Sure, new restaurants open every day without having to ask the community for financial help. But most are either moving into a former restaurant space that can be adapted for the new brand, are new construction or have the backing of a national chain with deep pockets.
But for Michael DeMarco, owner of Earp’s Ordinary – the much-anticipated restaurant and live-music venue soon to open in Old Town Fairfax City – none of those things apply. Instead, because his site is in the long-vacant, cavernous basement of a 70-year-old building, he’s run into a world of problems while trying to renovate and restore it.
So this coming weekend, Dec. 8-10, he’s holding a fundraiser at the nearly ready restaurant, underneath Commonwealth Brewery Co., at 10420 Main St., to hopefully obtain the remaining money he needs to bring this project across the finish line. And the local community is rallying to his support – because that’s the way it is in Fairfax City.
In fact, in an online video in which other downtown business owners are urging people to attend the event, City Mayor Catherine Read said caring and compassion are a way of life here. “Every mayor thinks their community is special, but ours really is,” she said. “It’s in how we show up for each other – and our business community is showing up in how they’re supporting Earp’s.”
More than 20 musicians will perform Friday night, 5 p.m. start; Saturday, noon and 5 p.m. starts; and Sunday, noon start. There’ll be a free buffet, a cash bar, plus possibly children’s activities, and Earp’s gift cards, merchandise and pre-sale tickets for its New Year’s Eve event will all be available for purchase.
Fundraiser tickets at various prices are at www.aftontickets.com/SaveOurStage. For a list of the performers, go to www.facebook.com/EarpsOrdinary. Those unable to attend but wishing to make a donation may do so on the Afton ticket page or via venmo@earpsordinary. Checks payable to Earp’s Ordinary may also be sent to Earp’s Ordinary LLC, 10212 Scout Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.
Longtime Fairfax residents, DeMarco and his family have been active volunteers and supporters of the City’s schools, businesses, government and community. And as a lifelong music aficionado, he’s always dreamed of creating a space where local and touring musicians could showcase their talent.
He wanted to do so in a friendly, welcoming environment where music lovers of all ages could enjoy live performances. And with the motto, “Music, Spirits, Fare,” delicious meals and drinks will round out the Earp’s entertainment experience.
First, though, DeMarco needs to get the doors open. And for that, he needs help, due to the large number of obstacles he and his team have encountered along the way. So he’s hoping the upcoming fundraiser will yield at least $50,000 to go directly toward the venue’s inventory, kitchenware (dishes, glasses, pot and pans, etc.), finishing touches and operating expenses. He also explained why the funds are needed.
“It’s been pretty much a self-financed project, and I’ve already expended all this money to build out this 10,640-square-foot space,” said DeMarco. “We completely gutted it and put in all new plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. Trouble is, the building was constructed around 1953 – and when you get into working on an old building, you don’t know what you’re going to find.”
For example, just one portion of the project that he expected to cost $5,000 total ended up costing some seven times that amount. “We redid the concrete floor,” said DeMarco. “But it was brittle and had a high moisture content, so I had to lay out $30,000-$40,000 to put down a moisture sealer and add an epoxy topcoat on the floor.”
But that’s not all. “We began work, pre-COVID, in 2020,” he said. “But we had issues with the architect and general contractor and had to fire both of them and start over. Then there were supply-chain problems, such as the imported sound system taking a year to arrive from Italy. Because of its quality and price, said DeMarco, it’s the one best-suited for the space.
Even more problems arose. “We’re in the basement,” he said. “So when Commonwealth Brewing did its plumbing and electrical, it was in their floor – but in my ceiling. I ended up with exposed plumbing, pipes and electrical lines that were unsightly. So we had to put in an acoustic, drop ceiling that cost $100,000. It not only improved the room’s aesthetics, but its sound quality, as well.”
All these things added up to a huge price tag for Earp’s. “We initially expected it to be a half-million or $1.5 million project,” said DeMarco. “But it’ll be closer to costing a half-million to three-fourths of a million dollars more than that.
“The restaurant is now completely built out, we’ve hired all our staff and have all our permits ready to go. We’ve committed to our employees and the community, and everyone’s looking forward to us being open and successful.”
Through December, Earp’s will be open Fridays and weekends – including for Sunday jazz brunches – with a planned, full-time opening in January. Meanwhile, said DeMarco, “We had a community meeting there, last Sunday, Nov. 26, with friends, family and local officials. Afterward, they shared information about the fundraiser on social media, and donations started coming in on Monday.”
DeMarco and Fairfax City’s business community then made a video about it, last Wednesday, and more contributions arrived. That money is funding the food and beverages for the Dec. 8-10 event, and donations will still be welcomed and appreciated after the fundraiser.
In the video, Jinson Chan, owner of the nearby High Side beer bar and restaurant, said he and other Fairfax business owners want to make DeMarco’s dreams for Earp’s a reality. And Commonwealth Brewery General Manager Emily Wells said Earp’s “isn’t just a venue – it’s a heartbeat of Fairfax.”
Jana Klavina of Mara Studios, and Danielle Wade of Mode on Main by Mara, both urged the community to donate. By getting a ticket to the fundraiser, said Mobius Records owner Dempsey Hamilton, people “aren’t just attending a great show,” but, added Lucy Loves owner Sharon Buttram, “helping keep a local dream alive.”
Old Town Fairfax Business Association Executive Director Tess Rollins called it “a show of community spirit.” And Sucha Khamsuwan, founder of Studio Ideya, said, “Together, we can make Fairfax a vibrant hub for music and culture.”
Stressing that his heart and soul – plus lots of sweat and tears – have gone into creating Earp’s, DeMarco said, “It’s really heartwarming to know the community has embraced the concept of our tagline, ‘Music, Spirits, Fare,’ coming together in downtown. People not only like the vision but are providing the support needed to get it up and running.”