On Nashville's Lower Broadway, The Bachelorette Boom Is Big Business | Nashville Public Radio

On Nashville's Lower Broadway, The Bachelorette Boom Is Big Business

Nov 21, 2016

It's nearly impossible to spend a night on Nashville's Lower Broadway — that hub of honky tonks — and not see several groups of women celebrating an impending marriage.

These bachelorette parties have become so prevalent that they're almost an inside joke for locals. But they have also become an integral part of Nashville's tourism boom. 

On one Saturday night downtown, Taylor Heltsley was dressed in white and brandishing a giant, inflatable phallic-shaped object. Someone yelled out of a passing car: "Congratulations, bride!"

Heltsley was getting married four weeks later, and she and her friends were visiting from Louisville. She chose Nashville for her bachelorette party because she knew people who came here for theirs.

"It was a blast," she said. "They, like, cater to bachelorettes and brides."

Down the block, in front of a row of honky-tonks, Kristin Quince heard the same thing. Her group came in from further away: Quince lives in D.C., but most of her party of 10 flew in from California.

"Nashville is the new Vegas," she said. "Everyone wants to come here, I love country music, and so it was just the perfect place to get everyone together."

A bachelorette party-goer on Broadway
Credit Caroline Miller / for WPLN

Or, as Vanessa Sharp and Briawna Desiree Suthers shouted in unison: "It's where the party's aaaaat!"

Sharp and Suthers, from Ohio, were lingering outside of a bar wearing matching purple t-shirts that proclaimed they were there for Lauren's bachelorette party. 

Lauren, it turned out, was no longer with the group.

"We lost our bride," they said, pointing toward the bar. "She's in there somewhere."

Proof that on Broadway, you don't even need a bachelorette to keep the bachelorette party going.

Mixed Reviews

It's not clear exactly how or when Nashville started gaining this reputation as a bachelorette party magnet.

The city has successfully marketed itself as a hot tourism destination in recent years, especially as a hub for live country music, but it never officially marketed itself to this sector. There's no one defining moment that set off the boom.

And yet, the boom is unmistakable. Case in point: There were so many brides-to-be on this quarter-mile stretch of downtown Nashville that I lost count within an hour. While waiting at one stoplight to cross Broadway, I tallied four parties waiting with me.

"It's gotten wild. It's truly gotten wild," said Caroline Miller, who accompanied me on my bachelorette-sighting trip. Although she's never been a Nashville bachelorette herself, she did dress up as one for Halloween last year.

And, of course, she knew exactly what to wear.

"I wore cowboy boots and a white, lacey dress, and I ordered things off Amazon like a bridal veil," she said.

This was an interesting social experiment. People understood the costume, but some thought it was irritating — because not everyone in Nashville is enamored with the bachelorette phenomenon.

"I think some people love it. I think other people are very annoyed by it," Miller said. "They think, 'Why are these people invading our city? They're ruining Broadway.' "

Among those in the latter camp is Alex Covert. He works on the front lines, as a bouncer at a popular honky tonk called Layla's. On this night, he was manning the hot dog stand outside.

"They're usually really obnoxious," he said of bachelorette parties, which frequent his hot dog stand after hitting the bars. "There's always one out of the group that cries. Every time."

Leaving Money Behind

Butch Spyridon understands the frustration.

"I think we tend to go quick to, 'They're clogging my roads,' or, 'Look at them acting silly.' "

Spyridon is president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. — in other words, the guy in charge of Nashville's official tourism strategy. He said, it's easy for locals to feel this way when they're stuck behind a pedal tavern or living next door to an Airbnb that rotates through parties every weekend.

But give them a break, he said.

"Be nice to them!" he said. "They're leaving a lot of money behind, and they really are harmless."

A bachelorette party on Broadway
Credit Caroline Miller / for WPLN

Ah, yes — money. Nashville doesn't track the economic impact of bachelorette parties. But Spyridon said if he had to guess, he'd say a fifth of Nashville's leisure tourism is related to bachelors or bachelorettes.

And they're ideal tourists, he said. "They're not scared of the hotel rates. They're not on a low budget. They are coming to celebrate."

In other words, behind all the matching outfits and phallic objects and other prenuptial silliness, there is serious business here. The business ripples throughout the city — from hotels and restaurants, to companies that exclusively plan bachelorette parties.

Barrett Hobbs knows this firsthand. He's the owner of a few honky tonks downtown, including Doc Holliday's, a small bar styled like a Western saloon.

On one night about four years ago, he said, "I can remember ... I looked down the street and you could see literally thousands of people up and down the street. But there was one group you could identify. There was a bunch of girls with sashes on and funny hats and matching t-shirts, or whatever their schtick is."

The business stream has become consistent and lucrative. Bachelorettes make for good customers, he said. They don't start fights. They spend a lot of money.

"You know, on a given Saturday night, we may have, at one of our properties, 15 different bachelorette parties come through," Hobbs said. "So, if you add that up, seven nights a week, times all of the merchants in downtown, you know, thousands is an understatement."

And if locals are annoyed — well, there are plenty of bachelorette-free places to hang out in this city.

Just not on a Saturday night on Broadway.