If you drive over to the Green Hills mall anytime soon, you’ll probably see a blank storefront as you find a place to park. The missing store? Davis-Kidd Bookstore. The local store closed, with little fanfare, on Dec. 29, a month after its parent company filed for bankruptcy.
When Davis-Kidd was closing its doors in December, I decided to stop by and try to knock out some Christmas shopping before I went home. I had no idea what I was in for. It was like watching a funeral happen in slow motion. Shelves that had held rows of books for years were becoming bare for the first time. Every book was discounted, dying to get off the shelves before doomsday. Many customers were taking full advantage of the situation, holding the largest stacks of books they could carry in the check-out line. People were even making deals to buy the store’s furniture and shelves. I could see the store, a Nashville institution for three decades, dying in front of me.
Davis-Kidd opened on Hillsboro Road more than 30 years ago, and quickly became a hotspot in Green Hills. It was obvious why it was so successful for so long, but things began to change when the original owners sold it in 1997. A few years later, the new owners moved it from Grace’s Plaza to the larger, glitzier mall.
For its first two decades, the store was more intimate and the staff knew many of the customers by name. You could feel a certain sense of community in its walls. It was a place where people gathered, a place where people could come together, whether it was listening to a local artist or waiting in line to buy that book you’ve wanted to buy for months. It was, for many, the perfect combination of national selection and local charm any store could have.
Even Music City transplants could see how special the store was, even if they didn’t visit it or make any frequent purchases. In my short time in Nashville, I don’t think I bought a thing from that bookstore. For me, introvert and bookworm that I am, Davis-Kidd was always a place where I could crack open a new book and escape whatever was going on for however long I could spare. I imagine I’m not the only one who thinks the same.
Even with the sadness the closing of Davis-Kidd brought to the community, there is, somehow, still a good story that will be brought out of this. Earlier this month, Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd, former owners of the bookstore, started the Davis-Kidd Booksellers Fund with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Its goal is to give grants to non-profits willing to tackle literacy. In a way, this fund will do what the store did best: give a community a way to promote reading and dying art of books, even without a venue. It is truly remarkable to see this store’s mission live on, even without a place it can call home.
Still, it’s a depressing chapter for Nashville, which has always had a reputation as a great book town. The Southern Festival of Books, held in October since 1989, brings tens of thousands of booklovers, authors and publishers to Legislative Plaza. That has been some comfort to longtime Nashvillians who mourned the loss of longtime independent bookstores Mills and Zibart’s — and now, Davis-Kidd. For now, there’s Borders, but its days may be numbered since the company is likely filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. There’s a Barnes & Noble, but that company announced last week that it’s reallocating resources to digital operations. Now, there are books available with the click of a mouse (and a valid credit card number) on Amazon, and they arrive immediately on your Kindle.
The mall in Green Hills will go on as well (Tiffany is here, Nordstrom is coming). Eventually, Green Hills will find a tenant willing to pay their rent for the prime space that was occupied by Davis-Kidd. But when another store opens up in that spot, part of Music City will be gone for good. Davis-Kidd was one of those one-of-a-kind, local stores many cities would give anything for to restore some type of community. For many, Davis-Kidd was a jewel of Nashville. Will it take another 30 years for a new one to emerge?
Brian Wilson, Vision managing editor, is a sophomore journalism major.