If you’ve strolled the streets of Downtown Nashville, the odds are favorable that you’ve encountered two of the neighborhood’s beloved residents, Miss Dixie and Miss Daisy. Most likely dressed to the nines with their dads proudly tagging along, these French bulldogs are part of one of downtown’s fastest-growing populations— dogs.
There are more dogs currently living in downtown Nashville than there were actual people in 2006, when the neighborhood first experienced its most recent renaissance. Yet, on the very precipice of an unimaginable new beginning, Nashville grieves with the nearly 14,000 human residents of Downtown Nashville trying to make sense of the Christmas Day bombing.
“I can set my watch by when specific people would come in, and what they would order. I kind of wish we were open this week to be there for our neighbors,” says David Andrews after evacuating his family from their downtown home. He’s the owner of D’Andrews Bakery and Cafe on Church Street. But, more importantly, one of the Frenchys’ dads.
Open since 2018, Andrews says that as soon as he started renovating his “restaurant masquerading as a bakery” on the ground floor of the Cumberland Building, he knew that he also wanted to live downtown. He and his family now live a mere one and one-half blocks away from work in the Exchange Buildings.
In the neighboring Church Street Lofts lives Janet Kurtz, her husband Ron Gobbell, and their yellow Labrador, Vino. Gobbell developed the extraordinary space, built in 1852. That’s nearly an entire decade prior to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. It’s now home to 17-residential lofts within the Cheatham Building.
Kurtz represents businesses like D’Andrews and other neighborhood hospitality staples with her firm, Kurtz Hospitality Marketing. She strongly believes in the community’s collective power, “We all know each other. We know each other’s dogs’ names. We see each other in a restaurant and end up joining tables. It’s very much a community.”
So, when something like the Christmas Day bombing happens to a community, the magnitude of such a loss can feel quite palpable.
“I’m trying to move through the stages of grief. This morning I was angry so I went for a run,” says Kurtz. She and her family were visiting Florida when the news broke about the bombing. She entrusted her neighbors to secure their home from the elements after the bombing, which they did without question.
Also without question, Miss Dixie and Miss Daisy did their business on the patio rather than the nearby park on Christmas morning. They joined their dads on an early departure for their pre-planned Miami Beach holiday. “They put a curfew in downtown for our street. We were worried we couldn’t go. But, when the cop saw two guys and their French bulldogs, he smiled and said it was a good time to leave,” says Andrews.
Of course, these aren’t the only community accounts.
As seen on video footage from a police bodycam worn by Officer Michael Sipos just prior to the bombing, a man named Timothy was asked to move out of harm’s way. The accompanying policewoman explained he had done nothing wrong and he wasn’t in trouble. Timothy was sleeping in front of Dick’s Last Resort with a nearby Christmas tree fully decorated and still lit that chilling Christmas morning.
Timothy is a member of this thriving community. Timothy is homeless. Timothy lives with mental illness.
Downtown residents were already worried for Timothy, whose access to mental health services and medications was further limited due to circumstances stemming from the March tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kurtz.
The cumulative effects 2020 has had on Music City often seems never-ending.
Historic Downtown Nashville is what Andrews describes as “spent.” No hashtag or meme can ever change such a personal feeling. It’s part of loss, no matter how big or small that loss may be. This is what grief looks like. Still, from this very fluid process comes healing.
“I’m looking forward to sharing our experiences with our customers and neighbors. How are they coping with it? Just talking it out. I’m looking forward to the new year, the vaccine, and moving beyond this. I’m getting homesick just talking about it,” says Andrews.
When the time for healing comes, locals will find their new center in a town with a certain “it” factor that doesn’t live in bricks and mortar. It lives in the vibrant communities that call Nashville home.
Another neighborhood favorite gathering place in historic Printers Alley, Black Rabbit, also received damage. But, Kurtz is confident that Chef/Owner Trey Cioccia, “will be the first one that’s going to say he’ll feed people at his other restaurant, The Farm House, who are in need, because that’s what community does.”
Miss Dixie and Miss Daisy will assuredly strut their stuff once again. With Vino leading the way, Kurtz and Gobbell will undoubtedly run into someone they know, pull up a few extra chairs, and raise their glasses to their treasured town.
Still, Timothy’s future remains as unclear as the many theories lingering amongst the ashes of the Christmas Day bombing. It will take more than #NashvilleStrong for a healthy Phoenix to indeed rise.