Our History

In 1900, an 18-year-old Joe Davidson left the bleak prospects of his native Lithuania in search of a more promising life. As the business he started in 1910 celebrates its 100th anniversary “A Century of Style” join us in looking back on the history of the company (as recounted by Joe’s children Sig Davidson and Mimi Davidson Leeds and compiled by his great-grandson Douglas Davidson). We hope you’ll join in the story.

Joe entered America through Ellis Island, that traditional gateway by which so many entered the new world – and new opportunity. He started work alongside his elder sister in a Providence factory and before long followed a distant relative’s invitation to come to Roanoke, where his seemingly unbounded ambition combined with an innate sense of style fueled his long-held desire to work in the clothing industry.

Fortunately, Joe’s arrival in the city coincided with the great shift from hand-made to quality ready-to-wear clothing, which produced an explosion of small, independent clothing shops in
cities across the country.

He found an outlet for his aspirations when he landed a job in a local clothing store owned by Simon Silverman.

Joe spent a few years at Simon’s, honing a philosophy of selling a few nice things well rather than selling many things quickly (and getting closer to Simon’s daughter Daisy Belle).

Despite early success, his ambition could not be contained within the walls of this little store. In 1910—100 years ago this year —Joe took the next great leap. He married Daisy and opened his own clothing shop at 101½ South Jefferson Street. The Davidsons legacy in Roanoke had begun.

Most newlyweds dream of steaming off to exciting adventures in exotic lands, but not Joe & Daisy. The Davidson honeymoon was spent sleeping on chairs in Baltimore, waiting on meetings to procure the clothing for this brand new store.

With everything in order (and merchandise finally on the shelves), they opened the store, where Daisy tended the books (just as she had at her father’s store) and Joe — along with a several of Daisy’s relatives — saw to the customers.

Joe and his team in the early days of Davidsons were guided by a simple principle: that customers were community. These men made certain from the beginning that every customer—whether he made a purchase that day or not—was made welcome in the store
and was helped to the very best of their ability. This simple approach of fostering relationships rather than sales was a natural result of Joe’s bedrock conviction that if one expects support from the community one must offer a sincere investment into that community. This simple, gracious attitude ensured that Davidsons would persevere (and even expand) through one
Great Depression and two World Wars.

In 1900, an 18-year-old Joe Davidson left the bleak prospects of his native Lithuania in search of a more promising life. As the business he started in 1910 celebrates its 100th anniversary – “A Century of Style” – join us in looking back on the history of the company (as recounted by Joe’s children Sig Davidson and Mimi Davidson Leeds and compiled by his great-grandson Douglas Davidson). We hope you’ll join in the story.

Davidsons—both the store and the family—saw huge change between the two World Wars. Joseph expanded his investments of time and money in the Roanoke community, becoming a 32° Mason and fostering a strong spirit of civic responsibility that would eventually be carried on in his three young children: Anita, Mimi and Sig. The store, meanwhile, expanded into a larger location at 303 South Jefferson Street, allowing Joe to bring a greater variety of fashions and a more refined shopping experience to his growing clientele.

Joe’s children, of course, could not be expected to stray far from the retail trade. In fact, Sig (who had cut his entrepreneurial teeth buying sodas for a nickel and selling them for a dime at a local watering hole) made his first sale at Davidsons at the tender age of ten.sig as a child Such early promise belied a rakish nature; this Davidson scion was almost as likely to spend a shift playing pool across the street from the store as actually working in it. His parents, though, envisioned a role of more responsibility for the boy, insisting on his having the formal education Joseph never saw. Sig spent two years at Roanoke College and was just finishing his first semester at the Wharton School of Business when the impact of the December, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor compelled him to move back to the area to help in the family business. Though he he was proud of the choice, the sense of responsibility and commitment in which he was steeped pushed him toward more meaningful action; he soon enlisted in the service.

Before he could report for duty, though, Sig had a lot to do. In the space of one short year, he finally secured a date with the young Harriet Cohen (whose picture he had seen two years prior and whom he had then and there determined to wed), he followed through quickly on his aim of marrying his sweetheart (to the shock of her parents), and he graduated from Roanoke College. A scant two weeks later, he left for training and, in the fall of 1944, joined the Allies in combat in Germany. It was, in fact, as he lay recovering from a wound received in battle that he heard word of the birth of his first child—a daughter Bonnie.

While Siggie (as his close friends and family called him) was overseas seeing all this action (more action, he’ll admit, than he really would have cared for), his father Joe still had a store to run in Roanoke.

These were dark years for the American retailer. The Great Depression and the Second World War had in their turn strangled commerce in the country’s businesses and hit them with crippling supply shortages. It was at this time more than any other—with stores across America fighting over the scraps of merchandise that were available—that Joe’s philosophy of cultivating meaningful personal relationships bore him greatest fruit. While everybody was struggling, the respect with which Joe treated suppliers ensured that he always had someone who would make the effort to furnish him with product. The respect with which he treated his clients and friends ensured that when a gentleman found himself with a need he would invariably fill it with Joe.

It was thus that Sig had a place to return after the Allied victory and the end of the war. His triumphant homecoming, he soon realized, only marked the beginning of a whole new era of responsibility, duty and success. Sig would soon take the reins of the business and—as he expanded both his family and his company—would eventually become the patriarch of Davidsons.

In 1900, an 18-year-old Joe Davidson left the bleak prospects of his native Lithuania in search of a more promising life. As the business he started in 1910 celebrates its 100th anniversary – “A Century of Style” – join us in looking back on the history of the company (as recounted by Joe’s children Sig Davidson and Mimi Davidson Leeds and compiled by his great-grandson Douglas Davidson). We hope you’ll join in the story.

Sig’s return to Roanoke after World War II began a period of unrivaled expansion for the Davidsons company. The time from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s marked a stunning height
of the shopping center in America. Sig’s position in such organizations as the Virginia
Association of Retail Clothiers and the Roanoke Junior Chamber of Commerce throughout
the 1950s ensured his company would be well poised to jump into this new movement.

Davidsons did just that when, in 1959, it opened a store in downtown Blacksburg, near the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (better known today as Virginia Tech). The explosion had started. Within two years, in 1961, Davidsons opened a store in Roanoke’s new Towers Shopping Center. Within two years, Davidsons had doubled the size of that store. Another year later, the flagship store downtown expanded into its current location at 412 South Jefferson Street.

Sig continued to guide Davidsons through its period of ballooning expansion throughout the 1960s, establishing new outposts in Martinsville and Lexington while also growing the business in the Roanoke stores. His demonstrated prowess in the retail arena was recognized when he was appointed to the national board of the Menswear Retailers of America trade group. Of course, resonating with his father’s lessons, Sig never lessened his active role in serving the Roanoke community, devoting his time to the presidency of Temple Emanuel and to serving on the board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Roanoke through the 1970s.

The beginning of that decade was the pinnacle of the independent menswear retailer in America. These shopping centers into which Davidsons and stores like it had shifted were funneling thitherto-unimagined business into the shops.

It was time to bring in reinforcements to help with this flood of new business; it was time, in fact, for the third generation of Davidsons to return to the fold. In 1972, Sig’s oldest son Larry left his work at a Cincinnati ad agency to manage the little Lexington store.

The next year, the company jumped into the next unexplored frontier, opening a beautiful new store in Tanglewood, Roanoke’s premier indoor shopping mall. Larry moved yet again to help manage this store, which saw booming business. It was around this time that Larry’s younger brother, Steve, was mustered into action at Davidsons. The glorious success of the Tanglewood store through the rest of the decade inspired a new direction of expansion at the dawn of the next: the move into the malls.

In 1980, as Larry and Steve’s roles in the business grew, Davidsons opened its store in River Ridge mall, following that success with its Valley View store in 1985. That year brought another momentous change in Davidsons: Sig’s retirement. Of course, someone of Sig’s nature couldn’t take this time to relax; instead, he took the time away from the business’ day-to-day operations to deepen his involvement in community service. During this time, he served on the boards of Roanoke College, the Western Virginia Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, The Israel Bond Drives, Downtown Roanoke Inc., the United Jewish Appeal, and the Julian S. Wise Foundation.

He somehow found time to serve as President of the Literacy Volunteers of America in the valley and as Vice President of the Roanoke Lifesaving Crew. Having faithfully carried on his father’s business legacy for so many years, Sig was now doing the same in an equally important arena—that of service and civic responsibility.