Weiss Liquors Neon Sign
824 Main St in East Nashville
By John Whitman
East Nashville is no stranger to iconic vintage neon, and the long stretch of businesses along Gallatin Road feature some fantastic old signage. From the northern edge of Nashville with Madison Bowling’s giant bowling pin neon, down to Weiss Liquors sitting just across the Cumberland from downtown, vintage signs abound, some in great condition and others rusted into disrepair. Weiss and their massive neon sign featuring an overturned jug pouring neon liquor drops has been at their current location of 824 Main street since 1961. When I lived down in lower East Nashville, Weiss was my liquor store of choice because it was walking distance from my apartment and showcased some of the sweetest staff and craziest clientele of any liquor store ever. Or as Janet S. of Nashville wrote on Weiss’ Yelp Page,
“Ahh, a great place for character observation. If you need book material, hang out in the cluster—k that is Weiss Carpark. Never a dull moment, but watch your fender, its a jigsaw puzzle getting out.”
Weiss has surely created a history for itself at its current location, but what many may not realize is that Weiss and its sign date back to the 1930s and earlier. Nicholas Weiss started his liquor business in downtown Nashville on North First Street in the 1890s. In the 1930s the business moved to 218 Meridian Street near the railroad tracks. It was here that Weiss purchased the neon sign. In the late 1950s Weiss moved to 4th and Main Street, but was quickly forced to relocate due expansion of I-24. As Kenneth Weiss, current owner and grandson of Nicholas, put it, “We didn’t have the asphalt down hardly, before we had to move.” As a result Weiss moved four blocks north to their current location in 1961. From what Kenneth can gather, Cummings Signs made the bulk of the sign in the 1930s, adding the large triangular arrows sometime in the 1940s. After moving to their current location, Weiss expanded by opening a next-door corner market in the fall of 1964. Like the newer market, the “Drive In” neon sign sitting atop that store dates back to 1964.
Weiss’ neon sign has been the backdrop for many a Nashville musician press photos as well as being featured in 2010’s Hollywood film Redemption Road. As Jennifer Justus noted in August 26, 2011’s Tennessean,
“In a scene from the film Redemption Road, actor Luke Perry leans against the hood of a car, channeling James Dean. But behind Perry, it’s not Los Angeles or a Warner Brothers set that we see. It’s the neon lights of the Weiss Liquors sign off Gallatin road in East Nashville.”
After a century, Weiss Liquors continues to thrive alongside its iconic, seventy year old neon.