A shop appealing to the dark side

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Stories by Jenny Ung and Natasha Dangond conclude the showcasing of work from 2017 CQS orientation. 

by Jenny Ung

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The vast majority of Hail, Dark Aesthetics’ customers are women, but – as the name suggests – the shop is neither frilly nor feminine. It’s weird.

Some of the most unsuspecting people have been among the shop’s biggest clients. One customer, owner J.D. Tucker said, was a pregnant woman looking to buy pictures of post-mortem babies. She returned to the shop in May with her newborn in a stroller to buy another $400 photo.

Tucker opened the business out of a desire to provide a shop for Nashville that it didn’t already have – a weird and gothic taxidermy, collectibles and antique shop.

J.D. Tucker, owner of Hail Dark Aesthetics in Nashville, Tenn., walks around this oddities store as he waits for customers. Tucker sells taxidermy, human skulls, embalming tools and more at the shop. (Photo by Jenny Ung)

“I knew I wanted to do something in retail, and it made sense to do this because there’s nothing like this in town,” Tucker said. “You’ll see taxidermy or skulls at antique shops, but it’s usually just a piece or two, and there was definitely no place to go for books on witchcraft or black metal or anything big of that nature.”

Hail, Dark Aesthetics started off as a jewelry shop of the same name but branched out to include eccentric items such as dead animal mounts, bugs encased in glass, human skulls and incense. The East Nashville location, which opened on Halloween in 2013, is sandwiched between a vegan restaurant and a Montessori school. Tucker opened a second shop in Cincinnati on Halloween in 2016.

Tucker strives to make taxidermy affordable in Nashville. While the mounted lion in the center of the store costs $10,000, he sells deer head mounts for $150 and the mounted heads of other animals for $300 to $700.

“I don’t want just rich people to buy this stuff,” Tucker said. “For the most part, I don’t want them to at all. I want the hardworking American to be able to get it.”

For those who can’t immediately afford to buy the head mounts, the store has a layaway program, where clients pay a third of the full amount every few months.

“People are able to get the things they want, even if they’re not super loaded. I was always trying to find things as cheap as I could, and I still do so that I can pass on the savings,” Tucker said.

Customers Cameron Harvey, left, and Quentin Ridge study animal specimens in jars at Hail, Dark Aesthetics in Nashville, Tenn., in May. “It’s good weirdness,” Harvey said of the store and its merchandise. (Photo by Jenny Ung)

Tucker enjoys hunting for new items for Hail, Dark Aesthetics, but these days, it’s common for him to buy items from sellers who come into the store.

“Now a lot of it comes to me because I have a reputation for buying weird stuff,” he said.

The two-headed calf that overlooks the store was brought in by a man from Kentucky, who claimed he had the animal mount in the back of his truck.

“I told him I didn’t believe him, and he took me to the back of his truck, and there he was,” Tucker said. “The two-headed calf is definitely one of my favorite pieces. They’re very rare, and it’s on the bucket list for anyone who’s into oddities, to have a two-headed creature.”

When buying taxidermy, Tucker won’t buy animals on the endangered species list or birds, which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. He hopes to someday own a full zebra mount, and start a clothing line or restaurant with the Hail, Dark Aesthetics theme.

Quentin Ridge, a new customer of Hail, Dark Aesthetics, first heard of the shop when his friend gave him a bisected fetal pig for his birthday.

“I love that kind of stuff, it’s really odd,” Ridge said.

Every oddities store tries to find its niche, Tucker said. “Some people (have a) more natural-history kind of style, but I wanted to go dark, weird and gothic, and have a museum vibe,” he said.

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