Hi. I’m Walking Bob, and over the past couple of weeks the area newspapers and TV stations have already run all the stories I need on the impact of the closing of Borders on the people and businesses of Davis. As I’m walking around Davis, I prefer talking about a downtown bookstore that was here a decade before Borders and is now approaching its 25th year in Davis, The Avid Reader.
The story of The Avid Reader begins with Alzada Knickerbocker, a Davis resident for over thirty years who was the marketing director for The Sacramento Symphony in 1987 when she decided to make her dream of owning a business a reality. She knew a lot about marketing, but she knew nothing about retail, had never run a cash register, and knew nothing more about books than that she was an avid reader. Despite her inexperience, she decided to take the risk of buying out a store called Orpheus Books and renaming it The Avid Reader. Looking back, she says “What a lot of nerve and naivete to think I could run a store and it would all work out.” Don Kochis, the owner of Orpheus Books, became her mentor in learning how to run a cash register, and a business. Today Kochis manages The Avid Reader’s Sacramento store which Alzada and her former husband, Stan Forbes, shown here, co-own while Alzada is the sole owner of the Davis store.
The competition has always been fierce for a bookstore in a college town, with The Next Chapter and Gayle’s in the early years and with Borders and Amazon.com providing competition more recently. The Avid Reader has survived and thrived by focusing on strengths, like a deep understanding of the Davis community’s reading interests and strong and personal customer service. If you come in looking for a book and don’t find it on the shelves, the staff will search their databases for new copies or will help track down copies of out-of-print books. They place orders five times a week, so books come in quickly and they’ll even have books delivered directly to your home.
They have maintained strong sections for children, history, literature and science fiction to match the reading needs of their Davis customers, and they’ll now be expanding sections that haven’t been as well-stocked like gardening, cooking and lifestyle books. The strong children’s section is unique not only in its selection, but also in its ambience. What child wouldn’t enjoy going up to the tree-house-like second floor and snuggling up with a book with one of the over-stuffed friends up there?
Being an independent store gives The Avid Reader the flexibility to respond quickly to needs and to changes that a large chain store with corporate control outside of the local area can’t do. If you’re a local school or charitable organization seeking support, you can get a quick answer without having to go through a hierarchy of command or a company allocation system. The Avid Reader has supported many local organizations and takes part in the monthly 2nd Friday ArtAbout. Suzie Valdrow will be featured at a reception on August 12 and her large abstract watercolors like this one will then be on display through September 6.
Local authors have always been a drawing card with about 100 book-signing and other events each year. Coming at 7:30 p.m. on August 19 is Catriona McPherson discussing Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Blood Stains, and on August 20 at 7:30 Rudi Deckers will talk about his unique encounters with two of the 9/11 hijackers and his book Guilty by Association. August 6 also brings Andrew Wingfield to the Sacramento store at 4 p.m. to discuss his prize-winning Right of Way.
When The Avid Reader opened, the books that were flying off the shelves were hardcover copies of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Stephen King’s Misery and Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games. Today’s best selling hardcovers are George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons and Danielle Steel’s Happy Birthday, but a look at the bestsellers also shows a category that wasn’t even around in 1987, “Combined Print and e-Book Fiction” topped by Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. The Avid Reader can now help you buy a Google e-book right at the store, allowing you to support your local bookstore while embracing the latest technology.
There is something timeless about a local bookstore, which is why I opened with a photo of Alzada next to the classic clock on the main floor. However, timelessness requires both stability and change, and The Avid Reader continues to walk that fine line between tradition and new technology and preferences. There will always be something magical about a child’s first experience with a classic story or an adult’s discovery of a new author or a whole new genre, no matter how they’re reading it. Keep reading, but remember, no texting or reading, while you’re walking or driving.