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Living and Doing Business in Nashville: 1985 and 2017

January 12, 2017 Jeff Bradford

Next year marks my 32nd year as a Nashvillian. I arrived on June 15, 1985 to work for Holder Kennedy PR, which, at the time, was one of the largest PR firms in the Southeast.

nashville downtown cropNashville was a totally different city in the mid-1980s. Downtown was a ghost town in the evening and the regional malls in Goodlettsville and Antioch were killing it. There were two strong daily papers – the morning Tennessean and the afternoon Nashville Banner – and competition between them was fierce. Most of the power in town resided in a few zip codes on the west side, and people in that part of town would not be caught dead in other parts of the city, like Germantown, East Nashville and the “other side” of Belmont – which is known as 12South today.

But, a lot has stayed the same, as well, like the business community’s openness to outsiders. If you’re smart and work hard, it has never mattered who your daddy is in this town – at least not in the 32 years I’ve been here. Health care is still the dominant industry and Nashvillians are still a very civic-minded people – donating to and volunteering for charitable organizations at a higher rate than most other cities.

So, to mark the New Year, I put together the table below that compares what our city was like in 1985 versus how it is today. I’m confident I’ve not exhausted all of the possible comparisons. Please use the comment section below to add others – or send them to me at and I’ll add them to this chart.

1985 2017
Chamber of Commerce is a closed organization, very little member involvement in policy. Chamber of Commerce actively reaches out to involve members.
The Nashville Area Junior Chamber of Commerce is an arm of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, has over 600 members and is THE organization for young businesspeople. The Nashville Area Junior Chamber of Commerce is an independent organization, has about 200 members and is one of several organizations for young businesspeople.
Two daily newspapers battle each other for scoops. One daily newspaper battles online media for scoops.
You could simply walk into the newsroom at either The Tennessean or Nashville Banner and talk with reporters. Tight security at The Tennessean.
Downtown Nashville is dead, but Second Avenue is starting to show life; Lower Broad is a porn district. Downtown Nashville is 24/7 and one of the hottest residential districts in town.
“Hee Haw” defines Nashville’s national image. “It City” defines Nashville’s national image.
Banking is dominated by three local banks: First American, Third National and Commerce Union Nashville is one of the most overbanked markets in the country.
Couriers carry papers around town for signatures and approval. Email.
Good Old Boy politics reigns in the courthouse We haven’t had a native mayor since Bill Boner – and after Boner, they’ve all been pretty good.
East Nashville is “dangerous.” East Nashville is expensive.
Germantown isn’t a thing. Germantown is the thing.
Homebuyers are advised not to buy a house inside of I-440. Property values inside of I-440 are exploding.
Sylvan Park is the up-and-coming neighborhood. Sylvan Park is the up-and-coming neighborhood.
Cummins Station is an abandoned warehouse and The Gulch is abandoned industrial property. Cummins Station and The Gulch are thriving.
Parents of public school children are locked into a monopolistic public education system. Parents of public school children have choices with magnet and charter schools.
There are three truly “white tablecloth” restaurants: Mario’s, Julian’s, Arthur’s It is impossible to keep up with the number of great restaurants in Nashville.
Healthcare is the dominant industry. Healthcare is the dominant industry.
It is common for business people to have a drink, or two, at lunch. It is decidedly déclassé to drink alcohol at lunch during the workweek.
People smoke at their desks. Nobody smokes in public.
Everyone with a white-color job wears a tie. Bankers and lawyers wear ties – sometimes.
Opryland is the biggest tourist attraction. Nashville itself is the biggest tourist attraction.
Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee. Nashville is the largest city in Tennessee.
There are a bazillion churches in Nashville. There are a bazillion churches in Nashville.
Hickory Hollow Mall is thriving. Hickory Hollow Mall died and is coming back to life as something different.
Traffic was OK, unless you commute from Sumner County – because I-65 north is always under construction. Traffic is awful pretty much everywhere.
There are a few fledgling health care tech companies, and no “pure” tech companies. There are lots and lots of health care tech companies – and few tech companies serving other industries.
There is an apartment boom. There is an apartment boom.
Prince’s Hot Chicken owns the hot chicken market – but few people outside East Nashville know what hot chicken is. Nashville is recognized as the hot chicken capital of the world – even by Nashvillians – and Prince’s has plenty of competition.
Most business owners are businessmen. While it is not 50/50, women are well represented among business owners.
Most businessmen have a secretary, which is usually a woman. Thanks to technology, very few people have a secretary/assistant of any type or gender.
When you are on vacation, you are on vacation. You are never out contact.
A few people have car phones – and it costs an arm and a leg to use them Everybody has a cell phone.
Typewriters. Desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.
News comes in predictable chunks – morning paper, evening paper, morning TV and radio news, evening TV and radio news. News comes all the time – in real time.
Non-natives are welcome. You can succeed in Nashville if you’re smart, friendly and work hard. It does not matter who your daddy is – at least it does not matter a lot. Ditto.
Nashvillians are very civic-minded – giving generously of their time and money to charitable and civic organizations. Ditto.

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Business Journal.

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