Friday, April 22, 2011

Davis-Kidd: When Bad Things Happen to Good Stores

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM

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When you hear that a business might be liquidated, the reaction is often, "well, no wonder."

But Davis-Kidd is the Memphis bookstore in Laurelwood Shopping Center for 21 years that seemingly does everything right, defying the digital age with customer service from a helfpul staff in their aprons, the Bronte bistro, and browsing spaces tucked into 20,000 feet of space. And local authors have no better friend than Davis-Kidd (and Burke's), host of numerous book signings and the long-time sponsor of Memphis magazine's annual fiction contest.

So it's depressing to hear that Davis-Kidd's corporate parent, the Joseph Beth Company, is in bankruptcy and that the Memphis Davis-Kidd store might be liquidated.

"We have until next week when it changes hands," said General Manager Eddie Burton on Friday. "It's kind of up to Laurelwood now. That's where we're putting our hope."

On a visit this week, the store looked anything but terminal. There were lines at the checkout counter, moms and dads with their kids playing with toys and stuffed animals in the pleasantly cluttered Kids Corner, a short wait for a table in Bronte's, racks of Vera Bradley handbags and Spring hats and cards, and lots of people quietly browsing sections like Essential Nonfiction, The Economist Recommends, Heard on NPR, It's Not Rocket Surgery, Mark's Barks, and Our Favorite Bios. The location is prime. The parking is free. The hours span breakfast and dinner. You want community, this is it.

The problem for bookstores in general, of course, is technology and pricing pressure. Even Davis-Kidd's outdoor bargain tables, crammed with last year's top-selling hardcover books for $2.99 to $7.99, has trouble competing with new titles on Amazon for under $5, digital best-sellers for $9.99 on a Kindle e-reader, and self-published titles for 99 cents. Or, for that matter, lightly used books on sale up Poplar Avenue at the Main Library for $2.

"We've been successful," said Burton. "The problems lie above us."

Bad things happen to good people and good businesses. Several years ago I dropped my subscription to Sports Illustrated. There followed a stream of phone calls, special offers, discounts, entreaties, and surveys about what SI did wrong. SI did nothing wrong. It was me. I got old and disinterested in spectator sports.

I might blame Jack Reacher for Davis-Kidd/Joseph Beth's problem. Jack Reacher is author Lee Child's fictional hero. I got hooked on him last year and have read the whole series, which took a big chunk out of my reading and tv-viewing time. The Reacher series is easily available in discount hardcover, libraries, and loans from friends who are also hooked. But it's strictly read-and-release, not a book I would spend $25 to buy.

If you are a Davis-Kidd fan and want to do something for them, visit the store and spend some money this weekend, or go to the book signing with Meg Cabot, author of the Princess Diaries series, on April 26th. And hope for the best.

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