Then & Now: Gallatin's Style Scene
What was the shopping scene like for people living in Gallatin in the 1960s and 1970s? We posed this question to Jeannie Gregory, a lifelong Gallatin resident and owner of The Jeannie Gregory Agency, an insurance agency in the city. If you’ve lived in Gallatin for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of Jeannie and her team. They are well known for sponsoring community events throughout the region, including the Third Thursday on Main concert series on Gallatin’s historic square and the Tinsel and Treasures holiday shopping event each November. Before launching the agency that bears her name, Jeannie also spent several years as the Executive Director of the Gallatin Area Chamber of Commerce. Suffice it to say that Jeannie knows a thing or two about her Gallatin.
Born in the 1960s, Jeannie and her family lived just outside the city limits in Castalian Springs. The family ventured into Gallatin on a regular basis for everything they needed, and Jeannie has fond memories of the city’s retail scene. “Coming into town to go shopping was a big deal,” Jeannie remembers. “Mom would often drop us off at the city pool for a few hours, then pick us up and take us to HG Hill for a treat.”
Though many stores and their owners have come and gone in the last four decades, Jeannie still remembers the establishments that lined the streets on and around the city’s historic square, including The National Store, a department store in the space that now houses a barber shop. “The National Store had everything,” she recalled, “including appliances and furniture, clothing, lingerie, dresses, baby gifts, and more.” Gallatin was home to several other department stores, including JC Penney’s, located in the building where the Secret Garden kids’ consignment shop is today, and a Sears on Westland not far from Depot Square. “Sears was a catalog store,” Jeannie explained. “You would order items from the Sears catalog and pick them up at the store after they arrived.”
Back-to-school shopping in those days was as big a deal as it is now. Jeannie has fond memories of visiting boutiques on the square, including The Davis Shop at North Water and Main where Filly’s is now. “You could get the cutest little wooden cigar box purses decorated with sequins, jewels, patterns, and peacock feathers,” Jeannie said. From there, she and her mom would walk down the street to the People’s Store, a department store owned by the Rutledge Brothers that had a menswear department upstairs and ladies’ clothing on the ground floor where you could buy fine stockings and nice shoes. Tots and Teens, a boutique with merchandise for babies all the way to high school kids, was another obligatory stop. A few doors down was Cotton’s, a lovely store owned by Cotton Chandler that sold beautiful one-of-a-kind apparel. “They only ordered a few items in each size, so if you got something from Cotton’s, you knew you wouldn’t see yourself coming and going,” Jeannie remembered. And if you had a high-end affair on your calendar, Katherine’s Dress Shop was the place to go. “It was a great place to get your dress for a cotillion. Anything that came from Katherine’s was a special garment.”
Every small town has its share of larger-than-life personalities, and if you’re a Gallatin native of a certain vintage, you may remember the inimitable Leona Cox, the owner of Leona’s Dress Shop. “Women dressed up then far more than they do now,” Jeannie remembered. “Some women, like my mother, wore dresses and stockings every day, and they often bought their dresses from Leona’s.” According to Jeannie, Leona Cox was a woman of many talents, a person known as much for her sales ability as she was for her skills as a seamstress. “She would sell you a pair of pants and have them hemmed for you before you left the dressing room.”
Today, many of the city’s biggest retail personalities can still be found on the square.. If you’re into vintage and collectibles, get your fix at Every Era, Timeless Treasures, and A Daisy a Day. Back in the day, few shopping trips to the square were complete without a visit to the record store, and today, you can find a wide selection of records and comic books from all eras and genres at Town Square Records & Comics.
Then, as now, not all stores were on the square. On Nashville Pike on the lot now home to Wilson Bank & Trust was Chick Casuals, a converted home where you could find belts, shoes, purses, clothing, and gift items. Many of the stores operating in Gallatin today, including Sassy and Brassy Boutique, Southern Gypsies Boutique, Inside Out Markets, and Rainbow Fashions, still follow this basic retail formula, offering distinctive clothing, unusual accessories, and interesting gift items under one roof.
Remnants of many stores that have long since left the square can still be seen today, including two jewelry stores: Blue’s, now home to Sassy and Brassy Boutique, and Roth’s, situated next to the Palace Theater where the Downtown Gallatin office is located today. “If you were getting married, you would go to Blue’s or Roth’s for your bridal registry,” Jeannie said. “At every bridal tea, all the gift boxes were from one of those stores.” Jeannie has vivid memories of the Roth family cat roaming around the store, stalking unseen prey while stepping gingerly on precious crystal and table items. There was also a polished silver water fountain that doubled as punch bowl that mesmerized a generation of children, including Jeannie.
Today’s local jewelry purveyors are mesmerizing a whole new generation of shoppers. Thomas Jewelers is known for its exquisite custom-designed gold and diamond jewelry, wedding rings, colored stone rings, pendants, bracelets, and earrings, while David McKenzie Jewelers, offers custom-designed jewelry sold alongside household name brands like Simon G., Art Carved, Goldman, and Rolex.
The experience of getting your hair and makeup done was different a generation ago, with most stylists operating in-home beauty shops. “My Aunt Lois had a beauty shop in her house and that’s where I went to get my pixie cut,” Jeannie laughed. “When I was in middle school, we made the drive all the way to Rivergate to Castor Knotts. It was a very big deal to get your hair done in a department store salon.”
Today, Gallatin’s roster of beauty shops includes establishments like Govan’s Salon & Coffee Café, and Elite Studios that offer traditional hair and spa services; Sports Clips Haircuts, offering straight up cuts and styling services for men in a sports-drenched environment; Vita Aesthetics and Ms. Sue’s Med Spa where you can find injectables, laser treatments, and other services delivered in a spa setting; and Mary Kay Cosmetics by Elizabeth Doyle, where you can find customized skin care and makeup for every occasion. There’s also Plaza Barbershop, which specializes in men's and boy’s haircuts and shaves delivered in the old-fashioned way.
Though many things have changed in Gallatin’s style scene over the years, one thing remains the same for Jeannie. “All these years later, one of my favorite things to do is to go downtown and shop in stores like Sassy and Brassy and Artisan Hatchery,” she added. “I would much rather support the small businesses here in town than go off to a mall in Nashville.”