story and photo by Jeff Tryon
July 28 was a special day for Pat and Pete Hughes. Twenty-five years ago on that date, in 1978, they first received their business license to open their shop “J. Bob’s” in Nashville. Now, not too many shops show that kind of longevity, but for the Hughes’, that’s nothing. On the same day, the couple celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary.
“We’re pretty proud of that,” said Pat in a recent interview.
Pat? Pete? Where does J. Bob figure in?
“J. Bob is my husband, John Robert Hughes, said Pat, “Everybody knows him as Pete.” Even before he started a shop, J. Bob used to stand out in front of a shop called the Calico Frog and make spoon jewelry. “He made all kinds of stuff—he even made wind chimes; a lot of different creations,” his wife said. Eventually the spoon jewelry gave way to wooden name signs—the kind families bring back from Nashville and hang on their mailbox or front door. “From there he went to making a lot of our wooden products that we used to sell,” Pat recalled. “He made candle sconces, potato bins, washstands—a lot of different things. “Then we decided we enjoyed it so much and we enjoyed Nashville so much, ‘Lets open our own shop.’”
A shop became available and the Hughes’ rented it for three years, then moved upstairs in the Tucker building and were there for three years, and then got the chance to move downstairs where the Gold Nugget used to be and they’ve been there more than 15 years
“We’ve changed our image a lot from the beginning,” Pat said. “We’ve had to grow with the times. “We tried our own wood products, but that got to be too much, because with J. Bob working in the shop, he didn’t have the time to create like he used to.”
“We’ve just enjoyed being in Nashville ever so much,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of changes. There were only 127 shops in town when we opened ours. Now there are over 300.”
Not all of the changes, Pat thinks, have been for the better. “We don’t see the artists like we used to, that just stand out in front and do things, which I miss, and I think the people miss it.”
The specialty at J. Bob’s is spicy sauces and condiments, and their reputation as a purveyor of fiery foods has made them a popular destination for specialty shoppers.
“We just decided, heck, if you don’t buy anything else, you’ll buy something to eat,” Pat said. “That’s what got us started in the food line.”
The shop has carried Dillman Farms products for over 20 years and now features a full line of foods that have a little bit of heat to them—sauces, salsas, chips and seasonings, but mainly the hot sauces.
“There’s a tremendous demand for it, and now a lot of other shops around town are picking up on it,” she said. “So now we’re trying to find something else a little newer.
The shop also features “Pete’s Retreat for Men, Boys and a Few Good Old Girls” – swords, slingshots, blow guns, buckles and knives, knives, knives.
Also featured are a huge variety of collectibles from Harbor Lights Lighthouses to Norwegian Trolls to NASCAR to Marble Mountain Trains.
Who shops at J. Bob’s?
“Everybody,” said Pat. “We have from young to old, the working crowd, the retired crowd—everybody.”
Although the owner and namesake no longer bends spoons or cuts out name signs, he still keeps his hand in, artistically, including creating memorable window displays at the Van Buren Street storefront.
“J. Bob does almost all of our displays, not only in the window, but in the shop too, the different displays for collectible lines and things like that,” Pat said. “Every now and then people come in wanting the name signs. He doesn’t have the space to do the woodworking like he used to, and he misses that. “He’s always done that. He’s artistic, and our daughter (store manager Lynda Myers) follows in his footsteps.” It is Ms. Myers who handles the day to day operation of the enterprise. “We could not do without her at all,” Pat said. “Bev Bishop has worked for us around 15 years and she’s another one that I could not do without. And I’ve got a sister, Mary Hughes that always comes in and chips in if we need her.”
With her 25-year perspective on Nashville’s visitor industry, Pat has her own concerns and ideas about what the future holds in store. She’s concerned about parking, of course, but also gambling boats, and the changing image of Nashville itself.
“I just think that we don’t need to grow any bigger, as far as shops and all go,” she said. “I’m afraid people are starting to see us as a little Gatlinburg.”
The number one thing we can do to improve our chances of retaining a share of the market?
“Be friendly,” advises Pat Hughes.