Historical Commissioner Talks Ernest Tubb Record Shop Preservation

Country music fans and preservationists continue to be concerned about the pending sale of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop building and business first announced on March 11th. Located at 417 Broadway in Nashville, the business was first opened in 1947 and has been at its current location since 1951. A sale between the previous owner, David McCormick, and the current owner of Robert’s Western World, JesseLee Jones, was first announced in 2020, but dissolved earlier this year amid a legal dispute.

“It’s with great sadness that we share the news that the Ernest Tubb Record Shop — building and business — will be sold,” a statement from both parties read. “Our goal has always been to protect, promote and preserve the great history of the record shop and building. That desire remains as strong today as ever. However, due to changes in circumstances out of our control, it’s now clear the best way forward is to sell the business and the real estate.”

Ever since the announcement, concerned individuals have been trying to figure out how both the building and the business could be preserved in its current state. Though preserving the business is considerably more difficult since it deals with a private enterprise, according to the Executive Director of Nashville’s Metro Historical Commission, W. Tim Walker, music fans and preservationists need not worry about the building itself. Due to local designations, the historic structure at 417 Broadway cannot be demolished to make way for a new development.

“It is in a local historical overlay district. It’s in the historic Broadway Preservation District, which runs from 1st to 5th Avenue, and picks up all the properties on both sides of the street,” W. Tim Walker tells Saving Country Music. “The building cannot be demolished. It’s a contributing, or historic building to that local district.”

“In addition, most of that area is also in a national register district as a contributing property,” Walker continues. “That is more honorary at the federal level. It doesn’t provide any real protection. But our local zoning, the historic overlay preservation district does provide protection, so the building can’t be demolished.”

417 Broadway is one of four buildings on the block that were built in the 1850s. Along with housing an ornamental plaster business, the building was also used as a Union hospital during the Civil War, giving the building additional historical significance beyond the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

Tim Walker

“Nashville was captured early in the war, and it was kind of the headquarters for the Western front,” explains W. Tim Walker. “So lots of Union soldiers were stationed here, and this was the point where everything in the Western theater was launched from.”

So no matter who purchases the Ernest Tubb Record Shop building, it won’t be razed. But preserving the business is another matter, and one the Metro Historical Commission does not have jurisdiction over.

“There aren’t any existing tools that protect privately-owned businesses,” says W. Tim Walker. “The [Ernest Tubb Record Shop] is one of many legacy businesses in the city, and it’s significant obviously for when it started and all of the things that happened there. But I don’t even know a state law that would allow the city to create a tool for that. There aren’t many cities that have a tool like that. I have heard recently that San Francisco has tried to put in an incentive to keep legacy businesses in place. But it’s a private business, so how can you force a business owner to keep his business? You can incentivize it. But we don’t have many of those types of incentives in the State of Tennessee.”

This means whomever purchases the business would have to be interested in preserving it as opposed to liquidating it. Though ideally, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop would stay in its current location, it could also be moved to a different one, as we have seen with other historic businesses in Nashville and country music. Hatch Show Print—the historic Lower Broadway letterpress business first started in 1879 that made many of country music’s most iconic posters—was brought under the umbrella of the Country Music Hall of Fame to preserve the business in 1992, and moved to the Hall of Fame grounds in 2012.

We still don’t have a clear timeline of when the Ernest Tubb Record Shop business and building might be put up for sale, and what the parameters of that sale might be. This all seems to be unfolding under the guidance of court orders, and those specific orders are under seal, while specific details of the sale may still be getting finalized in the court system.

But whomever buys 417 Broadway will also have to deal with a potential public relations backlash if they choose to not preserve the business. Liquidating the Ernest Tubb Record Shop to develop some Lower Broadway business named after a celebrity will certainly create criticism for the developer, at least initially. But whether that criticism would be enough of a poison pill to disincentivize anything but the preservation of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop business remains to be seen.

There is currently a petition to save the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

Stay tuned to Saving Country Music for continuing developments on the sale of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

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