Despite recent closures, city leaders say Salinas’ business district is on the upswing.

New Oldtown?: Critical Buzz: Funnyman George Lopez, whose upcoming show at the Fox sold out within hours, will headline the old theater’s grand opening.— Jane Morba

Comedian George Lopez will be the star of opening night at the Fox Theater in Oldtown Salinas this Friday and Saturday, May 25 and 26. He’ll even be the designated ribbon-cutter at a 3pm ceremony Friday for the Fox’s grand opening. But for city leaders and the 86-year-old theater’s owners Tim Treadway and Anthony Lane, the night is about more than the megawatt star’s performance: It’s another shot at change for Oldtown.

Lately, the area’s seemingly repetitive business closures have grabbed the headlines. There’s more retail space available on Main Street and the surrounding streets than at any other time in recent history. Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue and Redevelopment Agency Director Alan Stumpf, however, say it’s simply a time of reinvention for the city’s most notoriously struggling business district. They say new life—and business—is coming gradually to the area, a skid row of decrepit buildings just 20 years ago that city leaders hope to see morph into a charming destination spot.

“The Oldtown Association has done a great job revamping the place,” Stumpf says. “There’s the new theater, the return of the farmers market, and the 200 block has really become a haven for boutiques.”

Donohue says that despite appearances, Oldtown has been a victim of change, not failure. “I understand the symbolism of Dick Bruhn’s closing,” he says. “It’s a landmark in this town and has been for decades. But it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. The old is giving way to the new. It was bound to happen, and the process isn’t always going to be clean and precise.”

It hasn’t been clean. After 57 years in business in a stately brick building at the corner of Main and Alisal streets, Dick Bruhn’s is no more. Neither are such notables as Chicken Scratch Flats, Side Pocket Billiards, This or Die, & Everything Nice, La Perla, The Swim, El Camaron and others.

“We get a lot of incubator-type business, where someone has an idea and goes for it,” Stumpf says. “It works or it doesn’t.”

For the lucky few like Aquablue Spa, Rollick’s and the Cherry Bean coffee shops, La Fogata, Rooms In Bloom and a handful of thriving clothing stores, the future depends on foot traffic. That’s where the addition of big-crowd draws like Maya Cinemas, the farmers market, and now the Fox Theater will come into play.

The iconic Fox Theater has been the stage for its own misfortune. In 1999, the Martin family of Hayward, who’d owned the building for decades, found themselves at a crossroads. With an out-of-code building and no money to fix it, the Fox’s future looked only as bright as the reflection on a wrecking ball.

Still, it sat. With the turn of the century—and the Paper Wing Theater’s occasional performances by a group of volunteer actors—the Fox plugged along. But by 2004, the board of directors had disbanded. At the time, the Paper Wing Theater’s owner Koly McBride told the Weekly, “Nobody cares, nobody with money or clout or political status.”

Then things changed. Planet Gemini owner Lane wanted to turn the Regency in Monterey into a comedy/night club. “The City was against it, and I was exhausted with the whole thing,” Lane says.

That’s when Lane’s friend Treadway suggested the old Fox. “It was perfect,” Lane says. “It was exactly what we needed—what Oldtown needed.”

Renovations began in February. And within weeks, Lane and Treadway got a huge break when George Lopez confirmed. Lopez would be the opening gig. Tickets went on sale last Thursday.

“We sold out in three hours,” Lane says of the 1,600 tickets. “There were eight blocks of people waiting in line for hours. People walked the Oldtown district. Everyone was shopping, eating, drinking. You could just feel the excitement from the other store owners.”

It’s just the beginning. On June 17, the Fox will host the famously raucous Mexican comedian Polo Polo. On June 22, the Fox will roll out the red carpet for Salinas native and former welterweight champion Jose Celaya, and returning prizefighter Jesus Vegas. Their opponents have not yet been determined.

“We’ve got other big name shows we haven’t confirmed yet,” Lane says. “The community can use it, too, for banquets, receptions, parties, you name it.”

Additionally, the Paper Wing Theater’s actors will perform at the Fox on a regular basis.

“I’m captivated and enthused by what [Land and Treadway] are doing over there,” Donohue says. “The quality of what they’re bringing to Oldtown will draw people not just from Salinas but from all over and put them within striking distance of restaurants and retail. I, for one, am excited.”

Lane thinks the visionaries of a century ago would approve. “This was always what this building was intended for—to bring people together.” 

The number of Americans that prefer two or more shorter vacations to one long one. Equal shares say they prefer a couple of shorter vacations or several 3-to-5-day weekend trips to one long vacation, at 37 percent each. Source: Roper Starch Worldwide, Inc.

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