The Fairfax Surf Shop has always been a special place to Adam Turrisi.
The lifelong Fairfax City resident bought his first skateboard from the Old Lee Highway business when he was 12. Now, 20 years later, he has given many children that same experience as the store’s manager.
Emphasizing individualized customer service informed by their own skateboarding experiences, Turrisi and owner Dan Callahan have turned Fairfax Surf Shop into a modest yet locally beloved mainstay that exudes an impression of permanence, even as the surrounding community teeters between preserving the past and embracing the future.
For perhaps the first time in its decades-long history, the Fairfax Surf Shop is now facing an uncertain future of its own as it prepares to vacate the building it has occupied for 43 years at the end of August to make way for a new restaurant.
The City of Fairfax announced on July 22 that its Economic Development Authority had come to an agreement with the Parry Restaurant Group to redevelop the Park View property that Fairfax Surf Shop currently leases from the city.
Turrisi says he regularly hears from customers and even former employees both in-person and online, but after the City of Fairfax’s announcement, the appreciative or nostalgic tenor of those interactions was replaced by expressions of confusion and sadness.
“Lots of individuals have been helped by this shop,” Turrisi said. “…We really care a whole lot, and I think that’s what separates us.”
Customers will be relieved to know that Fairfax Surf Shop has no intention of closing and instead plans to relocate within the City of Fairfax with some financial assistance from the EDA.
According to Callahan, the store will move to a nearby site, likely in Courthouse Plaza, but the lease has not yet been finalized.
The move will be made possible in part by a relocation assistance grant that the City of Fairfax EDA has offered Fairfax Surf Shop on the condition that it remains in the city.
“In a way, not only are we adding a new business to the city, but we're preserving…a well-established business and hopefully setting it up for success in the future,” Fairfax City Director of Economic Development Christopher Bruno said of the unique arrangements with the Parry Restaurant Group and Fairfax Surf Shop.
While he appreciates the EDA’s financial assistance, Callahan says it still does not take the sting out of having his business displaced after 43 years.
A longtime Fairfax County resident, Callahan grew up skateboarding and frequenting the beach with his parents, spending his summers with his family at a beach house they owned in Sea Isle City, N.J.
He visited Fairfax Surf Shop regularly as a teenager, and after launching a company called Ski Travel in 1981 that offers ski and snowboard trips to Canada for local high school and college students, Callahan worked with original owner, Jimmy McGrath, who founded the shop in 1976.
Callahan officially took over Fairfax Surf Shop in the 1980s after McGrath decided to focus instead on another surf shop that he opened at that time and still owns in Bethany, Del.
Though it sells surfboards, snowboards, swimwear, and other water and snow gear, Fairfax Surf Shop specializes in skateboarding, its name a reminder of the sport’s origins as an offshoot of surfing popularized in Florida, California, and other beach-adjacent areas, according to Callahan.
Over the years, he has helped cultivate a loyal following for the shop that encompasses Fairfax’s skateboarding community as well as college students living at George Mason University’s nearby campus and families looking to pick up new accessories for a beach or skiing vacation.
“With the high school students and college students and multi-generations of families, we have people coming in the store now whose grandparents went to the store, whose fathers and mothers went to the store,” Callahan said. “It is many generations of people coming into the store, buying products.”
The end of Fairfax Surf Shop’s time at 3936 Old Lee Highway has loomed for years.
According to Bruno, the City of Fairfax wants Old Town Square, which sits behind Fairfax Surf Shop, to serve as a social and cultural hub. Around the time that the park opened in May 2015, the city advertised a request for proposals to sell the Park View property.
The city received three bids. One of them came from Fairfax Surf Shop, which Callahan says offered to restore the building to how it looked before a fire destroyed its original front side and upper floor in 1978.
According to former City of Fairfax EDA Chair John Sabo, the authority was “on the verge” of signing the highest bidder, which he says was not Fairfax Surf Shop, but the Fairfax City Council changed its mind and decided not to sell the building after all.
“Since then we have focused on being a diligent landlord and have kept the current tenant apprised of our intentions,” said Sabo, who currently serves as vice chair of the EDA.
However, the City of Fairfax continued to harbor hopes of transforming 3936 Old Lee Highway, and that vision took a step closer to fruition last year when the EDA received an unsolicited offer from the Parry Restaurant Group to redevelop the property for a restaurant use.
Based in Richmond, the Parry Restaurant Group owns and operates 18 restaurants throughout Virginia, including Fairfax’s Oh George! and Arosto Pizza in Vienna.
Under the redevelopment agreement, the City of Fairfax EDA will retain ownership of the property and continue to serve as a landlord, while Parry Restaurant Group will fund and oversee the development of a new building on the land before operating the new restaurant.
The existing building will be demolished in September with the construction of the new venue expected to take six to seven months, according to the City of Fairfax.
“The existing building had a lot of damage to it that would have required significant repairs and investment on the EDA in order to keep the current tenant in there,” Bruno said. “I don’t think the EDA had the appetite to make those long-term investments in a building that we knew was probably going to have to be replaced at some point in the near-future.”
Callahan, however, is disappointed that the city has no interest in keeping the existing building.
“My perspective is that you should preserve small businesses, especially iconic buildings within your city,” Callahan said. “…It’s kind of the fabric of your town. If you take all the old buildings down and you put new ones up, how can you really have an Old Town Fairfax?”
According to a property record in Fairfax City’s real estate assessment database, the building that Fairfax Surf Shop currently leases was first built around 1920 and occupies around one-tenth of an acre of land. The Fairfax City EDA purchased the property on Oct. 5, 2004 for $1.9 million.
A 2019 property assessment valued the building at $420,000 and its underlying land at $220,000.
Not mentioned in the record is the fact that, according to Callahan, the building hosted a variety of businesses prior to Fairfax Surf Shop, including a gas station and a leather goods store.
Callahan says the shop’s ground floor was renovated around 2003, and in the process, they found evidence suggesting the building had originally been a barn with stalls for horses.
Bruno says the Park View building is old but not historic. While it is located in the Old Town Fairfax Historic Overlay District as defined by the city’s zoning ordinance, it is not listed as part of Old Town Fairfax’s National Register Historic District.
“The building is not a contributing structure,” the City of Fairfax Planning Department said.
Even as he acknowledges that the Fairfax City EDA has the right to do what it wants with the property as its owner, Callahan says the impending relocation has been an “unsettling situation” for his family, which includes 14 children, as well as Fairfax Surf Shop’s customers.
Assuming Fairfax Surf Shop finds a new venue in Fairfax City, the relocation assistance grant offered by the EDA is short-term aid that will not cover the store’s rent and other operating costs.
According to Callahan, the rent at the new location will likely be double what he currently pays.
The EDA gave Fairfax Surf Shop “a very generous rent rate with the mutual understanding that the building would be redeveloped at some point in time,” Bruno says.
Despite his frustrations, Callahan plans to bring the same sense of community to the new Fairfax Surf Shop that it currently enjoys, and the business will still work with Fairfax City.
In addition to relocating within the city, Fairfax Surf Shop will continue the summer skate camps that it hosts at Van Dyck Park in partnership with City of Fairfax Parks and Recreation.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but we’re going to do the best we can to hopefully move into a new place and do the same thing that we did in here: create a great environment for the customer and provide probably even more product, hopefully,” Callahan said. “We’ll do the best we can to serve the customers and the community with the products that we’ve had for 43 years.”
Fairfax Surf Shop’s manager, for one, is optimistic about the business’s ability to thrive in a new location.
“We’re going 43 years more, if not longer,” Adam Turrisi said.