Finding Your Thrill in Tennessee's Berry Hill

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Berry Hill sits smack inside Tennessee's country music capital like a hole in an LP, but don't call it a suburb of Nashville. The smallest satellite city in Davidson County has its own city hall, police force and welcome sign. Even more impressive: Berry Hill packs 457 businesses and nearly 40 music studios, producers and publishers into less than a square mile of space -- and there are only 674 residents to benefit from all of this commercial largesse.

"Berry Hill is a hippie-ish community. There are a lot of boutiques and shops, but not high-end. More like arts and crafts -- and lots of music," says John McBride, the husband of country singer Martina McBride and owner of Blackbird Studio. "There's lots of creative energy here."

Less than five miles from Nashville's country music scene, Berry Hill was carved out of farmland more than 100 years ago. Modest homes -- mainly one-story, barracks-style cottages -- were built at the end of World War II as housing for employees of the nearby Navy processing center (they handled the veterans' paperwork). In the early 1970s, the city was zoned commercial. But rather than build traditional storefronts, the new neighbors simply set up shop in the existing structures; rooms where families once ate and slept now contain retail goods.

Besides its pedestrian-friendly shopping (mainly along Bransford Avenue), the city has an alter ego as the Anti-Music Row. Unlike the strip of big-label music companies in Nashville, Berry Hill's independent studios are far from flashy. To wit: Blackbird, which has welcomed such performers as Jack White, Keith Urban and Kid Rock, hides behind an elephant-gray exterior.

That doesn't mean you can't dress like a Grammy winner. At Venus & Mars/Silvery Moon Vintage Clothing (2830 Bransford, 615-269-8357), pick up a Supremes-style sequined dress for $89.99 or a polyester frock whose festive print could blind the sun ($19.95). For guys, there are soft button-down shirts for less than $20, an orange Elks baseball cap ($3.95) and a red sparkly jacket for budding game show hosts.

While the clothing at Venus & Mars dates from the 1920s to the '70s, none of the nearly 1,000 consignment pieces at Designer Renaissance (2822 Bransford, 615-297-8822) predates the 21st century. The all-women's-clothing store has everything from designer labels (a small Gucci bag for $48) to populist brands (embellished Levi's, $24). On the Last Chance racks, knock 75 percent off the price.

Find stuff invented by demented minds at Curious Heart Emporium (2832 Bransford, 615-298-7756). The front-yard sculptures of a spaceship with a silver alien driver, a giraffe in high heels and other characters aren't for sale, but everything inside is: a onesie that reads "I'm Not a Boy" ($25), evil clown nesting dolls ($12) and a bike helmet cover of an oogly brain ($30).

For kitsch-free homes, Gilchrist Gilchrist (2823 Bransford, 615-385-2122) stuffs its rooms with items appropriate for a cottage in Provence. Pick up Shabby Chic pillows ($36-$96), Bella Notte linens and glass-bottled Paris Rain laundry detergent ($18) that works just as well on a knickknack shelf as on your dirty shirts. If your outside needs some TLC, head to Eden (2800 Bransford, 615-383-0038). Green thumb or not, there's no denying the appeal of a Carmen Miranda-shape planter ($49.95), op-art lanterns ($29.95) and birdhouses designed as a pink love shack ($24.95) or a tiki bar stand ($17.95).

The Cat Shoppe and the Dog Store (2824 Bransford, 615-297-7877, 615-279-9247) carry everything for the well-heeled (padded?) pet. The dog store's front room stocks various accouterments decorated with your breed's furry face, such as a Siberian husky nail file ($2) and Rottweiler earrings ($15.99). Cat people should go straight to the back, where an adjoining store is filled with feline fancies -- including kittens for adoption (just pay the vet bill). Spring for a cat-shape teapot ($19.99) or a "Cats Rule" pink carryall ($5.99).

Feel Berry Hill's good karma at Angelight (502 E. Iris Dr., 615-385-1966). The gift shop's signature item is homemade angel candles, which the store's owner said are infused with "angel essence." Magic aside, the candles are made of soy or vegetable wax and can cast some serious light. Other items also tilt toward the spiritual, such as Buddha amulet necklaces ($30) and Himalayan prayer flags. But even the most New Age-y store can't ignore the rocker edge: The flouncy Goddess Gear scarves-cum-tops and jackets were designed by Diana DeWitt, an occasional backup singer for Neil Young.

Come mealtime, get the music 411 before anyone else at Yellow Porch (734 Thompson Lane, 615-386-0260), where record execs hold VIP meetings over gourmet salads and sandwiches, sirloin quesadillas with white cheddar ($8.95) or port-poached sun-dried cherry salad ($5.95). Come night, the restaurant transforms into a diva, with twinkling candles, black tablecloths and $15 to $25 entrees. For something a bit more country, try the pulled pork at Mothership BBQ (2806 Columbine Pl., 615-269-7150). Former professional bassist Jim Ream prepares Nashville-style barbecue -- the dry rub of Memphis plus the vinegary sauce of North Carolina -- in his "mobile home"-decorated joint. A pulled pork and rib combo with two sides goes for $8; a la carte sides, including pinto beans and potato salad, cost $1.50.

If you're more hot and thirsty than hungry, swing by Sam and Zoe's (525 Heather Pl., 615-385-2676), which has indoor and outdoor seating on group-house furniture. The coffeehouse blends up cold ones, such as the Chill Pill (strawberries, bananas, peaches, orange juice and St. John's wort; $3.50) and the Chilly Wonka (a secret espresso, milk and chocolate mix; $3.95). It also prepares breakfast and light lunch fare for those who sleep late.

-- Andrea Sachs

Berry Hill is about four miles south of downtown Nashville, off Interstate 65. Many stores offers free shopping maps of the area, or pick one up at City Hall (698 Thompson Lane, 615-292-5531).

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