It was a bad sign for historic music retail in America when the building that used to house the famous Tower Records in West Hollywood was finally demolished in February. And now things are looking grim for the other most iconic record store in the U.S., and an even longer-standing one — Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, a fixture in downtown Nashville since 1947 and in its present location since 1951.
“It’s with great sadness that we share the news that the Ernest Tubb Record Shop — building and business — will be sold,” said an announcement on the store’s social media, adding that the store will shut down some time in the spring.
The store is important in country music history not only as a retail site but as the longtime home of a radio show nearly as old as the shop itself, “The Midnite Jamboree,” which still broadcasts live following the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. It was on that show that Loretta Lynn made her name at the beginning of the 1960s, performing from the tiny stage at the back of the shop and going out over the WSM airwaves.
Plans for the location will be up to a new buyer after the store shutters, but it’s understood that maintaining a legacy business is extremely unlikely to be high on a purchaser’s agenda in one of the nation’s most crowded nightlife corridors, where drinking, not Bear Family boxed sets, is the high-volume attraction.
“Our goal has always been to protect, promote and preserve the great history of the record shop and building,” the store’s announcement said. “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.”
The statement — attributed to Honky Tonk Circus, LLC, ETRS, LLC, and David McCormick Company, Inc. — concluded: “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.”
Even despite its proximity to the historic Ryman Auditorium a block in one direction and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the other, Ernest Tubb’s has increasingly seemed like a lonely anomaly on a once run-down, now booming stretch of Lower Broad. Often labeled as a “must to avoid” by locals, the street has been extensively redeveloped into the world headquarters of bachelorette parties, pedal taverns and multi-story nightclubs like Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ‘n’ Roll Steakhouse. And vinyl and CD sales are clearly slim compared to the volume of tequila that could be flowing through such a prime piece of tourist-trap real estate.
Ironically, the “Midnite Jamboree” radio show, which now broadcasts following the Opry on WSM at 10 p.m. CT, had returned to the downtown Ernest Tubb’s location only last year, after decades of being held at the Texas Troubadour Theatre, adjacent to an Ernest Tubb’s satellite location near the Opry House that closed in the 2010s.
Country performers with a traditionalist streak have occasionally used the Tubb’s stage in recent years, with stars like Kacey Musgraves and Vince Gill holding record-release parties there. Charlie Worsham would do a whole run of shows there during CMA Festival Week, bringing in guest stars like Eric Church and Brandy Clark. Up-and-comer Charley Crockett recently shot most of his “Music City USA” music video at the store.
But the Tubb’s stage is most famous for hosting Loretta Lynn’s “Midnight Jamboree” appearances, at a time when the Grand Ole Opry was still being held at the Ryman and a sliver of attendees would immediately walk a half-block over to join the after-party inside the shop.
As Lynn told CMT, “In 1961 I sang ‘I Fall to Pieces’ for the first time at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop’s Midnite Jamboree. Patsy (Cline) was in a car wreck and was in really bad shape in the Madison Hospital. Patsy heard me dedicate the song to her on the radio and sent her husband Charlie to fetch me. I couldn’t believe Patsy wanted to meet me. You know from that first meeting we just clicked and became friends. I couldn’t think of another song I wanted to sing for our fans, it was the beginning for us.”
For decades in the digital era, the shop’s stock consisted mostly of CDs and DVDs as well as books about country music, with a special section devoted to the store’s founder and namesake. More recently, with those CD racks going largely untouched anymore, the store shifted where much of the brick-and-mortar retail business at large has: back to vinyl.
But with Lower Broad seeming increasingly inhospitable to anyone who hasn’t come just to get loaded, there’s rarely a line for the register, as the crowds there — to misquote Loretta — come in a-drinkin’ but without LP-buyin’ on their mind.
In 2020, when JesseLee Jones, who fronts the band Brazilbilly, bought the building, he issued statements were issued about maintaining the legacy business. Jones, who also owns the Robert’s Western World club across the street, which skews more toward traditional country than some other nightspots on the street, was reported to have bought the Tubb’s business as well as the location from David McCormick for $4.75 million. McCormick had purchased the locale and shop in 1992 for $128,000.
At that time, Jones told the Nashville Post, “The city is going through a lot of changes, and someone has got to hold the torch for old-school Nashville. … 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.” The 2021 resumption of the “Midnite Jamboree” show there, after it moved to the alternate location from 1995-2021, seemed to be a good sign that the building’s historic uses might continue.
The Tennessean noted that the value of businesses on or around Lower Broad has gone up significantly just in the past two years. It reported that country star John Rich, of Big & Rich, and associates bought a building three blocks away for $18.5 million in 2019 and recently resold it for $24.5 million, a 32% profit in less than three years.
There had been some turmoil at the shop following the sale in 2020, with much of the staff that had been recognizable to customers for years or decades laid off in the fall of 2021, creating no small ruckus in Nashville’s tight-knit world of country traditionalists. The Saving Country Music website noted that longtime “Midnite Jamboree” host Jennifer Herron left the show last September after 18 years as host.
Variety was not immediately able to reach the store’s owners for comment about the impending closure or sale.
The current signage on the shop is believed to have been up in some form since 1960. The original neon sign that was placed above the original locale in 1947 and stood above the current shop from 1951 to 1960 can be seen at the Tennessee State Museum.