So why is Davis-Kidd closing? It depends on whom you ask. According to Neil Van Uum, president of the Joseph-Beth company that purchased Davis-Kidd in 1997, it's due to the seismic shifts in the book industry, online merchandising and the nascent e-book revolution, and a historic recession that's led him to predict as many as 50 percent of all bookstores in the country will shut their doors within the next five to 10 years.
But Davis-Kidd was making a profit, Van Uum says — just not enough.
"The Nashville store was profitable," he says, "but it had a million six in inventory plus a huge rent number, and when you put it all together you didn't have the level of profitability you needed to fund it. Closing the store can't be attributed to any one thing. The fact is that you're in a marketplace where the reader is opting into a lot of different ways to buy books, coupled with the fact that we're surrounded by three chain bookstores within a five-mile radius. Markets shift, and keeping the Nashville store open became unsustainable."
If you ask many Nashvillians, though, they'll say that the seeds of Davis-Kidd's demise were planted long ago. They point to four distinct factors: location, location, location, and a distant corporate parent that stopped listening to the store's customer base. In an attempt to increase its margins and grow far too fast, they say, the store drifted from the very thing it did best — sell books in a wonderful space to peruse them.
Ross talks to everyone from fellow authors Ann Patchett and Tony Earley to A Word on Words host John Seigenthaler and revered Nashville bookseller Roger Bishop. The conclusion he reaches is a challenge to the city and its bibliophiles:
My wife and I will regularly meet up here in the evenings, eating at Bronte's, whose food I've always found average at best and whose ambiance I regularly describe as airport-restaurant-missing-lightbulb. Now, however, I regard it with a pang of imminent loss. The kids dig the children's-book menus, the prices aren't insulting, and its convenience is impossible to beat. Best of all, everywhere one looks in the surrounding store, there are people drawn by the common love of stories, ideas, words, the hidden sinew that binds a city's intellectual life.
Think about that, Nashville. Because come December, we're a major city incapable of supporting even a chain bookstore with a 30-year place in our cultural fabric. And if we don't demand the bookstore we deserve, we're no more the Athens of the South, really, than our Parthenon is — well, the Parthenon.