Hanging In There 

The Booksellers at Laurelwood: what's in store.

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I still hear people asking, 'When is this place going to close?'" says Ashley Dacus, public-relations and events coordinator at what used to be Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Laurelwood shopping center.

And in case you haven't been keeping up with the local book business this past year and especially this past spring, the answer to the question that people are still asking is: no. Davis-Kidd in Memphis hasn't closed and isn't planning to close after a decision in late April delivered the store's assets into the hands of new owner Neil Van Uum (who, along with his wife, founded Davis-Kidd's parent company, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, which in November of last year filed for bankruptcy). The Memphis store has, in fact, worked wonders with Tom Prewitt, president and owner of Laurelwood, and signed a 10-year lease with the shopping center to stay in its present location. But the store does have a new name: the Booksellers at Laurelwood. And it's in for a few more changes beginning, according to plans, this fall.

"We're diving in," Van Uum says. "We suffered through the first part of this year, but we've been doing a lot of legwork — setting up new accounts, getting products in our system in order, the magazines back on track. Sidelines, DVDs, and bargain books ... we've still got some work to do."

That "work to do" includes a new logo and signage, along with new carpeting and fresh paint. And in the case of Brontë, the popular cafe inside the store, Van Uum says it's going to get more than that:

"We're starting from scratch, with a larger bar area being the most noticeable change." (More than that Van Uum wouldn't say. He's still meeting with the architects.)

There will be some changes too in the store's sidelines — those items for sale that go beyond books, including skin care. As Dacus says, the store wants to focus on a greater number of local products. (Among them, Apothecary Fairy, a Memphis company specializing in soaps, lotions, and balms). Dacus is also looking forward to organizing a late-summer noontime concert series inside the store, in addition to partnering with L'École Culinaire, the cooking school in Cordova, for in-store tasting events. That's all in addition to the book fairs and fund-raisers the store has conducted with local schools over the years.

Where does that leave the main business at hand: books? According to Dacus, the Booksellers at Laurelwood will continue scheduling national and a greater number of local authors for signings. And according to Van Uum:

"All these other things — the cafe, the sidelines — need to be attended to, but we're putting the emphasis on books.

"No question, the rise of electronic books, free content on the Internet, online retailing ... they've wreaked havoc on traditional bookselling. Cincinnati, for example, has gone from 12 bookstores down to eight — and three of them are probably going to close. That may make the stores still standing a little healthier. Which means that the Memphis store has got to continue to be a great place, an entertaining place — a place that provides a unique experience even in the bookselling world."

And, Van Uum believes, beyond.

He points to the successful partnership Joseph-Beth has with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where he introduced the hospital's gift shop to an expanded inventory of book titles and sidelines — a business venture that's been hugely popular with patients and staff. To arrive at the same level of success among Memphis hospitals, Van Uum says that "we're going to be knocking on a lot doors, going pretty hard at it."

Some things, however, don't need changing: the booksellers themselves. That staff, throughout the byzantine proceedings of last spring's bankruptcy hearings and weekly rumors, news of 11th-hour buyouts and possible closings (including the store here in Laurelwood), has stayed put, no layoffs; their value to the company: fully recognized.

"We've got an unbelievable corps of booksellers — a legacy with customers," Van Uum says. "People have come to appreciate what's unique, what's individual to a store. No one wants to see that go away. After 26 years in Memphis, this store is truly an institution. Thanks to everyone for hanging in there with us."

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