In 2009, Matt and Carrie Eddmenson opened Imogene + Willie in an old gas station. In the years since, they have been featured in the pages of GQ and The New York Times. They can count among their customers the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
The transformation at 2601 12th Ave. S. — from an empty building that once held George's Transmission to a chic boutique making and selling $250 raw-denim jeans — is in many ways emblematic of the evolution in the 12South neighborhood as a whole. Once dismissed by locals as "The Bad Side of Belmont," the area has turned into one of the city's hottest spots, with a hip name to boot.
But a recent flap surrounding Imogene + Willie's Supper + Song series — a free once-a-month hangout in the shop's backyard, where folks from the neighborhood and beyond could come to eat dinner from a food truck and listen to local, or even national musical acts — seems symptomatic of the sometimes awkward middle ground between neighborhood and commercial destination that 12South now represents.
In a post earlier this month on the shop's website, Carrie Eddmenson relayed the news that Supper + Song — which had been running in some form since shortly after the shop opened — would be no more.
After receiving a noise complaint from a neighbor last year, Eddmenson wrote, they had hired an attorney to help them understand and follow the sound ordinance. In the following months, the police were called several times, "even though music was always over by 8:30 p.m., and the decibel level was within code."
This year, she wrote, they made sure that musical acts played stripped-down sets and started earlier, so the music would finish by 8 p.m.
"And we checked that decibel level religiously," Eddmenson wrote. "Why? Because we get it. We are a non-traditional business sitting on a corner: one foot in a thriving, ever evolving business district on a main thoroughfare. And the other foot in a precious, peaceful neighborhood side street."
After last month's event, though, Eddmenson wrote that a Metro police officer came to the shop and told Matt that complaints had been coming in for months, and that eventually those complaints had made their way to the district's Metro Council representative. The conversation apparently left the Eddmensons with the impression that if Supper + Song continued, they would be breaking the law — "and possibly worse," upsetting their neighbors, she wrote.
But there seems to have been some miscommunication, or a misunderstanding — most likely both. The announcement of the end of Supper + Song came as a surprise to most of the other interested parties.
"We were all — the neighborhood associations, 12South and Belmont/Hillsboro Neighbors — were all kind of caught off guard by the message that Carrie sent out last week," says John Ray Clemmons, president of Belmont/Hillsboro Neighbors and a former Metro Council candidate.
Clemmons says after learning of the situation, he immediately started making calls to the Eddmensons, council members, and other neighborhood leaders to get more information about what happened.
The same goes for Burkley Allen, the Metro Council representative from District 18, which covers the Belmont/Hillsboro area and borders 12th Avenue South. Allen tells the Scene that any complaints to Metro about noise were directed to the Metro police, not to her. The only communication she received about the matter, she says, was after the fact — from constituents lamenting the end of Supper + Song. At that point, Allen says, like Clemmons, she went about trying to gather more information.
Will Carney, president of the 12South Neighborhood Association, and Sandra Moore, the council representative for District 17, which meets District 18 at 12th Avenue South, could not be reached for comment by press time. But Clemmons says they were equally involved in working to determine what had occurred and identify a possible solution.
As for the police, Metro Nashville Police Department spokeswoman Kristin Mumford tells the Scene that the department received a citizen's complaint one day after last month's event, and sent an officer to meet with the Eddmensons and "let them know about the Metro code regarding excessive noise, and that was it."
"If the impression is that we went there and shut it down, that's not the case," Mumford says.
Clemmons and other residents testify to the Eddmensons' efforts to be good neighbors and cause minimal disturbance to the neighborhood, an attitude that is utterly apparent in Carrie's post explaining the situation. Evidence can even be found in the unassuming appearance of their shop, which from the outside could still be mistaken for the vacant former home of George's Transmission. They opted not to be interviewed for this story but emailed a statement that they would not be leading any push to revive Supper + Song themselves.
"We have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from people in the community and around the world showing appreciation and support for Supper + Song," the statement reads. "Out of consideration for the concerned neighbors, we are not personally challenging the decision to end the series but so appreciate that there are initiatives on behalf of Imogene + Willie by folks in the community to come up with a solution."
According to Clemmons, that solution is in the works. Yet even that illustrates the unique situation represented by 12South and neighborhoods like it. While the concerned parties thought that perhaps a permit of some kind could rectify the situation, Clemmons says they couldn't find an existing permit that covered such a niche event in such a niche setting. As a result, he says, the solution will likely have to involve action from the Metro Council.
Allen describes 12South as an "early experiment" in the type of mixed-use areas that she believes will continue to develop around the city. Perhaps the most analogous would be the Five Points area in East Nashville, where decades-old houses line streets leading up to an ever-busy hub of bars and restaurants.
In general, Allen says she thinks most people feel 12South's has been "a wonderful transformation." Whatever tension exists, she proposes, may be felt most by people who lived in the area long before their streets were lined with the cars of people heading out for a night on their part of town.
"There are people who lived there when it was a sleepy little street and noise was not an issue," Allen says. "And that's a major change, which they may not have bargained for when they moved onto their sleepy little street. So it's going to take some good communication and just kind of laying out some ground rules, figuring out when can this be appropriate, and do we want to provide some conditions that will make it something that we can live with and enjoy."
Allen explains that the area along 12th Avenue South has been zoned for commercial use, but that once you get a mere half-block off 12th, it's strictly residential.
"I think typically what zoning tries to do is provide some type of a buffer between commercial and residents," she says. "And often that may look like some multifamily [housing] or something like that," she says. "This area has already sort of developed in a way that doesn't have that natural buffer. So I think there are a lot of very engaged and active neighbors that often join in conversations of how are we all going to learn to live together."
In an April cover story for The City Paper, longtime Scene contributor Kay West, a 19-year 12South resident, wrote of "the racket of rotating cement truck hulls" and "the cacophony of jackhammers" ringing out through the neighborhood as of late. More than anything, she says, those are the sounds — emanating from the numerous teardown/rebuild home projects in the area and the construction of 12South Flats — bringing discord to the neighborhood.
Clemmons says that while any concerns will be heard as a solution is worked out, he doesn't believe it's the Eddmensons who have disrupted harmony in 12South. Instead, he too calls out the 12South Flats project, the four-story apartment/retail complex that was the subject of a Scene cover story earlier this summer ("The Hills Have Eyes," July 5).
"Matt and Carrie are symbolic, and their small business is symbolic, of the character of our neighborhood," Clemmons says. "They're young, creative and hardworking, and so 12South neighborhood and Belmont/Hillsboro neighborhood, at their essence, will always remain residential areas. Now these small businesses and things that come in only add to the value of our neighborhood. And we embrace them."
By contrast, he says, the contentious 12South Flats project "demonstrates a complete lack of desire to work with the neighborhood."
For now, there are no more Supper + Song concerts scheduled at Imogene + Willie. But that doesn't mean the 12South boutique has abandoned festivity altogether. On Thursday, Sept. 13, the shop hosts a preview party for the upcoming nD Festival at The Belcourt, with a portion of proceeds going to the Hillsboro Village arthouse. There'll be indie merchants, artisans — and, yes, music from performer Shelly Colvin.
If you go, watch where you park. And clap softly.