Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ode to a Beloved Bookstore

We came home from  Europe late Wednesday evening, and I haven't had normal sleep since Monday night. Had hoped tonight might be the night I would sleep through the night, at least mostly. But, no. I woke up around 2:30, and by 3:30 realized I wasn't doing any good just lying in bed awake, reinforcing to my brain that doing that is an option.

So I decided to get up and write, thinking I would write about our travels.

Instead, upon opening my computer, I saw in a friend's email a link to her post about the closing of our favorite bookstore here in Memphis. I am feeling shock and great sadness.

When we moved to Memphis in 1994, to a campus apartment just a five-minute drive from the bookstore, we quickly fell in love with Davis-Kidd, as it was known, named for the two owners who started it. We are booklovers. When we moved to Memphis, all we brought with us were two suitcases of clothes and the few boxes of books we shipped over. Books were a huge part of our lives before we met, and continued to be so when we married. In Florence I had loved stopping in Feltrinelli's. In Zagreb there was a downtown bookstore that we bought books from, both in Croatian and in English. But Davis-Kidd was like nothing else we had encountered. It was smallish, but it had more single titles than any of the larger bookstores around Memphis.

And it had charm. The early store had a fireplace. You walked in and just felt like you wanted to stay. The folks who worked there were welcoming, and they knew their books. It soon became our favorite hangout, and when they moved to a larger shop across the parking lot and opened a cafe' and restaurant, for many years it became our Friday night date site. We could meet there after work, have a slow, yummy meal (I will never forget their chicken and dumplings, even though they disappeared from the menu some years back), and then spend the rest of the evening browsing books, nearly always taking something home.

When I finished my master's degree in counseling and knew that I didn't want to work as a counselor  immediately (not until I'd had some kind of break to take a deep breath), I applied for other kinds of jobs, without success for some months. Having a professional degree and student loans to pay off, I was trying for something full-time.

But finally one day I said, "Well, if I could just do what I want, I would love to work at Davis=Kidd. I love that place, love the people, love books . . . why not just apply and see if they will take me?"

And I did, and they did. I worked in the arts and entertainment section, and I learned more about why the store was so beloved. They did hire part-time workers, but they hired them with the understanding that they wanted people who were committed to the store, who planned to be there longer-term. And each person was assigned a certain section and was expected to really get to know their inventory and how to help people find what they were looking for. And we were taught to not just be approachable, but to approach people who looked as if they might need help. But no pressure-y type selling whatsoever. Just being helpful to people. Kind of a golden rule application of salesmanship. They wanted it to be a place where people felt free to roam and browse, and sit and read, where the booksellers were people who came alongside to help, not hawks out to make a sale.

Oh, and there was no "MUZAK" approach to the background sounds of the store. No; at least when I worked there, each bookseller got to choose CD's that they would like to play during the time they were working there. Of course there were some limitations on what could be played. But it meant that even the music was personally selected, and that you could go and ask, "What is this music I'm hearing?" and someone would be able to check and let you know. (And sometimes I would then buy it.)

As it happened, about six weeks after starting at Davis=Kidd, I got a call from one of the full time jobs I had applied to and not been accepted for. With great reluctance I went to my manager (Linda? I think that was her name?) and told her I had been completely sincere when I'd said I planned to stay there, that I had no other options on the horizon. It just happened that the person hired for this other position had had to leave, and so they were offering it to me. It would pay off my student loans much faster than working part-time at the bookstore. She was gracious beyond expectation, and I sadly left.

That was in 1998. Almost 20 years ago. And to this day, when I go into the store, I see people who worked there when I did, who remember my name. Mark and Eddie. And then others who came just as I was leaving, or who I met after I'd left, but we struck up friendship because they knew I had worked there. I saw on the store's website while ago that Eddie described it as a fellowship, and that is what I felt there, too.

This is truly a shock and a loss. I was shopping there for Christmas gifts just three weeks ago, with no inkling that this was on the horizon. It feels surreal. I saw just now in a letter from the owner that books will be on sale, that furniture and other fixtures and equipment will be for sale. It sounds like an estate sale after someone has died. Part of me wants to go and find some meaningful last purchases. Part of me doesn't want to witness it, or to feel like one of the Thenardiers, in Les Mis, taking advantage of those who have fallen for personal gain. I don't know what I, or we, will decide to do.

What I do know is that it wasn't "just a bookstore." It was a living testimony to what a common love for literature, art, history, poetry, music, good food and coffee, and community living can create and sustain even through the financial shock of the recession and the rapacious effects of Internet sales. Davis-Kidd, which became the Booksellers at Laurelwood, as explained in my friend's blog, survived the recession and the advent of Amazon when other bookstores were closing all around.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if everyone who shops or eats at the Booksellers would have just made a commitment to buy all their books there, rather than using the Internet? Do we really want a life where our constant drive to save money and time means we lose the precious places of community that make possible (and require) face-to-face interaction? Those are big questions and get into issues of technology and globalization, and what it means to flourish as human beings as opposed to simply getting what we want materially, and that's not what I want to focus on. But they are important issues with important questions.

I saw in Florence that Feltrinelli's is still open, and so were many other little bookshops around the city. Same in Zagreb. New books, used books, shops were still open. Maybe it's because in those cities they walk most everywhere, rather than driving in cars, which I believe has caused Americans to lose much of any sense of community and place and belonging--and therefore, loyalty.

Well, I think I will have to go and say goodbye, but it will be a very hard goodbye to say. Not quite like the closing of a church, but definitely the closing of a fellowship. This is where I found Christian Wyman's poetry, and Mother Teresa's wisdom, and Henri Nouwen over and over, and who knows how many blank books that now contain my life in words. And beautiful cards sent for birthdays, deaths, weddings, encouragement. And no telling how many Christmas presents we bought for friends, all in this one shop.

And we would so often get gift cards from the store for my nieces and nephews, who all loved to read. They live in a small town elsewhere and loved coming to Memphis to visit us, and part of those visits was always--always--going to the bookstore to use their gift certificates, from the days of going for the reading aloud when they were little children, to the days of their interest in Captain Underpants and other series books, to the days of being interested in biographies and history books.

Once I was there, at Bronte, with a friend who loved whipped cream on her hot chocolate. She asked the server if she might have more when hers ran out, and the server just brought the whole conatiner of whipped cream over to her, to refill as often as she liked.

One time a server accidentally mangled my credit card because their computer system wasn't working, and they had to use the old-fashioned credit card machines. He apologized profusely and repeatedly, and I still think of him each time I use my credit card--because despite his fears, it still works in most machines, though occasionally at a gasoline stop, I'll have to go inside and pay when the thing just won't slide properly. Each time I use my credit card, I think of Booksellers and Bronte and that sweet fellow.

In this past year, our two oldest dogs died, my mother died, and my car (the only one I ever actually chose, rather than inherited) was totaled. Learning about the end of a beloved bookstore perhaps should not come as a surprise. But it was a surprise, and I will grieve the loss of it if it truly goes through.

I began writing this post in early January, thinking it was a grieving, gratitude-ing, goodbye-ing post. I never did finish it, because shortly after I saved it as a draft, the petition was brought to my attention.

Now it's February 15, and I still dare to hope that someone, somewhere, or someones somewhere, may be able to save or resurrect this place, this entity, this very special human collaborative creation that has meant so much in my own life and in the lives of countless others.

It's hard to say goodbye. It's hard to not know whether to say goodbye. No matter how this turns out, I will always be grateful. My life and my family's life would not have been the same without Davis-Kidd and all the wonderful booksellers at Laurelwood.

1 comment:

Emmett M. said...

This is wonderful post