Back in the Day: Old Thiessen’s building burns, memories remain


By Tony Wade

(published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on October 10, 2014)

What do a fire at an abandoned building and a monkey have to do with each other?

Well, for many longtime locals, the blaze that destroyed a vacant building Monday (Oct. 6)  night at 640 Broadway brought back memories of the business that was there for years: Thiessen’s Pet Store.

Founded by Henry and Lillian Thiessen, the shop in the 1950s and ’60s also had a larger building that was mainly a feed store that faced Union Avenue. The Broadway-facing building featured an Old West-style false front facade and became the pet store. It was later sold a couple of times, but retained the founders’ name.

Locals that worked at or frequented the pet store recall the air of friendliness and helpfulness that permeated the place. Many also remember the monkey that was there (there were actually two).

I remember going there in the 1980s with Darin Kermoade and Ben Kusaka and purchasing a mutt we named Bomber. We planned to split the care for Bomber, but he soon became Ben’s pooch. I also remember getting Siamese fighting fish there and unsuspecting mice that thought they were pets, but ended up as dinner for the king snake Ben caught at Lake Berryessa.

Other locals shared memories:

Paula Lindsey: I read in the paper after the fire that the building was the home of a party rental business and was once a pet store. A PET STORE? Never was it just a pet store, it was THIESSEN’S FEED AND PET! That place was alive in those days. It was a teaching center and, because of wonderful people like Henry and Lil and George Thiessen and later, Sam and Sharon Butler and Bob Jellison, it was a learning center, too.

Jenea Nichole Almendariz: I remember going with my dad, the late Joe Calbert, every other weekend to see all of the cute puppies, get feed and goods for our horses and hear stories about the monkey from all the old timers. A lot of good memories from Thiessen’s. It will truly be missed!

Veronica Cookie Hale: I loved that they would let the baby birds out to play in a big open tree-type structure. I bought Cleo, a red-rumped parakeet, from there and that bird had more personality than any other bird I’ve owned. I had her for two years. Unfortunately, my husband accidentally stepped on her. We both cried and buried her in the backyard.

Pat Pretel: My grandmother bought chicken and rabbit feed from Thiessen’s. The bags that the feed came in was in cute prints and she made us skirts out of them.

Terrence J. Mulich: My only trip to Thiessen’s was going with my buddy Joe Rivera to get some feed for his pigeons. I remember seeing a monkey in a cage that would make a racket if you didn’t devote all your attention to him/her.

Darlene Hall: Growing up we always called them Mr. and Mrs. Thiessen. We were always taught to call elders by their last names. They treated everyone like family. I also remember Mr. and Mrs. Butler and good old Bob Jellison. They all were good people and could answer most any question about animals. I got my first rabbit from them named Thumper, who lived in our backyard until he passed away. I used to spend time just doing lots of talking down there and you always ran into someone you knew.

George Shin: My mom had fish tanks and we used to go there often when we were little. We would see the puppies and all the horse tack and the monkey that was kind of mean. I remember zapping my brother with the cattle prod that was in the back corner when we were a little older. When the Tonnesens owned it, they had parrots and one time I was letting one sit on my arm and it walked up onto my head and wouldn’t let me take it off.

Mary Cushing: My cockatiel that I got there was only supposed to live about 13 years. He is still alive 20 years later and singing “The Andy Griffith Show” theme.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at