Since 1903, Nashvillians and Nashville visitors have shopped and wandered and eaten at the Nashville Arcade. Nashville’s first covered shopping center has evolved during its 116 years, but its mission remains. The pass-through connects downtown’s Fourth and Fifth Avenues with over 50 different vendors serving food, showing art and even sending mail. Wander in on a weekday around lunchtime and you’ll see a varied bunch dining in its interior — from businesswomen and men between meetings to flocks of tourists with cameras around their necks. At its heart, the Nashville Arcade aims to serve Nashville in more ways than one.
In 1902, Daniel Buntin came home from European travel, enlightened and inspired. He wanted to bring the European-style arcades to Nashville. Together, his family and the Nichol family created what we now know as the Arcade, connecting Fourth and Fifth Avenue. The European influence is obvious in the structure — specifically in the matching Palladian entrances on each avenue. The glass rooftop allows in light and shields bad weather, and it was installed by Nashville Bridge Company. News of the exciting development created a buzz about town because, at its grand opening celebration in 1903, there were over 40,000 people in attendance. Nashville’s first shopping center opened with a bang!
Currently, you’ll find over 50 different vendors in the building, some of which were there from the beginning. A quaint post office sits in the center of the Arcade on the first floor. Buzzy and busy, the USPS has consistently kept the people of downtown wandering into and out of the Arcade. Additionally, Walgreen’s (located on the corner) has been a mainstay in the development nearly since its inception. It, too, holds a significant piece of Nashville’s and America’s history — it was the location of the Nashville sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement in 1960. These two “anchor tenants,” as Ellen More calls them, have been witness to the many changes of the Arcade.
Ellen, a shareholder and board member of the Arcade, played a significant role (along with many others) in filling the second floor of the development with artists. The studios are rented out to artists of all types — from our recent FACE, Valentina Harper, to architects and photographers and beyond. It was this change in the late 2000s that started to revitalize the Arcade in a new way. In 2006, the First Saturday Art Crawl began, and for one day each month, the artists at the Arcade open their doors and invite visitors in. The second level of the shopping center fills with visitors eager to meander in and out of art galleries. Guests have the chance to speak with artists face-to-face and learn more about their art and, oftentimes, their stories. Find the works of Andy Anh Ha, Valentina Harper, Emily Cathcart, Amiee Stubbs, Josh Newman and so many more lining the top floor of the Arcade.
Downstairs, a diverse mix of local businesses line the promenade, offering shopping, services and a bite to eat. You’ll spot the mainstays, Walgreens and USPS, as well as some of the other longstanding spots loved by locals. The Peanut Shop has been in the Arcade since 1927. In its first 40 years, it was a Planters Peanuts shop, until the company closed its stores in 1960. In the years of Planters Peanuts, a big Mr. Peanut would wander the Arcade, handing out fresh roasted peanuts to its visitors. On their website, the owners share that visitors still ask about Mr. Peanut and share their fond memories of the friendly figure. “Percy” Person, another beloved figure of Arcade, opened Percy’s Shine Service in 1990. Today, he celebrates almost 30 years in the Arcade (and many, many more years of shoe shining). Around the same time, Ellen notes, Semra opened Alterations by Semra, a Nashville go-to for clothing alterations. These are the spots that carry on the legacy and story of the Arcade.
The beauty of this place, though, is its interesting balance of old and new and sophisticated and approachable and funky and classic. Right beside Manny’s House of Pizza, which for decades has been regarded as one of the best pizzas in Nashville, relative newcomer Red Perch opened its doors about a year ago. There, you can find Australian-style fish and chips. Across the way, enjoy a Mediterranean bite from Pita Plus Gyro. The eclectic options offer cuisines for every palate — including Mexican restaurants, delis and more. One of the newest spots is Kitchen Downtown, which opened its doors earlier this year. It occupies the space across from Walgreens, which means its location (an end spot) allows for hours outside of the standard 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. timeframe when the gates are open. Sandwiches are their bread and butter, if you will, but they also serve fresh salads and a few mouthwatering tacos. Its neighbor, Ajora, has been around a little longer, serving authentic (and delicious) Ethiopian food to Nashville.
“We’re glad to have so many independent and mom-and-pop places. It sort of has a family atmosphere to it,” Ellen tells us, which makes sense — the Arcade has stayed in her own family for several generations. Other businesses within its walls, too, are family-run, like Manny’s House of Pizza, owned and operated by husband and wife Manny and Adele Macca. But it’s more than just blood that makes this place feel like family. There’s a sense of community in the air, whether from the tables and chairs set up for shared dining or from the years and years of history held within its walls. This quirky piece of Nashville history has the unique ability to hold onto a no-frills, nostalgic piece of old Nashville, amid our growth spurt and changing landscape. Stop into the Arcade for a taste of that nostalgia, and be sure to block off a little time to chat with store owners and pizza tossers and shoe shiners, for a glimpse into the part they play in its existence.
All photos by Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography
The Arcade is located at 65 Arcade, Nashville, TN 37219. The hours are Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The First Saturday Art Crawl hours are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Each business can set their own hours within those days and times, so if you’re looking for a specific spot, call or check their website. Find a full list of tenants here.
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