If Halloween were a store, it would be Hail in East Nashville.
In the heart of the East side off Porter Road, Hail might be the only place where you can buy jewelry and a jarred pig fetus in the same place. But if a pig fetus isn’t quite your style, maybe you’d prefer a human skull, a disembodied mannequin head or a necklace adorned with human teeth.
Hail has a little something weird for everyone.
The antique art gallery turned semi-museum opened last Halloween when collector couple J.D. Tucker and Nina Camp decided to turn their odd hobby into a store. In less than six months, Hail has become a fairly well known hotspot for fellow quirky Nashvillians and collectors.
Immediately when walking into the store, the sound of dark, grunge, spooky-sounding rock fills the air, and the black painted room, equally as dark, gives the impression of walking into a haunted museum. The walls are crowded with deer head mounts, bats and tarantulas in simple picture frames and the occasional Satanic-looking piece of ancient artwork. Black shelves sit against the black walls, holding things like old medical supplies from 1914 and an old prayer box. Cows’ eyes in jars and animal skeletons peer back at customers.
The only worker in the store is owner J.D. Tucker, who enthusiastically shows customers around, doting on his latest items and dropping f-bombs like a sailor. His red hair comes down to his shoulders and he’s wearing dark skinny jeans with a black hoodie zipped all the way to the top. Tattoos and big silver rings cover his fingers.
A man walks up to him with an ashtray in the shape of a naked lady and sets it on the table, offering it to Tucker.
“This is for my personal collection,” Tucker says, smiling.
The man pulls out something else – a small pink box labeled “electric gum massager.” On the inside is a small pair of bare rubber breasts with a two-pronged plug attached to it.
Obviously an essential.
“There’s a lot more weird people in Nashville than I originally thought,” Tucker said, “which is awesome.”
Originally from Houston, Tucker moved to Nashville about three years ago to hang out and play music with his best friend, or as he puts it, to just “be chill, because Houston was not chill.” After moving he became more heavily involved with collecting.
“I got into bones and skulls and stuff and collecting them, and then I started making some jewelry,” he said. “I started and we just called it Hail Jewelry and I kind of just did it in my free time. Basically I made Nina a necklace and it had some claws and bones in it and she was like, this is awesome, you should make more of these.”
After selling his jewelry through Goodbuy Girls, a vintage store in East Nashville, for a year and a half, Tucker and his girlfriend, Nina Camp, realized Nashville didn’t have a place where folks could buy oddities.
So they decided to do it themselves.
“We decided to just take a leap at it in August of last year,” Camp said. “By October 31, our doors were open. It kind of just happened.”
The two acquire oddities through estate sales, fellow collectors, flea markets and customers. The place wouldn’t be nearly so successful if it weren’t for its loyal customers.
“I love that weird feeling you get as soon as you walk in,” said Joe Summerlin, a regular Hail visitor. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good kind of weird, but it’s weird nonetheless. I can’t say I’ve ever walked into another store where I’d see a real stuffed goat or peacock staring at me.”
Hail customers can’t be characterized as a single type of person. The people who buy weird things range from old men covered in tattoos with a passion for collecting, to the preppy soccer mom who specifically sent her lawyer-husband to buy her the weirdest thing in the store as a birthday gift. (He bought her a mummified pig that was cut length-wise, exposing half of its organs. Romantic).
“You’ll never find a greater bunch of people in your whole life,” Camp said. “It’s like the first day of school when you realized who your best friend was going to be because of their Trapper Keeper cover. People who shop with us have a spiritual link to my heart because they get it, man.”
Tucker got especially excited about the guy who came in and ignored his girlfriend because he was too busy playing with the proctology kit.
“I was like, that just makes my day,” he said. “I’m doing it right.”
The rest of the customers get involved, too.
Sitting by the checkout desk on a small podium lies a thick hardback book with words scribbled in a dozen different handwritings on every page. It’s the Hail wish book, where customers write what they’re looking for. Things Tucker and Camp can hopefully find.
You know, like a human brain.
In addition to selling organs and bones, Hail recently started offering taxidermy classes. For $200, people can sign up for a weekend-long taxidermy class instructed by Katie Innamorato who works at a museum in New York. In the next round of classes, on May 31 and June 1, students choose what they want to stuff – a mole, rat or guinea pig.
“It’s so much fun,” said Camp. “After taking one personally, it’s nowhere near as messy as you’d think. You come in with nothing and leave with your own piece of taxidermy!”
All this excitement with the store – and in only five months.
Tucker and Camp have big dreams for the future of the store, and with the successful way things are going now, reaching them doesn’t seem entirely unattainable.
“In the next year, I hope that we’ve got a full giraffe,” said Camp. “That’s pretty much my only dream. I hugged a taxidermy neck of a giraffe once at Third Man…and ever since that day I’ve known a giraffe would be mine.”
Tucker, on the other hand, wants a zebra head mount and a bigger space.
“In a way we’re kind of a museum but we’re like a museum where practically everything is for sale at the same time,” Tucker said. “My main goal is to be a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not where you can literally buy anything.”
The free-spirited couple takes each day as it comes, and they seem to love every second of it.
Can Hail be described in one sentence?
“Don’t come in here if you’ve got a weak stomach,” said Camp.