The old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” could very well apply to Davidsons. The venerable men’s clothier, headquartered in downtown Roanoke, has seen its share of both change and continuity in its 107-year history.
Davidsons is the second oldest retail store in Roanoke still managed by a member of the original family, says Larry Davidson, president. His grandfather opened the store in its first location, a tiny space at 101½ Jefferson Street in 1910. It has occupied the current location since 1964.
Joseph Davidson came to America from Lithuania in 1900. He ended up in Roanoke thanks to a distant relative and began working in a local clothing store owned by Simon Silverman. The move not only gave him his start in the business but his wife as well. He married his boss’s daughter, Daisy Belle. Davidson said his grandparents spent their honeymoon on a buying trip for the new store.
“Luck was with him,” Larry Davidson says.
Roanoke was going through a growth spurt between 1908 and 1920 at the same time that the men’s clothing field was shifting to ready-to-wear.
“He picked up on that and was at the right place at the right time. He came from an exceedingly humble background. How he had the ability to navigate that is a wonder to me.”
Over the years, Davidsons survived the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression and World War II. Davidson’s father, Sig, returned to the family business and oversaw a period of expansion.
“It was a good time in menswear through the 1970s,” he says.
Davidsons opened stores in Blacksburg, at Towers Shopping Center and in the local malls.
“The national trend was shopping in malls as entertainment.”
Menswear peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he says, aided by relaxed dress codes in businesses. Since then, Davidsons has consolidated to the flagship store downtown and a location at Grand Pavilion, across from Tanglewood.
The consolidation freed up space in the downtown building, allowing Davidson and his wife, Janice, to realize a long-held dream of living there. As a teenager in 1964, he had spent time in what is now his home scraping paint off the walls before Davidsons moved into the space. Davidson has seen the rise, fall and renaissance of downtown Roanoke.
“There’s a different kind of vibrancy now, but more so since the 1960s,” he says, noting the national trend of companies moving back to urban centers.
He said he made a commitment to downtown in 2007 when he renovated the building to include living spaces.
“It has become a true neighborhood,” he says, adding the downtown living movement “saved the heart of the community.”
Community is important to Davidson and his family. Sig Davidson has been recognized nationally by the National Association of Fundraising Executives.
“It’s a family value, a part of where we are. Our lives are enriched by this community. We feel a need to give back.”