Open for business
Antiques vendors carry on despite huge losses
It’s been 15 months since convicted arsonist Evan Paul Felver, a 23-year-old Chico man, set fire to the popular Eighth and Main Antiques Center. Today, the stench of smoke has been replaced by the scent of fresh paint.
“It has been a long year,” said owner Marc Moretti as he stood inside the renovated building, which reopened for business in early September.
Nearby, a melted phone is the only evidence of the blaze that tore through the back corner of the two-story antiques center in the early hours of June 26, 2009, when Moretti and his wife, Yesenia (on the day of their wedding anniversary), awoke to the news that nearly all the antiques belonging to more than 50 vendors had been damaged or destroyed.
Felver later pleaded guilty to arson and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and five years of probation, which included a slew of requirements such as substance-abuse programs and an order to stay away from victims and the center. He was also ordered to repay his victims.
Since then, he’s faced four restitution hearings involving 27 vendors. So far, the grand total is more than $360,000, said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey. The DA’s Office has contacted several other victims encouraging them to file claims, but at this point they’re “pretty much at the end of the string,” he said.
Felver is required to pay what he can to the court throughout his probation period, but no money has been collected yet, Ramsey said. If he fails to pay to the full amount by the end of that period, the victims will have to pursue restitution in civil court.
“It’s not the greatest of systems,” Ramsey acknowledged. He added that the court understands how difficult it would be for Felver to acquire that much money in only five years, and that he will not be in violation of his probation if he can’t pay it off.
“[The judge] won’t throw him in jail because he can’t come up with $300,000. They will not make him pay that which he cannot pay,” Ramsey said.
If unpaid victims choose to pursue the matter in civil court and they win, Felver likely will have his wages garnished until he comes up with the full amount. That could take decades.
Felver has a history of alcohol abuse. He was still on probation for a 2006 DUI conviction when he was arraigned on arson charges.
In court, he admitted alcohol fueled his actions on the morning but maintained the fire was set accidentally. He ignited the blaze, he contends, after attempting to light a black widow spider on fire in a back doorway of the center after a night of drinking with friends.
Felver has already lost time he could have spent working to repay his debt. In early July, after he tested positive for alcohol consumption, he was rearrested for violating his probation. He served an additional 90 days in jail.
Moretti said he doesn’t know if he’ll see any money within the next five years, but he plans to pursue his full restitution amount in court if he doesn’t get paid by the end of Felver’s probationary period.
Despite the setback, he and the other vendors have risen from the ashes. Today, the center’s sparkling new décor showcases the antiques in a new light. Moretti is proud of the renovated facility.
“Some people say you walk in here and it’s like you’ve left Chico and walked into a design center in the Bay Area,” he said, smiling, as he stood surrounded by neatly organized vendor spaces.
He said he was able to persevere with the support of the vendor community, even though his income was in the red last year and all have yet to receive a dime for their losses.
“We are moving forward,” he said. “We are looking at this as a fresh start.”