The Tennessean
November 2, 2008

Davis, Kidd Don't Always Live By The Book


They are the women behind the iconic Nashville bookstore that bears their names: Davis-Kidd Booksellers. For 17 years, they handpicked books for their Nashville readers and created a cool hangout for bookies. Their Green Hills spot grew into a comfortable literary community where patrons were encouraged to peruse and linger.

By the time Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd sold the business in 1997, they had expanded to three other Tennessee towns.

Friends since their early 20s and social workers before they launched Nashville's first female-owned and -operated independent bookstore, they remain close pals 11 years after parting ways with the book-selling business.

Their names remain in lights as the bookstore continues to operate under the ownership of another independent bookseller in Nashville and Memphis, but Davis and Kidd no longer have any part in peddling books. They've reinvented themselves yet again.

Kidd: Helping with the vision thing

Some people are too busy in life. Others aren't busy enough.

"My job is to help people identify what they have too much of and what they don't have enough of in their life at a given point in time," Thelma Kidd says.

A certified life coach, Kidd specializes in coaching women in transition.

"Coaching is about having a vision of where you want your life to go," she says, "and getting help creating that vision and getting clear on how to proceed in that direction."

After selling Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Kidd took two years off to recharge and spend time with her son, who was 12 at the time.

A longtime interest in personal growth and development led her to coaching.

"Life is so complex and hectic, full and fast," she says. "There is little time for silence and self-reflection."

She'd enjoyed her days as a social worker at the nonprofit Family & Children's Service from her life before the bookstore. But, "With coaching, I felt I could combine the more strategic thinking of business and project development that you deal with in having your own business with the personal growth and spiritual side of life purpose and how people make decisions on how they spend their lives," she says. Sometimes women are dealing with a new direction in life that they've chosen, while others have change thrust upon them. Some women simply find themselves in a rut, she says.

"Each of us knows what is right for us, we just don't know we know it," she says. As a coach, she straddles the line between providing guidance, through careful listening and perceptive questions, and helping clients find the answers within themselves.

Davis: Walking the world

Nearly 20 years ago, walking parts of southern England on vacation, Karen Davis realized a passion that ran as deep as her love for books and reading.

"It was very freeing," Davis says. "The freedom of being outside and walking every day. And not being restricted by an itinerary or a bus."

Her "walking holiday," as it's called, turned into a side business run out of Davis-Kidd Booksellers. When she and Thelma Kidd sold the shop, Davis continued organizing weeklong walking trips in breathtaking spots throughout the world.

This year, Davis put together eight trips and personally traveled on seven of them. Always, the groups are small, no more than 15, and include about eight miles of trekking each day.

She has led travelers to Costa Rica, Spain, Italy, Wales and Mexico.

"I've chosen places I enjoyed myself," Davis says, picking locales that are off the beaten track and including a local guide well-versed in history and culture.

Choice is 'organic'

At first, Davis and her travelers tramped the west coast of Wales year after year. "Then I'd have people in the group suggest mountain walking or going to Italy," Davis says. From there, the itinerary of trips expanded.

"It kind of grew in an organic way," Davis says. "Like Davis-Kidd, I had no idea it would turn into what it became."

Davis-Kidd started as a single shop but over time expanded into larger spaces and into new cities. That expansion was guided by an attitude of letting one thing lead to another, rather than a master plan.
For instance, a customer's offhand comment led them to open a store in Memphis. "Someone in a wheelchair came into the store and told us she could go down the aisle and look at books, and there wasn't a place in Memphis where she could do that," Davis recalls, saying they
deliberately designed extra-wide aisles to accommodate benches for customers to sit and read for a spell.

"That was a clue for us that we could be broader than this," Davis says. "It came through listening." Before she paired up with Kidd to start the bookstore, Davis was a social worker at Planned Parenthood in Nashville, working as a counseling coordinator.

"We both liked books and bookstores," she says about the shop's beginning. "We had a desire to have something that was ours to build."

They gave the store their names because "we wanted to take responsibility for this business," Davis says.
Her travel gig is a part-time business, enough to keep her as busy as she wants but not enough to solely finance her life, she says. Both she and Kidd made enough from selling the four-store company to fund the next phase in their lives.

Davis won't be offering any more trips until 2010. She plans to take next year off to explore new locations - Guatemala, Argentina, Chile and Eastern Europe.

Even though her life has moved to travel and volunteer work, bookselling still runs in her blood. "We officially have no connection to the business, but I think I'll always feel an attachment," Davis says.

Parts come together

Davis-Kidd Booksellers, she says, was greater than the sum of its parts.
"It became so much more than just me or just Karen," Kidd says.
"It took on a life of its own. It was the people who shopped there, the authors who came, the books on the shelves, the people who worked there." She knows the store's success made for a good launching pad into her life-coaching business. She says she's certain people know her name from the store.

As part of her coaching business, she annually leads the Women's Learning Community, a nine-month journey of self-reflection and creative learning limited to eight women. Cost this year was $2,750. In all, though, coaching is a part-time career. Like Davis, Kidd relies on proceeds from selling the stores to support herself. She also does a "little bit" of real estate work through Brentwood-based Viva Properties. "I didn't know this would happen," Kidd says of the path her life has taken. "I don't know what will happen next. The part I can plan is how I want to be during the next phase of my life, regardless of the circumstances."

Contact Bonna Johnson at 615-726-5990 or

About Davis & Kidd
Age: 63
Residence: Green Hills
Family: Two adult children; one granddaughter, 14 months; divorced
Education: Master's in social work, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; education degree, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
Occupation: Life coach
Hobbies: Reading, writing, going to movies, antiquing; volunteer with Gathering to Save Our Democracy, an advocacy group for paper ballots in elections
Contact:; 370-0348

Age: 63
Residence: Green Hills
Family: Single, no children
Education: Master's in social work, University of Tennessee, Nashville; B.S. in psychology, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas
Occupation: President of KDavis Travels, which specializes in weeklong small group walking tours (range from $1,500 to $2,250, excluding airfare)
Hobbies: Travel, walking, reading; board member of Friends of Radnor Lake and Penuel Ridge Retreat Center; volunteer with Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt and YMCA of Green Hills

Thelma Kidd
What she does now: Thelma is a life coach:
Her advice: "Don't take life too seriously," Kidd says. There's a delicate balance between managing something with just the right amount of control so you don't go off the rails and leaving enough room for creativity and reaching your potential, she says. It's that philosophy that has led her to a realization that you don't have to be just one thing in life. "In reality, what we do is much more about what we bring to the job and to our life than it is about our skills, abilities and training."

Karen Davis
What she does now: Karen is president of a small company that organizes small walking trips throughout the globe:
Her advice: "Be alert to things that you connect with naturally. Take those as cues, as something you could really explore and develop into something to follow."

Thelma Kidd
Life Transitions Coach
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