NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Peter Gibson said he woke up to news Christmas morning that a massive explosion had ripped through downtown Nashville and quickly drove to his tattoo parlor in the heart of the city hoping to find it in one piece.
Gibson said he wasn’t able to get to his store that morning. Shortly after, however, images and videos began circulating on social media of businesses destroyed by the bomb, including his own Pride and Glory Tattoo.
“I’m still speechless, but it’s devastating and I am heartbroken,” Gibson said.
The blast occurred at 6:30 a.m. Friday, while police officers were responding to reports of gunfire in the area. Instead, officers heard a warning of an explosion coming from a speaker in an RV, which was parked outside an AT&T building. The explosion, which authorities believe was set off by Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, injured three people and ravaged many buildings nearby.
“This year has been quite the roller coaster. It has been very hard with Covid-19, and right when I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, everything was taken away in two seconds,” said Gibson, who provided pictures of his storefront before and after the explosion.
Like Gibson, many small-business owners in the area were affected by the bomb and are wrestling with the large amount of destruction left behind, while others aren’t confident that they will be able to rebuild.
The bomb was another devastating blow to Nashville businesses already reeling from a tumultuous year. In March, a tornado passed through the city, uprooting trees and destroying homes and shops. Then, the coronavirus pandemic brought tourism and business to a halt.
Mayor John Cooper estimated Friday that at least 41 businesses had been damaged in the blast. NBC News has not verified the extent of the damage because law enforcement has blocked off the area and it remains an active crime scene.
Some business owners, building owners and contractors were able to visit the site on Tuesday to assess the damage, the Metro Nashville Police Department said in a tweet Tuesday night.
“I want to stand with our downtown residents and our business owners, for whom this was a terrible day,” Cooper said Friday evening. “Nashville has faced other challenges, particularly this year — we can rebuild and get back to normal.”
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“We felt knocked down,” said Sandy Lee, when she learned that the explosion had wrecked her two boutiques, Simply the Best and Ensemble Nashville, on 2nd Avenue. Lee said a lot of locally owned businesses are “struggling” and “smoldering a slow death” after the explosion.
One street over, Ashley Bergeron Segroves, an art curator who owns The Studio 208, said she was out of town when she heard that the bomb rocked her neighborhood.
“The moment I found out, I couldn’t stop crying, and I felt paralyzed. It was one of the hardest things that I have experienced, because I had to tell myself that I can’t do anything and I may not have anything,” said Bergeron Segroves, who quickly returned to Nashville to assess the damage.
The building’s windows are shattered and blown out from the explosion, and one piece of art was destroyed, said Bergeron Segroves, who provided images and video of the gallery. She said she is grateful that the loft didn’t sustain more damage; however, she is worried that it may take a long time for many of the businesses to recover.
“Covid-19 hit us over and over again, and now this explosion — we have had a lot of trauma this year,” Bergeron Segroves said, adding that local business owners need federal aid to help them get back on their feet.
Lior Rose, who runs Nashville Ink, said his tattoo and body piercing shop will not be able to survive without financial assistance from the government after the business was hit by the blast. He shared surveillance video that captured the bomb wrecking his store, calling it “shocking.”
“My business is pretty much destroyed, and the only thing that I can think about right now is how am I going to rebuild everything,” he said. “Hopefully they will help us out, and if not, then almost 12 years of business will be gone.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Saturday requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with debris removal and emergency protective measures.
Rose, who relocated his shop to 2nd Avenue in August, said the group of local business owners are like family. Despite the challenges he and others face, he is comforted by the community. “We love what we do, and we are coming together and praying for one another, and that is the one good thing in this whole chaotic case.”