We Need To Discuss The Sale of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop

Before we get started here, we all just need to appreciate that the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Lower Broadway in Nashville is not just a building, and it’s not just a business. It isn’t just brick and mortar, any more than the Ryman Auditorium is. It is a cultural institution and landmark of country music whose fate should be the of concern of all country music fans, and all advocates for historical and cultural preservation.

First opened in 1947 on Commerce St. as a retail enterprise for country legend Ernest Tubb, it moved to its more iconic location on Broadway in 1951. Frustrated at the lack of country records stocked at many retail establishments across the country, instead of complaining about it, Ernest Tubb decided to do something about it, opening up the store right around the corner from the Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry was held.

The location also became the venue for the Midnite Jamboree—the official/unofficial afterparty of the Opry every Saturday night. Along with the record shop becoming a landmark, the Midnite Jamboree also became a cultural staple. This is where Loretta Lynn got her big break, and dedicated a song to Patsy Cline as she laid in a hospital bed after a tragic auto accident—just one of many legendary moments in country history facilitated by the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, and the Midnite Jamboree.

Soon both the Ernest Tubb Record Shops, and the Midnite Jamboree became national institutions. Multiple ET Record Shops opened across the country, including in Pigeon Forge, TN and Fort Worth, TX. The Midnite Jamboree was broadcast on WSM in Nashville, and simulcast in scores of markets.

Of course, as retail sales of albums cratered in the wake of digital music, the satellite Ernest Tubb Record Shops folded, as did another location in Nashville near the current home of the Grand Ole Opry in the Music Valley Shopping Center. That location closed in March of 2016. Ernest Tubb’s “Green Hornet” tour bus that the shopping center was quite literally built around still remains a part of the building. That left the Ernest Tubb Record Shop location at 417 Broadway as the final outlet.

On Friday, March 11th, word came down that both the property, and the business are being sold.

It’s with great sadness that we share the news that the Ernest Tubb Record Shop — building and business — will be sold.

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.

We are heartbroken that the store, which has existed in its current location in the heart of lower Broadway since 1951, will close this Spring. Preserving the history and tradition of country music remains at the forefront of everything we do. We remain committed to preservation work and look forward to new projects that will allow us to continue to protect and nurture the invaluable history and tradition of country music.

This announcement immediately sent shockwaves among many traditional country fans, Lower Broadway enthusiasts, and preservationists, and was especially shocking to hear since both the building and business were sold in August of 2020, and were believed at that time to have been placed in capable hands.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop was purchased in 2020 for a reported $4.75 million by JesseLee Jones, who along with being the singer of the Brazilbilly band, is also the owner of Robert’s Western World located right across the street, which is considered one of the last holdouts for traditional country and the original spirit of Nashville on Lower Broadway. The news of the JesseLee Jones purchase gave many proponents of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop assurance.

“The city is going through a lot of changes, and someone has got to hold the torch for old-school Nashville,” JesseLee Jones told the Nashville Post in 2020. “Robert’s is the undisputed home for traditional country music. Having been on the side of traditional country music, which made Music City, it just makes sense to continue that tradition by my buying the Earnest Tubb Record Shop business and building. My purpose is to protect, promote and preserve this great history. So this just made sense that Robert’s and Ernest Tubb be strong, be one and be family to perpetuate the tradition. Ernest Tubb Record Shops will be here for another 52 years, if it’s up to me.”

But now, it appears the Ernest Tubb Records Shop will not make it to the end of 2022.

This is not the first time both the business and the building have been imperiled. Nashville businessman David McCormick purchased the building and property for $128,000 in 1992 when Lower Broadway was at a low point. After the shuttering of the Ryman Auditorium in 1974, the area became mostly abandoned, with dirty bookstores and pawn shops moving into many of the buildings that once supported music-oriented businesses. In the mid 90’s, the area began to be revitalized by businesses like Robert’s Western World, and bands like BR549 and Brazillbilly.

In 2015, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop business began suffering from financial concerns, with the Midnite Jamboree being suspended on WSM for a short period, and customers noticing bare shelves at both locations of the iconic record store at the time. However, after closing the Music Valley location and focusing more on the Lower Broadway store with store takeovers for important releases, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop began to come back. The purchase by JesseLee Jones assured the public even more.

But about a year after the purchase, there were concerns that the transition from the ownership of David McCormick to JesseLee Jones was not as rosy as some had hoped. As new ownership and management worked to restructure and revitalize the business, updates posted on social media about the progress were dive bombed by angry patrons and former employees.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop closed for renovations in August in 2021, and as part of that move, reportedly let go many or all of their long time staff on August 17th, including some employees who had been with the company for decades. Under social media posts announcing the temporary closing of the Record Shop, many voiced their concerns.

“Shame on you guys!” posted Darren Patrick Long on Facebook. “I worked at this shop from 1998-2013, and was proud to work with all of these fired employees. As a working musician/songwriter, ET’s was the best place to work, loved it. Happy to see it under new ownership, but not happy about the firing of such devoted folks.”

Another post said, “Care to explain why the entire staff of your store was fired? These are the people that built this establishment and created what you, the owners, purchased. An explanation about your motivations would probably be a good idea.”

Another chimed in, “We’ll miss Gloria, Earlene, Judy, Sonya, and Victor and all the newbies. They were always there thru the good times and mostly important for the Country & Western Music. Their collective knowledge will never be replaced.”

Also as part of the realignment, the Midnite Jamboree was moved from the Texas Troubadour Theater in the same Music Valley Shopping Center where the other Ernest Tubb Record Shop had been located (that closed in 2016), back to the original Lower Broadway location. Then in September of 2021, the long time host of the Jamboree, Jennifer Herron, announced her resignation.

“What a blessing and surreal statement to say I have been on the air on WSM for over twenty years,” Herron said. “From a daily air shift and beyond, that included an 18 year run as the Hostess/Announcer of Country Music’s Second Longest Running Radio Show, The Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree. I am so proud of my work at the Midnite Jamboree. It has been my heart and passion and I have remained loyal to the principles, but now feel it is time to step aside as new ownership deals with ongoing legal battles and demands for non-disclosures, along with other concerns.”

At the time, Saving Country Music looked into the issues with the new management of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, and the Midnite Jamboree, but struggled to find individuals with close knowledge on the matter who were willing to speak on record. Jennifer Herron’s assertion of non-disclosures and legal battles might have been the reason no one was willing to come forward.

Saving Country Music has also reached out to JesseLee Jones about the impending sale of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop property, but has yet to hear back. The announcement of the sale of the property was undersigned by “Honky Tonk Circus, LLC, ETRS, LLC, David McCormick Company, Inc.,” so it could be that multiple entities involved in the previous purchase and sale—including David McCormick—are also involved in the current sale.

But beyond the recent concerns about the business of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and Midnite Jamboree, the bigger concern is about the future of this iconic country music landmark. Similar to how efforts were launched to save RCA Studio B and Studio A on Music Row, how the Country Music Hall of Fame embraced Hatch Show Print and brought it within the institution to make sure it didn’t expire, and the Nashville community rallied against the razing of the Exit/In venue for development, so should an exploration be launched on if and how the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Lower Broadway can be preserved as something more culturally imperative than maximizing the space for commercial purposes.

It’s unlikely whomever the new owners are will have concern about the history of that location, looking to make the property more vertical. And though previous and current owners such as David McCormick and JesseLee Jones have a right to recoup and be compensated for their investments, at times when historical landmarks are endangered, the issue should become important to us all, country fans or otherwise.

Only second to the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry itself, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop at 417 Broadway is sacred ground in country music, and all effort should be expended to make sure it is preserved.

At the moment, there are no public details on the potential new owners.

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