It’s a story you know all too well: Several years or even several decades after a small business has become widely loved, the owners and/or operators of the business learn that their landlords are getting ready to sell the property. Several variations on this theme have come into play just this year. The team that runs the Mercy Lounge suite of venues is not signing a lease with the new owner of its longtime home on Cannery Row and plans to move elsewhere in the summer; beloved dive bar and karaoke spot Fran’s East Side is looking for a spot to relocate to; Exit/In’s Chris and Telisha Cobb continue their campaign to buy the land that the club resides on from the development firm that bought it earlier this year.
Michael Combs and Jesse Cartwright have owned and operated long-running East Nashville record store The Groove since 2017. The space has been the site of many free events, from vinyl signings to massive Record Store Day parties to horror movie nights and beyond. You may recall that The Groove’s RSD 2011 party was an important step in the career of the Alabama Shakes, who’d played relatively few shows outside their home state before then.
Today, word comes that the owner of the building has informed Combs and Cartwright of plans to sell early next year. In a heartening and somewhat unusual turn of events, they’ve been given first right of refusal on buying the repurposed house at 1103 Calvin Ave. However, the asking price is steep, as you might expect if you’ve tried to buy or rent a home in Nashville in the past decade.
The exact figure hasn’t been disclosed, but Combs and Cartwright have launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $500,000 — click on through to give what you can. Per a post on Instagram, they have until Jan. 31 to secure the necessary funding. Combs and Cartwright, noting their discomfort with asking for help from a community that’s been so enthusiastically supportive, also say they don’t wish to benefit financially from the campaign. If they’re able to buy the building and someday close the business, they’re offering to either return 70 percent of each person’s donation or give that money to a charitable organization of their choice.
Update, Nov. 15, 6 p.m.: Following reports of the link to the GoFundMe being down, Combs says in an email to the Scene that there is an issue on GoFundMe's end that they're attempting to resolve with the platform. The link is currently down but we'll update it if it changes.
Update, Nov. 16, 2:30 p.m.: The GoFundMe campaign is live again at the original link above.
Below, read the full text of the Instagram post.
“Hello All-Jesse at the Groove.
"Michael and I have found ourselves in an all to common situation affecting many small businesses in a rapidly growing Nashville. Our landlord is selling the property we currently occupy. This part of our story is not unique. However, this is the first opportunity the Groove has had to buy our property as we have "right of first refusal". Also, not singular to us, is the asking price for the property. Nashville is a hot market and while that is great for all business, it does create hardships for small businesses such as ours. Many are tasked with coming up with unimaginable amounts to purchase property to continue operating, face exponential increases in rent, are forced to move, or ultimately end up shutting their doors for good. All of that applies to our current situation. We have until Jan. 31st, 2022 to come up with the purchase price, move our store, or close permanently.
Like I said this isn't unique to the Groove, but let me tell you what is unique. We are a true owner run indie record store. Michael and I run all aspects of the business from social media to inventory to booking and planning the events to running the register. You can usually find at least one of us behind the counter and that's what makes it so special.
The Groove is an East Nashville original since its inception in 2007. We love the community and have strived to create a welcoming atmosphere, hold free community events and support local musicians signed and unsigned alike. Our motto since Michael and I took over the shop in Aug 2017 has always been ‘Where Music is for Everyone’. The Groove is an LGBTQ+ owned record store which is why we wanted to create a safe space for all lovers of music in our store. Shockingly, LGBTQ record stores seem to be in the tiniest of minorities and this needs to change. Record stores in their heyday were the places the outcasts and weirdos (if you will) could go and escape. They could be who they wanted to be and listen to the music they wanted to without fear. We love that our customers can walk through the door and feel comfortable and welcome and appreciated. No judgment here just music for all.
The Backyard is host to annual events like our Record Store Day blowout, Fright Night Fridays and Spooky Ghoul Fest in October, artist meet 'n greets, movies, and a place for local kids to take the stage. Events like these are free and help fuel community. These events have also allowed us to give back with fundraisers that have benefitted Second Harvest, Bonaparte Retreats, Tennessee Kidney, and Music Neighbors.
It terrifies me and Michael to have to now ask the community we love so much for help. Our customers are some of the best and without them we wouldn't be here. Over the past few years, it hasn't always been easy but it is our love of community and music that kept us going. In late 2018, I was diagnosed with late-stage chronic kidney disease and by February of 2019 I was in kidney failure and on dialysis. Five days a week for five hours at a time, I went through dialysis. We did this for over a year while running the store. By some miracle, it turned out that Michael was a donor match and he gave me a kidney in July of 2020.
At the same time, my mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She passed away September of 2020. We kept on through Covid, the medical bills, and rising costs by depleting our personal finances because we love music, we love the store and we love the people who walk through our doors. That is why this one time we have to ask for help keeping the doors open.
Again, we do not like the idea of taking from those who have already shown us so much love and support. In keeping it unique, we have come up with a bit of twist on this gift is you choose to donate. Our desire is to remain open for our customers and community and not to gain financially by this real estate purchase. So, if we meet our goal and purchase the building, those who donated will receive 70% of their donation back if/when we sell the property or close the store. If you do not wish to receive your donation back then it will go to the charity of your choice.
This is how it will work: If we sell the property in 15 years and you donated $1000, you would either get back $700 or if you so choose that $700 will be donated to a charity of your choosing. We came up with this idea in keeping with the spirit of community. We believe this give back will strengthen our community as long as we remain open and even if we someday close some good will come of that as well. We could never express our love for our customers and all the beautiful relationships that have been brought into our lives. We think (and hope you do as well) that the best way we can show you is to buy this building with your help ‘where music is for everyone’. Hopefully, a wonderful side effect will be keeping just a little bit more of the good old Music City spirit alive.