PLANT CITY – Former employee Bob Hart, 52, accompanied by his 19-year-old son, Aaron, stopped by Badcock Home Furniture & more recently to wish owner Coleman Davis success and happiness in his newest endeavor: Retirement.
After a 51-year-career, Davis’ last day at work was Sept. 14. His office was vacant, the mementos already packed up and stored in his garage. It’s a bittersweet time for the 71-year-old fixture on Plant City’s furniture scene.
“It has been a difficult decision,” Davis said. “It is hard to walk away from people. I’ve been so blessed being able to make a living doing the things I love to do.”
And what he loved to do most, he said, was interact with customers and build relationships with them.
“Open that door,” he gestured to the store’s entrance. “This is an extension of my home and so opening that door is opening the door to my home.”
Paul Davis, 59, general manager of the Florida Strawberry Festival, said he has known Davis about 40 years, first meeting him during community events while Paul Davis was a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy.
“Having the same last name, you check to see if you are related,” he joked. “Somehow trying to get a deal on that furniture.”
Seriously, he said, “He is one of a kind. We absolutely love doing business with him.”
“I venture to say that he loves the community as a business leader. He loves his customers, loves his co-workers and loves the community.”
James Coleman Davis’ parents both worked for the W.S. Badcock Company, and he naturally gravitated there, as well. After college, he spent nine years in the business’ Mulberry corporate office: in the warehouse, in the auditing department and helping form its legal department.
But as a teenager, Davis worked at Plant Pharmacy and discovered he loved meeting and helping people. The corporate setting didn’t afford that same satisfaction and, in 1971, he partnered with Crea Beauchamp and opened an independent Badcock Home Furnishing Center. When Beauchamp retired, Davis bought the store, and established three others in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
His business acumen and community outreach netted Davis the prestigious Small Retailer Leadership Award from the Florida Retail Federation in 2004.
“It just makes you humble,” said Davis.
The last two stores to be sold, in Zephyrhills and Plant City, went in June and September, respectively. The Plant City dealership was bought by the W.S. Badcock Corporation.
“We have a lot of mixed emotions,” said Davis’ son Jamie, a partner in the law firm of Trinkle, Redman, Swanson, Coton, Davis and Smith.
“He has worked a lot longer than most people. I’m very, very happy for him, but he will not be one to slow down.”
“He’s always said there are givers and there are takers, and you need to be a giver. He is someone who is very much a giver in the community. He’ll continue to give, just away from the business.”
Indeed, on the day prior to his retirement, Sylvia Knox, president of South Florida Baptist Hospital’s Foundation Board, stopped by to pick up Davis’ donation for the foundation’s silent auction, held during the Diamond & Denim Jubilee slated for Sept. 26.
Davis carefully set aside the tags of the donated items. These were his personal donations, something he does every year.
Within minutes of stowing the items in Knox’s car, Jodi Stevens, on SFBH’s Physician Relations staff, stopped by with papers on doctor’s privileges for Davis to review.
“The hospital is very important to me,” said Davis, who is on the Board of Trustees at SFBH and St. Joseph’s Hospital, as well as the SFBH’s foundation board. The foundation raises funds for needs within medical areas of the hospital. “That takes a good bit of time. I enjoy doing it, and I’ll be doing it at my leisure, instead of cramming.”
He also is a strong supporter of the non-profit Pregnancy Care Center, and serves as chairman of its board of directors.
“We see nearly 200 clients a month,” said Davis.
He has been a Plant City Lion’s Club member for 34 years and was president in 2000. The Lions have honored him with several local awards and he is the recipient of the International President’s Medal of Honor.
But the high point of his work with the Lions, Davis said, was the Florida Lions Camp for the Visually Impaired.
“It was a multipurpose camp. We took all the little campers nobody else would take. We gave those kids a week of quality camp time. Those children were special to me. It was the highlight of their year, and it gave the parents a week of respite.”
The Lions still own the property, 5.7 acres in Lake Wales on Tiger Lake, but haven’t been able to provide the camp for several years because of the weak economy, said Davis.
As 30-year member and past chairman of the East Hillsborough Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee, Davis has been instrumental in the effort to recognize and honor the work of law enforcement agencies, including the Plant City Police Department, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. The annual appreciation banquet, which marked its 50th year in 2012, has been attended by up to 450 honorees, guests and organizers.
In 2005, Davis received Plant City’s prestigious Citizen of the Year Award.
“That was special,” he said, “because my family really appreciated it.”
Davis has been married to Sue, 70, for 49 years. He asked her out after Hurricane Donna hit the area in 1960.
“The rest is history,” said Davis. “She’s my partner in everything.”
In addition to son Jamie, 40, the Davises have a daughter, Laura Storter, 45, and two grandchildren, Taryn, 11, and Hope, 6. Laura’s husband, Mike Storter, died in May 2012 after battling leukemia for three years.
“That will change a family in a hurry, let me tell you,” Davis said, momentarily overcome. “I’ll spend more time with them.”
The family will be able to linger longer at their cabin in Balsam, N.C., where the children can go rafting and swimming, he said.
“He’s a real strong family man,” said former seven-term mayor Mike Sparkman, who has been friends with the Davises since the early 1960s. “At this juncture of his life, his family is the most important thing to him.”
Jamie Davis said that always has been the case.
“As busy as he was – he worked six days a week – he never once missed anything we did as children. That’s had such an impact on me.”
Her father’s last day at Badcock brought back many memories for Storter, who helped out at “Dad’s store” from the time she was 13 until she graduated from college. There are family memories, like the business cards and name tags her father made for Taryn, and Hope playing in his office.
“Along with that is the way he has been able to affect the community just by being there,” said Storter. “He was always willing to give a hand and help out whenever he could. It will take a little adjusting, I guess. It was time for him to go and do things with my mom.”
Davis plans to build an office at home where he’ll write his memoirs.
“I’m about halfway through it,” he said. “I’m going to put something down so my family will have a sense of who we were.”
The family has been privileged to live in a community that cares about each other, he said. And they are a family of faith.
“My church is important to me,” said Davis, who is chairman of deacons at Plant City’s First Baptist Church. “We worship every week.”
On his last day of work, Davis planned to give new W. C. Badcock Corporation Manager Mike Rideout a tour of his community. There were a few final details to attend to, as well. “This place is going to be sparkling when I leave.”