In a corner of Riverside Village, a small retail development in East Nashville, a white brick building sits quietly. It is dark, and a pale string of lights twinkle from the inside. Upon closer inspection, the light bulbs are actually tiny skull heads, each one grinning mischievously at passersby, daring them to come inside.
To those who recall this neighborhood in recent years, the old white building doesn’t even resemble the dog grooming business it used to be. After the owners were found mistreating the animals, the business shut down, and the white brick building sat vacant, smelling of wet dogs and aged urine, for what seemed like a long time.
Upon entering the building now, the most noticeable thing is the artwork splashed across the walls. The giant canvases depict larger-than-life caricatures of Soul greats. Aretha Franklin wails across the room in blocks of pastel blues and purples. The display reps the local Nashville artist Tim Kerr.
Looking around the remainder of the front room of the building yields a jumbled array of odds and ends; from stacks of old magazines in the corner to several expired license plates hanging in the window, miniature oil paintings and tea sets filled with fraying books of matches. Walking into this building today feels more like falling down the rabbit hole in “Alice and Wonderland” than wandering into a pet cemetery.
Going past the front room under a door mounted with horns and through a small, dark foyer, the next room is the centerpiece for what the new incarnation of this place is all about: Records.
In the record room of Fond Object Record Shop, vinyl encompasses the majority of the square footage. Rows and rows of different music, from the groovy beats of Grand Funk Railroad to the angsty punk yells of the late great Jay Reatard, the selection differs from the typical fair of other record stores found around music city.
Behind the register is one of the four owners of the shop, Jeff Pettit.
The shop cat Fabian, a tiny and exceedingly friendly tabby, stretches sideways across a black leather chair beside him.
Pettit, as to be expected, sits thumbing through a recent purchase of new additions to the shop, most of which are pseudo-rare releases from Record Store Day, a yearly event created in 2007 by independent record store owners all over the country.
Last year’s Record Store Day saw Pettit, along with the three members of LA garage-rock band The Ettes- Lindsey “Coco” Hames, Maria “Poni” Silver and Jeremy “Jem” Cohen- opening Fond Object’s doors for the first time.
Pettit originally met The Ettes in 2006 at a tiny coffee shop in Austin. He had only recently discovered the band, and by pure luck happened upon an unremarkable blurb advertising the band’s show in Austin that very night.
“There were only six or so people at the venue,” said Jeff. “And after the show I went up to talk to them. I ended up taking them downtown for drinks and showing them around.”
The group became fast friends.
Pettit, an avid record collector for the past 20 years, had plenty of common ground with the trio, musical and otherwise, and the band came to stay with him in Austin several times over the following years while on tour.
On one such occasion, the idea for a record shop came to light. The Ettes, weary of touring after nearly a decade, wanted a new creative outlet. The record shop in Austin that employed Pettit for years shut down, leaving him jobless and sitting on a personal collection of more than 20,000 records in need of a new home.
The circumstances for the realization of Fond Object fell into place just like that.
Pettit and the members of The Ettes saved money and dreamed of the day they could open up a record shop. When a ‘For Rent’ sign went up in an old, white brick building in the corner of Riverside Village, the group made their leap of faith.
It took two U-hauls to get Pettit’s record collection to Nashville, but it didn’t matter. Fond Object now had its base inventory.
Records may be the main vehicle of sale at Fond Object, but by no means the one and only. To the left of the record room is a space filled with racks of vintage and locally hand made clothing. Poni Silver, the drummer of The Ettes, designs the creations for her eponymous clothing line. She travels to show her line in fashion shows all over the country.
In the center of the boutique room stands a coffee table surrounded by an array of mismatched seating. A psychedelic orange chair the color of Tang. A white victorian armchair plastered in faded flowers. The corners of the room are filled with worn musical instruments and shelves filled with knick knacks. There’s even a corner for the kids, with a rack of children’s clothing and antique toys.
Going through a pair of dirty french doors reveals the back section of the shop. It eventually will be used as an owner meeting place and hang out area, but in the mean time it acts as a vessel for the shop’s extra inventory of odds, ends and furnishings.
At a large round dining table on the right side of the room, surrounded by a few too many chairs, sits a sleepy-eyed Jem Cohen.
So far, Fond Object is owner-operated only, though the crew hope eventually to bring in a couple of employees. Until then, the owners of Fond Object run the shop from morning till night. Not the most conducive situation for getting a good night sleep.
As he takes a slug of his coffee, Cohen reflects on what the year taught him, as well as his hopes for the new year. The original vision of the shop held strong over the first year.
The owners have a goal of for Fond Object not only to be a record store, but like its name sake, a place full of objects. “We have our hands in everything we dig,” said Cohen. “But it all flows together in the same world.”
The endless assortment of clothing, figurines, reading material, furnishings and musical equipment in addition to the vinyl carried by the store points to the very vision he speaks of. “We’re the local creepy department store,” said Cohen.
After touring on the upside of 10 years with The Ettes, it’s safe to assume Cohen is happy to stay planted in one place for a while.
Owning a shop like Fond Object allows him to express himself in other creative ways.
“It feels a lot like touring, and it feels a lot like being in a band because it’s still a community of people,” said Cohen.
If it’s community the owners of Fond Object were looking for, they picked the right place. In addition to support from their Riverside Village neighbors, music venues like The Stone Fox on the west side of Nashville and Foo Bar, just a few blocks from Fond Object on Gallatin Pike, have lent helping hands. Hop Stop, a new “filling station” where folks in East Nashville can come to hang out and fill up personal one-gallon beer growlers with local brews, even commissioned a jukebox filled with 45s from Fond Object. With Pettit as musical curator of the newly installed jukebox, the two businesses are helping one another out, utilizing cross promotion and building each other’s professional connections.
Cohen points out a small shack towards the end of the back yard. The record shop plays small, acoustic shows there occasionally.
“It’s a run down, ramshackle house until you put some Christmas lights in, clean it out a bit. At night time it looks pretty cool,” said Cohen.
The shack can hold about 50 or 60 people, but the back patio can hold upwards of 500.
In the warmer months, there is more than enough room for booths and food trucks to set up during in-store performances.
On Sundays in summer, Fond Object projects movies on the back wall onto a 15 foot screen.
With a hand in almost every avenue of entertainment, Fond Object could become a one stop destination for tourists in search of something one-of-a-kind, and a haunt for offbeat local music aficionados looking for a special treasure. April 20th marks Fond Object’s one year anniversary, and plans for the event, as well as additions Fond Object will make in the year to come, are in full swing.
In the light of the early afternoon, the skull lights in the window no longer taunt people as they pass by. Instead, flanked by sunny yellow curtains, they welcome customers in with an inviting grin.