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VOL. 41 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 4, 2017

Norman family tradition lives on at Bud’s Corner

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“That man (Terry) is nice and friendly and makes you welcome every time you come into his store,” says Robert Buggs, a customer who has been coming to the corner store since Terry was a child.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

Willie Eason is a regular visitor to Bud’s Corner, an oft-overlooked section of North Nashville real estate named for Edward “Bud” Norman, the man who owned this three-block section of the city, putting a firm stamp of family and love on it that continues eight years after his death.

His son, Terry, 63, is the “mayor” of Bud’s Corner, maintaining stability here on Buchanan Street – about a half-block off D.B. Todd ­– even as the neighborhood declined from disuse after many middle-class Nashvillians chased mercantile, educational and residential needs out to the suburbs.

Now Bud’s Hardware & Key Shop is not only the neighborhood “go-to” for toilet valves, drain snakes and the like, it is a literal cornerstone of revitalization as gentrification begins its slow but sure takeover of the Buchanan Street Business District and surrounding neighborhood.

What Terry has maintained here in Bud’s Corner is a neighborhood hub of commerce and good conversation that now is seeing even more traffic thanks to the needs of crews working to revive old homes or build skinny new ones for the invaders not only from the other side of the tracks, but from Los Angeles, New York, Joliet or whatever the latest hipster launching pad.

“I come in here because he knows how to do it,” says Willie, nodding toward Terry. He is loyal to Bud’s, except for during Sunday night emergencies. For example, the night before Willie and I huddle in the plumbing section of Bud’s, he was forced to patronize a soul-sucking box store.

“I’m a deacon at King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church,” says Willie, adding he only went to the hardware behemoth because Bud’s was closed. (Terry’s monument of screwdrivers, fertilizer and All-American values is open 7-6 Monday-Saturday, 7-2 Sundays.)

Willie was longtime sous-chef de cuisine at what was an outlaw-era, Vegas-flavored Nashville hot spot: Roger Miller’s King of the Road Motor Inn and “The Roof,” its rocking and rolling top floor restaurant and bar. It was not uncommon to come upon the city’s musical elite – Roger, of course, lived there part-time with his family – while the house band, led by sightless and soulful country hero Ronnie Milsap, played long and hard into the night.

A journalist I know too well spent a lot of time, even a New Year’s Eve or two, at Roger’s joint.

Deacon Willie and I both lament what has become of that glitz-and-rhinestone monument, its long decline serving as a stunning example of Nashville’s decades of urban decay and now ­– and it’s about damn time – rebirth.

The Clarion Hotel Downtown-Stadium (inside the old King of the Road shell) is likely a fine place and I’m sure refurbished nicely for the hordes of tourists who add to the “It City” myth by carrying their offerings to the altar – actually the tip jars and beer bars – at Tootsie’s, Robert’s or any of the joints that make up Nashville’s Lower Broad, honky-tonk Disney World.

I’ve never visited the hotel since Roger left town, and, dang me, I should. But the building is no longer the celebratory HQ of Nashville high life. The damn nice guy and witty genius who sang of trailers for sale or rent and the dangers of roller-skating in a buffalo herd succumbed to cancer in 1992. He was 56.

Before retiring to his beloved North Nashville home, Deacon Willie, 72, spent 39 years as chef at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Nashville Branch.

“Today I’m here with this,” Willie points out, holding up small copper pipe that, when working properly, carries water from beneath his kitchen sink to his home refrigerator’s ice-maker.

“Last night, there was some hissing under the sink,” he says, following up that statement by making the “sssssssssss” sound created by the water leak.

He’s waiting his turn to get Terry to take a look at the faulty connector pipe and help him figure out how to replace it.

“I been coming in here since I’ve been in the neighborhood,” Willie adds. “I remember when Terry was little. Terry’s father was a good, fine gentleman who knew how to treat customers. He knows, too.” He motions his busted pipe part toward Terry.

Indeed, Deacon Willie is just one of a storm of loyal customers keeping Bud’s Hardware not only thriving, but continually busy. At least it was during the three days I spent in those friendly confines where everything from pipe to locks to weed killer and grass seed is easily found.

Terry and his crew also cut glass to order for replacing busted windows.

Terry proudly will tell you that pretty much all hardware, landscaping and building needs can be filled here. Heck, there even are fishing rods over on the wall near a rainbow of colors of plastic Weed Eater string.

Bud’s Hardware started its life as an A&W Root Beer stand, but has been Bud’s Hardware since 1965. Terry Norman, who now runs the hardware store, also worked at the drive-in mixing root beer.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

Outside, beneath the awning, fishing bait shares space with grass seed. And yes, the American Flag waves proudly above a wall where a 20-foot extension ladder serves as exclamation point.

“Dad started out with Bud’s Curb Market in 1956,” says Terry, after he and long-time employee Gary Floyd find the right parts and try to guide Deacon Willie through the task he faces when working beneath the kitchen sink to reconnect the icemaker.

Gary, who has worked in the hardware store for 25 years, notes that he’s “mostly in sales. ... I make sure we’ve got stuff on the shelves. … I also make sure this place is good and clean.” Gary pilots a broom to eliminate dirt that’s invisible to an old, bleary-eyed journalist.

“What’s up, T?” says another man who enters the store in pursuit of some sort of thingamajig. Terry – aka “T” – asks him what he needs and, without a pause, Gary steps in to lead the man to it. I don’t know what it is, as I always try to stay out of the way when I invade someone’s business for a few hours.

But I do see the man smiling broadly as he steps out the front door onto the sidewalk of Bud’s Corner at 16th Avenue North & Buchanan.

He had disappeared into the traffic by the time I made it outside to ask his name. Seemed like a nice guy, though. Happy, too.

My time with Terry comes in spurts during my visits, as he’s working hard, along with his son, Jonathon, and with Gary. Got to keep the customers satisfied.

“A lot of people call me ‘Bud,’ and I don’t mind, but that was my dad,” he explains.

“You know what a curb market is?” he asks, motioning through the windows and across Buchanan where he’s now landlord to the folks who’ve been leasing “Bud’s Curb Market” since sometime in the ’80s.

“That’s where people drive right up to the curb and you carry their groceries to them,” he explains. “Don’t think there are many around … They don’t do it there anymore, either.”

Amid customers’ testosterone-fueled discussions of “how to fix stuff” and comparisons of their nuts and bolts, Terry tells me that this building once was a teenage haven, an A&W Root Beer establishment that opened around 1960.

Gary Floyd dusts off a display case.at Bud’s Corner Hardware Store.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

“You know it was like a Sonic,” Terry recalls. “We took the orders out to people’s cars.”

There also were windows for walk-up service and a few seats inside. “We didn’t do a lot of dining-in here.”

He explains that the A&W was turned into Bud’s Hardware in 1965 or so as a sly businessman’s move by Bud himself.

“My dad had a lot of rental property. Forty-four houses he rented out,” Terry remembers. As a landlord, of course, Bud had to handle upkeep and repair.

He quickly realized that it would be a good move to open a hardware store where he could buy those repair supplies from himself.

Bud’s A&W became just a sweet and frothy memory.

And Bud wasn’t done with his Bud’s Corner business empire.

In 1970, he opened Bud’s Auto Parts just across Buchanan and near the Curb Market. And just across 16th from the hardware store is the former site of Bud’s Auto Repair.

“That was good business,” Terry says. Again, it was one of Bud’s businesses – the parts store – supplying another – the repair shop.

Old Bud, a savvy businessman, gave his wife Daphne (aka “Mickey”) and their family the good life out in West Meade while he tended to this then-thriving, now reawakening Buchanan neighborhood.

The auto parts and auto repair businesses have long been shut down, but I’ve been told by a trio of young, Buchanan-based entrepreneurs that they’re planning to turn the repair shop building into a for-rent party space for receptions and the like.

As Terry answers the phone, his own son, Jonathon, 43 – who one day will take over the business completely – grinds the key-making machine for a customer.

“That’s me there,” says Terry, pointing to an old black-and-white photo mounted on one end of the counter composed of separate islands, allowing customers easy access to hand tools and assorted hardware “smalls” hanging on the wall behind the register and glass-cutting station.

In that old photo – displayed near a long line of FOP, Lodge 5, booster decals – is a young boy whose back is turned to the camera, with bold lettering reading “Bud’s A&W” on his shiny varsity jacket.

“I used to make the root beer,” acknowledges Terry, the kid in that jacket. “You had to mix so many gallons of syrup with so many gallons of water with so many pounds of sugar.”

Terry Norman, right, assists Abraham Ghirmai, making sure glass is cut just right for one of Abraham’s properties.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

Bud turned over all the A&W-making to his son. “I was good at it, too,” says Terry, smiling at the snapshot of his past.

Customer Kevin Jones, 55, is another local resident who finds his way to Bud’s neighborhood hardware store instead of pursuing anonymous frustration while navigating box stores. When he was a kid, he came here for root beer.

“His Daddy and him would be here when he was just a little bitty boy,” says Kevin, remembering the teenage Terry making the brew destined for so many floats and frosty mugs.

“I know a lot of the families in the neighborhood,” says Terry. Most know him as well.

A tall working man briefly enters our conversation. “I need a No. 3 bit,” he says, with Terry responding by reaching into his rack of drill bits.

“You want this?” he asks, handing it over. “We don’t sell very many threes.”

The satisfied man pays for the bit and ambles out onto Buchanan as another customer comes inside to take his place.

“I got two toilets that are too slow. I need some Liquid Fire,” he tells Terry, who returns with a fairly large bottle.

“When you put it in a toilet, it’s not like when you put it in the drain. You need to put it in and flush one time. Then leave it. That will get it where it’s needed,’’ Terry says.

The credit-card scanner isn’t working, so the man fishes a dozen dollar bills from his hip pocket and hands ’em to Terry, who makes change.

Robert Buggs, 70, says he spends his free time – when he’s not fulfilling his duties as the maintenance contractor at the House of God over at 26th North and Heiman – refurbishing homes for the hipster invasion.

He says he stops in at Bud’s Hardware on a regular basis, gathering the tools and materials he needs to fix up the houses or perhaps make repairs when on a mission from God.

“It’s convenient,” he says, then points at Terry. “I been coming here ever since Terry was like that.”

He lowers his right hand to about belt-level to illustrate his early memories of the man some call “Bud,” if they don’t know any better. “That man (Terry) is nice and friendly and makes you welcome every time you come into his store.”

Jonathon Norman, Terry Norman’s son, represents the future of Bud’s Hardware.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

“Abraham!” comes a “Norm”-like chorus of customers and store staffers as a sprightly 73-year-old enters this place where everybody knows his name. “How you doin’?”

Abraham Ghirmai says he too comes here to get tools and stuff to take care of rental property.

Today, as he waits for Terry, and then Gary, to cut some replacement window glass, he sings the praises of this store and the men who occupy it. “I find what I need here and their prices is fair and they are friendly.”

Another regular, a plumber with no need to waste time speaking with a journalist in a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, rushes into the store, heads to what he needs and retrieves it, carrying it to Jonathon at the cash register.

“I’m trying to fix a sink,” the plumber growls, as he speeds out the door. “They (the customers) don’t call me until after they ‘fix’ it themselves.”

During a quiet moment, Terry turns back to me. “I like all the customers and all the relationships.

They come in here, and it’s kind of cool, because they’ve known me since I was a little boy. They treat me like family.”

All romanticizing aside, Terry allows that in addition to the family tradition, he has one major reason for spending up to 10 hours a day here.

“This is what I do to make a living,” he says. “Eating’s a hard habit to break.”

And, he adds, there never was any question he wanted to keep up the successful business begun by Bud: “My dad gave us a pretty good life.”

He reaches back to his desk and picks up a laminated funeral announcement for Regina “Missy” Peoples, who died this spring of heart woes that occurred after she already had beaten leukemia.

“We sure miss her. She was tough …. She knew where everything was.”

Then he smiles. “She wasn’t just an employee, she was a personal friend. All of us here are like family.”

Jonathon is not only “just like family.” He’s the real deal, Terry’s son. He’s also somewhere between a janitor, a bookkeeper and a customer-service rep.

In short, he does anything needed, including running the store when his pop’s gone fishing or perhaps scouting out real estate opportunities.

In fact, Jonathon’s the future of the store. The father of two children, Jonas 15, and Abby 12, says he never really doubted, even when working on his philosophy degree at MTSU, that “I kinda knew I would” spend life at the hardware store and overseeing the future of Bud’s Corner in general.

“The whole reason I’m here is because of my granddad. He was a hero, so it means a lot to me to be a part of this and keep things going,” Jonathon says.

“I spent a lot of time with him, and he passed on a lot of wisdom. Probably the biggest thing was ‘work hard, go to school and you can do whatever you want to do.’

“I’m doing what I want to do.” He smiles while scanning his store filled with implements of destruction and construction.

Grandpa Bud set the mood and manner that continues at this family business. “He was a very charismatic, very caring person.”

Jonathon sees those same qualities in his own father. “My dad has always treated people kindly and with respect,” he notes.

“We have a lot of the same faces who have been coming in for years and years, little old ladies come in and say they remember when it was an A&W and they’d get their root beer here.”

Course the revitalization of Buchanan Street, like so much of Nashville, is dependent on the contractors who need equipment and supplies. This store, Bud’s, is within a few blocks rather than miles of the north-side building boom.

But Jonathon is looking beyond his own future and into what he hopes will be an endless existence for Bud’s Hardware.

“I hope it lasts beyond me,” he says. “I’ve got a daughter, and since she was little she said she wanted to run the store, so I hope to see it passed through generations.”

Terry is back at the cash register, checking out yet one more customer he knows by first name and whose father or grandfather probably knew old Bud.

A man steps in from the corner of 16th and Buchanan and asks Terry if he can loan him $5.

“I don’t loan out money anymore,” Terry says.

“You know me. You know I’m good for it,” says the customer. “And I’m working now.”

Terry smiles. “If you are working now, how come you need $5?”

The mayor of Bud’s Corner reaches into his pocket, then hands the man a fiver.

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