” she adds, pointing to the front of her store, where dozens of colorful Lego creations from local youngsters are on display. “It’s not a competitive contest, just a showing of young talent.”

Count on seeing more such creativity (and having fun) at the 34th Annual Fairfax Festival over the weekend of June 11 and 12. “There’s a parade through town on Saturday morning,” says Dave Smadbeck, a Coldwell Banker realtor and longtime Fairfax community booster. “Then comes an arts-and-crafts fair, a flea market, our Ecofest and continuous music with bands playing on three or four stages — both Saturday and Sunday afternoon.” If you want to join in the fun, the unique town of Fairfax is six miles west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Highway 101.

Should you want to own a piece of Fairfax (population 7,400), plan to invest around $700,000 for a centrally located family home. “Prices start around $500,000 and approach $2 million,” says Zumira Solari of Bradley Real Estate, who specializes in finding family homes throughout Ross Valley. “For something newer with two or three baths and a hillside view or a close-in location,” she adds, “the cost will be competitive with any Marin location having good schools and community pride.” An example is Solari’s listing for $575,000 near the Fairfax–San Anselmo border. “It’s a sweet, older two-bedroom, one-bath home with great architectural detail,” she says. “It’s set back from the street for greater privacy, and it’s inside the Brookside Elementary School district.” Judging by the many strollers in town, that fits the local profile just fine.