Cheatham Street Warehouse is located at 119 Cheatham Street in San Marcos. The building originally functioned as Reed Grocery Warehouse, a distribution center that received goods by train and sold supplies to local grocers. Kent Finlay, along with business partner Jim Cunningham, leased the structure and in June 1974 opened a music hall to serve as a venue for a variety of genres, including country, blues, rock, and folk. The honky-tonk soon provided an outlet for area talent, and many musicians, both famous and lesser known, began their performing careers on the stage at Cheatham Street. Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) student George Strait and the Ace in the Hole Band played their first shows at the club in 1975. In 1980 a young Stevie Ray Vaughan performed there every Tuesday night.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the music hall played host to an impressive roster of musicians. Patrons heard country legends such as Ernest Tubb and Willie Nelson, the blues of Omar and the Howlers and Lou Ann Barton, the songwriting prowess of Townes Van Zandt;and Jerry Jeff Walker, as well as notable players such as country fiddler Alvin Crow, accordionist Flaco Jiménez, and guitarist Eric Johnson. Over the years the wealth of artists has also included Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, Marcia Ball, Gatemouth Brown, Charlie and Will Sexton, Gary P. Nunn, Joe "King" Carrasco, Ponty Bone, and Ray Benson's Asleep at the Wheel.
In 1988 Finlay sold the business, and during the next few years Cheatham Street changed hands between Finlay and other buyers. For a time in the early 1990s the establishment hosted primarily Tejano bands. In 1999 Finlay bought back the club, which returned to its original honky-tonk format. The official reopening occurred on December 31, 1999.
A mainstay of the hall throughout its existence has been Finlay's songwriter nights on Wednesdays, when both professional and novice players are encouraged to perform their original compositions. Finlay, called the "Godfather of Texas Songwriters," endeavored to cultivate new tunesmiths and musicians, and his establishment has gained the reputation as a premier songwriter venue in Central Texas. The club has also been the scene for many live recordings, from early demos of players like George Strait and Todd Snider to full-length albums for commercial release, such as Terri Hendrix's Live in San Marcos (2001).
Finlay launched his new independent label, Cheatham Street Records, with the release of Mudcat by Dr. G and the Mudcats in 2005. That same year the Cheatham Street Music Foundation was organized as a non-profit corporation "dedicated to developing, promoting, preserving and perpetuating Texas music…." The goals of the foundation include maintaining Cheatham Street Warehouse as a public venue and promoting songwriter educational activities through workshops, lectures, classes, and other programs intended to promote the history of Texas music. In 2007 Kent Finlay was honored with the Coach Darrell K. Royal Texas Heritage Songwriters' Patron Award from the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association. By 2008 Cheatham Street’s recording studio, the Cheatham Street Woodshed, had opened near the establishment.
After Finlay’s death on March 2, 2015, his children, Jenni, Sterling, and HalleyAnna, carried on his legacy of songwriting at Cheatham Street. Cheatham Street Warehouse continued to present musical acts as well as special anniversary events, record release parties, songwriting seminars, and music panel discussions. In December 2016 the Finlay children sold the business, and the Cheatham Street Music Foundation sold the property to Randy Rogers, a professional singer-songwriter who had made his start at Cheatham Street’s songwriter nights. The Cheatham Street Music Foundation continued its sponsorship of various educational and musical activities at the venue, including the weekly songwriter nights, which were hosted by Finlay’s son Sterling Finlay.