‘Pioneering is a bitch’: Longtime business owners, residents squeezed out of hot neighborhoods

Friday, April 17, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 16
By Hollie Deese

Christy Shuff was robbed on the night she moved some equipment into her soon-to-open new business, Rumours Gallery, on 12South Avenue.

That was 12 years ago, and Shuff, now 40, and her then-husband Will Shuff were aspiring urban pioneers, ready to take a chance on the downtrodden, but affordable 12South area, then home to a few businesses and mostly older houses.

“I went over there and was like, ‘ugh, why would people tell me to come here?’” she says.

“There was no Frothy Monkey, no Portland Brew, no Mafiaoza’s,’’ she adds, listing some favorites in what is now a trend-setting business district and an increasingly gentrified neighborhood.

Shuff took the plunge on 12South, getting in on the ground floor of one of Nashville’s neighborhood success stories. But, today, she’s no longer there. Redevelopment and affordability pushed her out.

“I was so mad and frustrated at being forced out,’’ Shuff explains. “12South had kind of filled in, and all that money that Will and I had spent, borrowed, everything, to wait on a street to come to fruition, and it finally had, and I got to go instead of stay and make the money that it cost me to help build it up.

“Pioneering is a bitch.”

It’s happening all over Middle Tennessee. Economic success is impacting quality of life and adding to problems such as lack of affordable housing, commute times and not enough places to play, work or park.

“The quality of life is shrinking because we don’t have enough space for all of these people who are coming in,” Shuff says. “And if we keep building these high-rises, my concern is, how are all of these people going to get around? Where are they going to park? We know we have enough restaurants for them to eat at.”

The right price

The robbery didn’t deter Shuff. In those days, she was committed to opening her art gallery in her hometown, a dream she had since returning from Durango, Colo., with Will.

When she checked out 12South, she found two other businesses in the area, the still-operating boutique Serendipity, opened in 2000 by Julie and Ken Lutz, and restaurant Mirror, opened by Michael and Colleen DeGregory in 2000 and closed in 2010. Trim Salon had opened in 1998.

A house across the street that once was a florist was empty, and Shuff called the number on the sign.

“(Owner Melissa Freeman) met me over there, and the price was right – 1,000 square feet for $1,000 a month,” Shuff recalls.

In Hillsboro Village at the time, and for the same amount of square footage, the price was $4,000 back then. She signed the lease, took the bars off the windows and paid to have prettier bars put up.

“You still had to have bars because the theft was out of control,” she says.

They pulled up the carpets, cleaned up the place, had a big opening and quickly realized there was not much else to keep people in the area.

So her husband opened the 12 South Market and Deli, now the 12 South Taproom.

“12 South wasn’t there yet so we had to fill it in or people wouldn’t come,” she says.

Goodbye 12South… Hello Nations

The couple soon realized the market and deli’s daytime business could not sustain the cost of keeping up the building, so they changed it into a taproom while she moved the gallery to another nearby house she was leasing (1,200 square feet for $1,200) and opened up Rumours Wine and Art Bar.

That’s when the neighborhood took off, and eventually left her behind.

When the mixed-use Paris Building was built at the corner of 12th and Paris, Shuff admits she was nervous what it would do to the feel of the neighborhood, but was happy with the low-scale outcome.

When the economy went into recession in 2008, Shuff was grateful for her 10-year, affordable lease, then Freeman approached her about selling out her lease with three years left on one building and one on the other.


-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Shuff says she was offered $80,000, which she turned down. “It had to at least cover all of the expenses to relocate,” she says.

She says she ended up having to leave with $50,000, which she used to pay off a loan. Today, there is a multi-story, mixed-use building (12 South Flats) where her first business used to be.

Shuff was left to start at square one. She reopened in The Gulch but quickly sold out. It closed less than a year later.

“The whole thing with The Gulch for me was I am so stubborn – I was not ready to be done,” she says.

She’s still not done and is consulting on a new restaurant, Fifty-First, that is set to open in a month in the recently reinvigorated Nations neighborhood where Dr. Eugene Nelson, a retired pathologist, has several commercial blocks.

“He wants it to be like old Hillsboro Village meets Old 12South – before high-rises,” she says.

“But we already know about two big-high rises going in on the corner, so we have to be careful.

“The streets are wider and there are good sidewalks and things like that, but it could be the same thing – all of the sudden it takes 10 minutes to go four blocks in your car, which is insane.

“I think it’s just a shame that things inevitably get taken too far. I think 12South could’ve stopped building out four years ago and spent more efforts securing proper parking and giving their existing patrons a chance.”

“More is not always better,” Shuff says. “More is just more. And I think when we don’t have a good, thought-out process of how much growth we want, and we just go ahead and put anything anywhere, that is when we get into trouble, and get into these traffic problems and parking problems and all of the sudden you have overgrown in a bad way.”

Hendersonville: ‘We built this monster’

Across the 10-county Cumberland Region and around the city, the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization forecasts close to another million people by the year 2035.

But forget about what the future numbers show. Resources are already stretched, cutting into quality of life.

Hendersonville Parks Director Dave LeMarbre has been with the department since 1979 when there were just four softball fields and a lot of farmland. He says growth was always good and steady up until the recovery from the flood in 2010 that put parks services to a halt.

Since then, use of the city’s park system has absolutely exploded.

“We are busting at the seams,” LeMarbre says. “We have grown more than we thought we would, and probably where we should have, but it almost came over night.

“Over the last 18 months soccer has grown from 600-700 kids to over 1,000 kids in the spring, plus travel teams, plus tournaments. Lacrosse is on the rise. Softball programs and fast pitch have gone through the ceiling, and we have four to six major softball tournaments going on now. Flag football – we went from zero to 40 teams in the last two years.”

Over the years LeMarbre says Hendersonville Parks has always looked at ways to accommodate the growing and diverse population moving to the area, but now what they need are more parks to offset the high-traffic use of Drake’s Creek Park which has two lighted football fields, 20 lighted soccer fields, 13 lighted baseball and softball and much more.

All of it is accessed from two entrances – one off Gallatin Pike, the other off Anderson Boulevard – that meet together and wind through the park with no additional exits.

“Growth has been so phenomenal over the years, the entrance to the park that has been bad has gotten worse because of the numbers of teams,” he says. “What we have to do now is schedule accordingly.’’

Now games are staggered, perhaps later than parents would like, but LaMabre says there is no other choice.

“The growth has caused this to happen,” he says. “We have spread out schedules, and we have hired off-duty officers because the traffic is a disaster. I told the mayor we had a good problem – too many people want to participate in our programs. We built this monster – now we have to deal with it.”

East Nashville: Affordable no more

Renovations are underway at Christy Shuff’s new restaurant at 5104 Illinois in the Nations.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Bethany Suckrow, 27, and her husband Matthew, 30, moved to Nashville in July 2014.

She’s a copywriter and he’s a musician, who wanted to follow friends to the creative mecca of East Nashville.

Good friends had moved there nearly four years before and told them how great it was – lots of friendly, creative people and plenty of housing for them that they could actually afford. The Suckrows were sold.

They started looking for jobs and a place to live, but quickly realized moving to Nashville wasn’t going to be the easy solution they were hoping for.

“We must have looked at a dozen apartments, and we weren’t finding really solid jobs here, so we knew we were probably going to take a pay cut to move down here,” she says.

By the time their lease in Chicago was up in July, they still had no place to live.

A residential report released by the Nashville Downtown Partnership July 2014 ­– the month the Suckrows moved to Nashville ­– stated that the rental occupancy rate for the city was at 98 percent for the third year in a row.

Despite help from friends, East Nashville was out of the question for the Suckrows, whose budget was at $665 a month for rent.

They signed a lease on a low-rent apartment on the southeast side of town.

“The lease agreement was crazy,” she says. “It had all these stipulations, like to terminate your lease you had to provide three months of rent up front, a crazy amount of money. No poor person could terminate their lease because they couldn’t afford it.”

But the day after they moved in they did just that, and moved right back out because of an infestation of cockroaches.

“I wish I was making it up, but it was like something out of a movie,” she says. “It didn’t even feel real. We killed hundreds in two days’ time, and we couldn’t unpack our stuff.

“I emailed the property manager and told them I felt they knew this was a problem and didn’t tell us. And they let us out of the lease right away.”

They had settled into the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house near Dickerson Pike, only to get a letter earlier this month that the property had been sold and they would have 30 days to sign a new lease with the new manager – and most likely a new, pricier rent.

“I am seeing what other people are posting on the East Nashville Facebook page, they are posting a three-bedroom house for $1,200-$1,400 a month. And we are on the other side of Gallatin. On the side that is towards McGavock and Five Points, there is not affordable housing for us over there, and we know that.”

Bethany says creative types may become increasing discouraged from moving to Nashville because the city is too expense. “It’s worse here in a way because we were not going to get kicked out of our apartment in Chicago,” she says.

“We really came here thinking we wanted to live here long-term. We would like to be settled and be in a financial situation where we could start having kids in a few years, but now we don’t know.”

Traffic frustrating and dangerous

April Lewis left Davidson County and moved to Sumner County for her son’s education, a quality of life decision. She’s a renter in Gallatin.

“I am a single mom, which determines a lot of my decisions,” Lewis says.

She kept her job with Christie Cookie for the first year she living in Sumner, but eventually the traffic wore her down.

“There is no job – and working with Christie Cookie and the job I had, working with country music stars and politicians - there is no job, no opportunity, no meeting that is so serious I am going to risk my safety to go head to head with you on that road. It is not worth it,’’ she says.

After trying to work remotely, Lewis but eventually decided to try a different lifestyle.

“I needed to be there, and I made a choice,” she says, admitting that just about the only thing she misses about living in Nashville is Costco.