Hidden among Nashville’s honky-tonks and cowboy-boot tourist shops, one unassuming storefront at 316 Broadway is marked by a red and white sign, emblazoned with three iconic words: Hatch Show Print. Walk through the door, and you’ll essentially see the same scene any customer, celebrity or musician has witnessed for more than 130 years. It’s busy. It’s messy. And it rumbles with the sounds of bringing posters to life.
Since 1879, Hatch Show Print has been a bulwark in American letterpress printing. That year, Reverend William T. Hatch, a transplant from Indiana who came to Nashville after the Civil War, watched in sadness as his four-year old Nashville publishing business burned to the ground. But undeterred, his sons reopened their own shop on Cherry Street, now Fourth Avenue South. The original shop supplied hand-made posters to a wide range of clients, from musicians to Hollywood, from Vanderbilt University to the TVA. And eventually, the business passed to Rev. Hatch’s grandson, Will T. Hatch.
Quite prophetically, Hatch’s Fourth-Avenue building had a view of the Ryman Auditorium, where, in 1943, the Grande Ole Opry took to the stage for its weekly radio broadcast. During that era Hatch supplied posters to Opry performers like Eddy Arnold, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams. Hatch Show Print had its first taste of national exposure with Elvis Presley, whose first single emerged in 1956, ushering in a new era with Rock ’n’ Roll.
With the loss of the Grand Ole Opry to the suburbs in the mid 70s, the iconic printer nearly had to shutter its doors. But thanks to the help of long-time friends, new manager Jim Sherraden and the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch began a slow but steady revival starting in 1986.
Sherraden created an archive. Postcards with legendary posters were sold in droves. And by 1992, the shop, at that point owned by the Hall of Fame, made a move from Fourth Avenue to its location on Broadway, in conjunction with a project to revitalize Nashville’s downtown. With Sherraden as the manager, Hatch Show Print made a clear uptick in sales, fashioning posters for The Beastie Boys, Bob Dylan, REM, Pearl Jam, Bon Iver and more recently, The Lone Bellow – just to name a few.
Though much has changed since Rev. Hatch’s sons opened up shop, more has stayed the same. For more than a century, Hatch Show Print has designed and created posters with one trusty process. Employees slide metal type and hand-carved wood blocks together, paint rollers with ink and hand-crank each poster through the presses, one at a time – resulting in a design style synonymous with the company’s name.
The tradition is alive because the machines are not locked in a museum gathering dust. They continue to run. Though Hatch Show Print will move to the Country Music Hall of Fame this fall, the process will stay true to its traditions. Thanks to the mess, the heritage and a whole lot of paper, the list of noteworthy names that grace the presses will grow for years to come.