Nashville's Independent Bookstores
Our independent book stores are doing better than surviving—they’re thriving.
Written By: Susannah Felts
Photographers: The Tennessean, Tyler Stewart & Melanie Foster
The well-told tale about bookselling in Nashville in recent years is this: Davis-Kidd closed, and shortly afterward so did Borders. Suddenly Nashville was without a serious bookstore. The one-two punch was a blow to booklovers, but in retrospect it might have been the best thing to happen for independent bookselling in Nashville, in that it presented a golden opportunity to launch a new store.
But local readers did have places to go for books—if more used than new. Nashville has long had a reasonably healthy used-books market, and business is brisker than ever at some longtime retailers. BookMan BookWoman in Hillsboro Village has increased its sales by nearly 35 percent in the years since Davis-Kidd closed, expanded its new titles to 25 percent of its total inventory, and reports a strong repeat customer base. And Rhino Books, which boasts a deep inventory of collectible and first-edition titles, continues to bring in customers apace at its two locations. “We’re here for the long haul,” says owner Fred Koller.
To a large extent, these shops are simply taking a page from the old-school booksellers’ playbook. “Twenty years ago when I was first on tour,” says Ann Patchett, “independent bookstores seemed very much the same as they do today: they were providing a community center and knowledgeable staff and a place to celebrate books. I think we're doing all those things now. When I look back at our bookstore ancestors my goal is to be like them, not different.”
For all their differences, Nashville’s independent bookstores are united in their commitment to event programming as a way to turn customers into community. Howlin’ Books hosts their Howlin’ After Dark, a monthly reading series held at the shop, featuring local emerging writers. And Parnassus has quickly filled Davis-Kidd’s shoes as a destination for A-list authors on book tour, both via in-store appearances and in partnership with the Nashville Public Library’s Salon 615 series, which has hosted authors such as Neil Gaiman, Richard Ford, Yann Martel, and Cheryl Strayed.