When Sandy and Geff Lee finally saw a photo of the building where their Nashville boutique was located the day after the Christmas morning bombing, the room fell silent.
The debris was overwhelming. Debris overshadowed familiar details. Geff Lee took out a map to verify that they were looking in the right place.
It was silence. It was an eye-opener, ”said Sandy Lee, owner of Ensemble.“ It's blown up. ”
The Christmas Day explosion sparked shock nationwide after a bomb detonated in the heart of historic downtown Nashville, killing the bomber, injuring three other people and damaging dozens of buildings.
But to those who call Music City home, the bombing feels like a cruel cornerstone to an already dark year.
"It won't be the same," said Sandy Lee. "You can't rebuild that."
In early March, a massive tornado rumbled through the city, uprooting homes, destroying businesses and killing 20 people.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down businesses while people stayed at home and the virus spread quickly. Some people who lost their homes in the tornado saw their jobs disappear.
Business has steadily deteriorated over the year. The revival after Thanksgiving meant Tennessee had one of the highest per capita rates of cases, as state leaders were reluctant to impose mandatory restrictions statewide. And while the city is known as a center for health care, Nashville hospitals have made an effort to keep up with the flow of COVID-19 patients brought in from all over the state.
Those were not the only setbacks. Some downtown businesses suffered property damage in late May during a peaceful protest that turned violent in response to racial injustice and police brutality.
Many structures in the tornado's path remain broken and tangled to this day, a reminder of a serious wound that is slowly healing.
State and local officials shake their heads in dismay that a city that has been thriving for years in a booming economy managed to cope with so many tragedies in just 12 months.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper recently described 2020 as the & # 39; toughest year & # 39; from the city.
"We get through the tornado and then COVID. And then this. Just when you start to see the light, it's gone in two seconds," said Pete Gibson, whose tattoo parlor is across the street. street stood from the scene of the explosion on Christmas Day.
A year earlier, Nashville hosted the coveted NFL draft and proudly announced that it would host another presidential debate in the 2020 election. It flourished as a stag party destination.
Businesses along Second Avenue, a narrow tree-lined street where the explosion took place, had found a thriving location over the years with a ready-made tourist market in Civil War buildings. The explosion took place just off Lower Broadway, the flashy business street known for its bright lights and honky-tonks, on a slightly quieter street that lured people looking for a retreat from the noise and bustle of the main drag.
More than 40 structures were damaged in the explosion. Because of the active investigation, which has prompted hundreds of federal officials to sweep through the broken glass, stones, and other debris left by the explosion, business owners have been unable to return – even to repair the damage. to research.
Republican government Bill Lee has said he is working with the White House to bring federal aid to the city. The mayor has promised to rebuild. But those who have made a living in the area fear that another precious piece of their town could be lost when they see another round of fund-raising campaigns to help workers and entrepreneurs limp.
“We have always been so proud to be part of this community and to see that the buildings that survived the Civil War are likely to be demolished is really sad,” said Carla Rosenthal, owner of The Melting Pot. and Rodizio Grill, both companies destroyed in the explosion that employs approximately 120 staff.
Almost a quarter of those employees had already applied for unemployment at the end of Christmas.
"We've always felt like we were part of what drove Nashville to become the 'It City' as it is," said Rosenthal, who has owned The Melting Pot for over 25 years and Rodizio Grill for eight years. "We helped build this city."
Tim Walker, the executive director of the Metro Historical Commission, was eager to investigate the damage. He called the hallway an important symbol of the city's history and development, a unique facet of Nashville's reviving identity.
Walker noted that some of the historic buildings had been converted into apartments and condominiums, boutique hotels, and Airbnbs.
“We are very concerned about the damage. I know a lot of the public is,” said Walker, adding that he hopes that only some of the buildings are not structurally affected.
When the tornado hit in March, the community came together – as if it were weather in the aftermath of the explosion, said Stephanie Coleman, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce's chief growth officer.
Ten years ago, the city suffered a devastating flood, and has been recovering ever since, Coleman said.
“We were still on that job, you know, from early 2020. Everything looked good, looked bright for Nashville and our future,” she said.
"This is a situation that we know we will get through," said Coleman. "The fact that we haven't lost any lives gives us hope … I think we're just thankful it wasn't a different story."
Calvan reported from Tallahassee, Fla.
Photo Caption: Rescue personnel working near the site of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, Friday, December 25, 2020. Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud bang was heard early Christmas morning. (AP Photo / Mark Humphrey)
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