Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

A New “Third Place” in Clarksville

Clarksville has embraced a new independent bookstore: Humble Universe Disturbers

Clarksville’s Humble Universe Disturbers Used Books and More (or HUDUBAM Booktraders, as it is familiarly known) was conceived in 2017 by college instructor, editor, and all-around bookworm Aubrey Collins. A year later, her dream came to life in a quirky retail space on College Street. In August, the bookshop’s own story took a nightmarish turn: Collins and her staff were robbed at gunpoint as they were closing the store one Wednesday evening.

What happened next could well serve as a metaphor for the entire HUDUBAM story.

Collins described the robbery as “a major turning point for us. It seems crazy now, but by Thursday we had found a new location in the downtown area, and by Sunday, with enormous support from the community, we were completely moved in to the new location.” Co-owner Ericka Arcadia added, “Clarksville wants this space to happen, this bookstore, and we’re only too happy to keep this going.”

In 2017, Collins fell in love with the idea of opening a bookstore. She visited as many regional bookstores as she could manage. She made friends with Len Stoltz at the Small Business Administration, who shepherded her through the process of creating a business plan. She befriended Joyce Hazelwood, owner of the Book Den in Franklin, which was in the process of closing down as plans for HUDUBAM were ramping up. Hazelwood sold Collins much of her inventory and offered valuable advice about the book business.

Collins has known Arcadia since 2014, when they were graduate students in English at Austin Peay State University. The two ran in the same circles after graduation: both worked as adjunct instructors at the university and were active in the local literary scene. A few months after HUDUBAM opened in its original location, Arcadia answered a help-wanted notice and began working at the store part-time.

It was the robbery and subsequent move that inspired Arcadia to partner in the venture. She recalls the way the community came together to support Collins’s fledgling bookstore: “People came out of the woodwork, from Austin Peay, from the Unitarian fellowship, and from the yoga studio where I was training to be an instructor. Aubrey’s whole family arrived to help. It was a motley crew of awesome.”

It was clear to Arcadia that the groundswell of support was as much a response to Collins as to the bookstore itself: “A lot of us wanted to show her that she mattered, that her efforts were appreciated, and that the world was still good. By the end of the weekend, every last box had been moved into the new location. It was beautiful.”

Things seemed to fall into place after HUDUBAM’s move to its Franklin Street location. Like many towns and cities in the South, Clarksville’s downtown is undergoing revitalization on multiple fronts, and HUDUBAM seems poised to benefit from the burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene, not to mention the Clarksville Farmer’s Market, which is located around the corner from the store and draws weekend shoppers. The historic Roxy Theater is nearby, and Clarksville’s Downtown Artists Co-op took an immediate interest in collaborating with and supporting the new store.

The community itself seemed determined to keep the store afloat. “Virginia Brown, author of the Dixie Divas series, came to read at our store within a few hours of our reopening,” Arcadia said. “No kidding. We barely had the place together before it was completely filled with fans of Virginia’s work.”

While HUDUBAM stocks both new and used books, it is more than just a store. It also provides a physical space for local writers to share their work through author events and open-mic nights. There are in-store nooks where people can write and book clubs can meet. Titles from local publishers Zone 3 Press and Thorncraft Publishing are showcased in the store. HUDUBAM hosts creative-writing groups and workshops of various types, even offering “accountability projects for writers who need the structure of deadlines to get the juices flowing,” according to Arcadia. Away from Franklin Street, Arcadia also represents the store by meeting once a month with a group of veterans to mentor them in creative-writing projects.

What keeps these two writers, editors, teachers, and booksellers going? In some respects, they say, their determination to make HUDUBAM a success can be traced six years back to when each of them lost a parent to illness. Collins’s mother was a teacher, and the bookseller credits a childhood steeped in reading with both her inspiration to open the store and the drive to make it a success. “The story goes that my parents read Shakespeare to me when I was in the womb,” Collins said. “I’ve had a love of reading my whole life. I was the kid at the midnight release parties for the Harry Potter books.”

For her part, Arcadia inherited some money after her father’s death, which she regarded with bitterness and ignored for a long time. “I just wanted my father back,” she said. But when she got involved with HUDUBAM, she realized that she and Collins were processing grief in similar ways. Partnering with Collins and investing her own savings in the store was “a way to manifest something living and good.”

“When the pressure of running a business becomes draining, I remember those things, and I consider it the best possible investment,” she said. “We’re kind of blessed in that respect because every time a problem comes up, it seems like the answer to that problem walks right through our door. I can’t help but think we’re being ‘looked after’.”

Not only does HUDUBAM have the enthusiastic support of Clarksville, and—perhaps—the universe, Collins and Arcadia depend on each other above all. “With her vision and work ethic in tandem with mine,” Collins said, “we feel like we have something really special that we can offer the Clarksville community.”

Arcadia hopes to see HUDUBAM become “an established fixture on the Franklin Strip by the end of 2019. I want people to know they can be seen, heard, and celebrated in our space as a member of a whole community of artists that call our bookstore home. I want the warmth of ‘home’ to be felt by everyone who walks through the door. Clarksville has put a lot of faith in us to succeed, and I don’t want to disappoint our community. They have certainly not disappointed us.”