Brett and Erin Arnold sit on the floor of their bookstore with several books around them

Brett and Erin Arnold, photographed at The Avid Reader in Davis (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

A New Chapter

by | Oct 17, 2022 | College Town, Culture

When Brett and Erin Arnold moved back to Davis, they wanted to get involved in the local community. This goal, as well as a love of books, led the UC Davis alumni couple to buy local bookstore The Avid Reader in 2020.

Brett ’01, an attorney, and Erin (McCann) ’03, a trained therapist, were looking for an adventure — and when they agreed to purchase both The Avid Reader and the Avid & Co. (a toy store), they got it.

“I remember calling up one of my best friends Holly [Snyder Thompson ’02], who helps manage the store with me, if this is something that she would be willing to do with Brett and I, and thankfully she said yes. We have been so fortunate to have such a strong support system throughout this process. Davis was always so good to us during our undergraduate years, we have so many of our mutual friends and family around here, it just made sense,” said Erin.

Brett and Erin met as students at UC Davis.

“It was the ’90s, so I met Brett when he was playing the guitar with a band he was involved with,” Erin said. “I remember asking him to my semi-formal for my sorority. We started dating shortly afterward.”

“She was a freshman, and I was a junior,” Brett added.

Erin mentioned how much she enjoyed her time at the Quad and the naps that she would take there. She also recalled working at the Coffee House and how much she loved it. “I stuck to campus a lot. The furthest I went into downtown was Mishka’s,” joked Erin.

Brett’s parents also attended UC Davis and married. He said he knew that he wanted to go to UC Davis from the start. His father was a farmer, and he remembered using tractors and tending to the animals on his family’s farm. This prompted Brett to major in crop science and management. Erin majored in human development.

The two married during Erin’s fourth year at UC Davis and then moved to Pasadena to finish their master’s programs: Erin in marriage and family counseling and Brett in theology. He later attended law school. The couple moved back to Davis to raise their children Owen, 11, and Emelyne, 14.

Brett and Erin Arnold hold up a book in front of their faces

Brett and Erin Arnold photographed with a few of their favorite books (Karin/Higgins/UC Davis)

A Davis mainstay

The Avid Reader opened in Davis in 1987. The store has kept most of its original setup, though the owners have made some changes for accessibility. Things like a grandfather clock located at the back of the store, and the children’s upstairs and downstairs reading area have been left the same. Erin mentioned that the community has a lot of fondness for the beloved bookstore.

About 10 years ago, The Avid Reader opened a second store on the same street with a selection of toys and other gifts. That store — Avid & Co. — offers a variety of vintage and modern board games, puzzles, plush animals, and arts and crafts. Erin added that she tries to stock toys and items that other businesses don’t sell.

Though both stores promised great adventures, when the Arnolds took ownership in February 2020, they were just adjusting to owning a business when the worldwide pandemic hit.

“It was definitely a challenge having to close our doors when we had just bought the stores,” Brett stated. Erin agreed and thanked their employees for being flexible with hours and the modifications that needed to occur due to COVID-19.

Both highlighted one another’s talents as helpful to the business.

“Brett helps me with the business aspect of the store by figuring out the accounting and legal contracts,” Erin said. “It’s great knowing that we can use both of our skill sets to thrive in this adventure.”

They said they have also made the store’s operation a family affair.

“It’s great to have our kids come in and help us out with the store. Whether it’s handling the cash register, or suggesting a book, it really has helped us as a family implement both community and family values onto them. My daughter was so excited about us owning a bookstore, and my son was thrilled to own a toy store,” said Brett.

In addition to books, The Avid Reader also offers an assortment of gift items. Brett mentioned how creative Erin is with her ability to give the store a personality. With her team, she has added candles, natural soaps, keychains of famous authors, pins, tote bags and local artist-made stickers.

“I feel that my background with human development has allowed me to understand kids, teenagers and young adults, and what it means to offer a space for them to feel welcomed. Aside from the books themselves, I try to show customers that this is the bookstore for them, because we’ll always have content waiting for them at our door,” said Erin.

And she said she knows the importance of an independent bookstore in a town like Davis.

Erin quoted author Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, “You know it’s like the quote says: “A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”