On Oct. 28, Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Green Hills celebrates its 20th anniversary and begins a few weeks’ worth of bookish celebrations. Much has changed in Nashville’s bookselling environment since 1980: Mom-and-pop establishments (most notably Mills’ Bookstore) have vanished, while countless chains have taken root. And yet Davis-Kidd has remained something of a constant, even through several location changes and periods of steady growth. Although founders Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd sold the business three years ago, the store’s local identity and customer loyalty remain so firmly established that the new owners, Lexington, Ky.-based JosephBeth Booksellers, decided to keep the name. It is perhaps a testament to these two women’s vision that the store has changed relatively little since the sale.
Davis and Kidd met in the late ’60s in Lubbock, Texas, and have been friends ever since. A native of west Tennessee, Davis was attending school in Lubbock, and Kidd was working there. Later, both lived and worked in New Jersey in an inner-city program similar to the Peace Corps’ Vista project. They were in the same city again when both lived in Ann Arbor, Mich. Nashville is the fourth city they’ve shared. “We’ve just had a long-standing friendship,” Kidd says, “and we’ve always kept in touch even when we weren’t living in the same place.”
Davis moved to Nashville in the mid-1970s, and Kidd by the late ’70s. “Shortly after moving here,” Kidd remembers, “we began to seriously talk about pursuing our dream of a bookstore. That would have been in about November of ’78; it was two years until we actually got the doors open.”
The festivities that begin this year on Oct. 28 precisely mark the date two decades ago when Davis-Kidd opened its doors. When it started in 1980, Davis-Kidd was across the street from its current location in Grace’s Plaza, in the space now occupied by Added Dimensions. Three years later, the store moved to a larger space in the Mall at Green Hills, near where you will now find Restoration Hardware. The move to the still-larger, two-story site in Grace’s Plaza took place in 1989.
Customer loyalty to Davis-Kiddespecially after the demise of local institutions Mills’ and Zibart’sis interesting. Compared to the chain stores that litter the city’s retail landscape, it’s a more accessible, appealing, and well-rounded place to shop for books. Tower’s stock is strong on erotica and postcards, but short on children’s books and classic literature; Bookstar in Belle Meade has its virtues, including an impressive array of magazines and sale books, but it lacks friendliness and warmth; the new Borders on West End, overstocked with signs (including PLEASE PAY HERE and STAIRS) and still understocked with books, is another run-of-the-mill corporate store. In short, Davis-Kidd remains Nashville’s one serious full-service bookstore.
For people who write books or write about books, Davis-Kidd’s great virtue is Roger Bishop, a man so pleasant and helpful he makes Mr. Rogers look antisocial; he is an absolute encyclopedia of literature, from recent fiction to current events. Who else reads the memoirs of Gorbachev and the notebooks of T.S. Eliot, both the novels of Josephine Humphries and the humor classic Archy and Mehitabel? While at Bookworld, before his move to Davis-Kidd, Bishop founded Book Talk, which in time became BookPage, the hugely successful monthly book-review publication given away at libraries and bookstores across the country. For Davis-Kidd, he advises countless customers and gives talks to various organizations. He is also a regular contributor to the Southern Festival of Books (taking place this weekend; see p. 31), serving as a member of the program committee, an introducer for writers, and a walking encyclopedia.
Over the years, Davis-Kidd has done so well that it opened satellite stores in Knoxville, Memphis, and Jackson, all of which were purchased by JosephBeth three years ago. The Knoxville store closed in January of this year.
Having lived their dream business for 17 years, Davis and Kidd did not move on to other bookstores when they sold Davis-Kidd. Nowadays, Davis runs KDavis Travels, a specialty travel service leading small tours to out-of-the-way places in Ireland, Mexico, France, and other areas. The full-time mother of a teenager, Kidd recently decided to return to social work. This time, however, her choice is informed by two decades in the business world; she has joined the relatively new profession of personal coaching.
Davis and Kidd seem happy with their less business-centered lives. “I love going to Davis-Kidd just to buy books,” Davis says. She looks back over her 17 years in the book business as a natural cycle. “It’s one of those time-spans of lifeyou raise a child, it grows up, and,” she laughs, “at about this age, it goes off to college and you go on with your own life.”
Other than as regular customers, Davis and Kidd are no longer officially involved with the store that bears their name. But that doesn’t mean they no longer feel a connection. “We’re just still very sentimentally attached,” Kidd says. “It’s still our child.”
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