Ann Arbor outfitter Bivouac celebrates 50 years of business

Owner Ed Davidson announces semi-retirement

Bivouac owner Ed Davidson opened his store across from U-M's central campus in 1971. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – Situated right across from University of Michigan’s central campus, Bivouac has been a shopping destination for students, their families, visitors and locals for decades.

What started as an army surplus shop in 1971 during the Vietnam War era has transformed into an outfitter and boutique selling winter gear from some of the biggest names in outerwear to designer clothing, candles and skincare.

Owner Ed Davidson said the store will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Oct. 9 in a letter to the community. He also announced that he plans to semi-retire at that point and his son AJ Davidson, Bivouac’s current president, will take over operations.

Davidson said the best advice he was given was “the best fertilizer is a farmers feet.” He is often seen in the store chatting with customers and telling them the history of the shop, something he plans to continue.

“I will still be involved and will continue to be on the sales floor,” Davidson wrote. “I still enjoy waiting on customers, many of whom have been shopping with us for decades.”

Ed Davidson (right) helps a customer in the early days of Bivouac. (Courtesy: Ed Davidson)

In his letter, Davidson shared memories of his first shop in the Midwest college town.

“My first store was in an apartment above Campus Bike and Toy on William Street,” he wrote. “I lived in the store. At close, a mattress came out if the closet. I have heard many stories of merchants who lived above the store -- not in.”

He also recalled one of his early customers, poet Joseph Brodsky who was expelled from Russia, came into his store upon arriving to Ann Arbor requesting an army field jacket in order to fit in. Brodsky, who later won the Nobel Prize in Literature, became one of Davidson’s regular customers.

Davidson said the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic was his hardest as a business owner. Before COVID vaccines became available, his son wouldn’t allow him in the shop for months for fear of contracting the virus, Davidson told A4 in an earlier interview.

“I have learned in the past 50 years to pivot with the times,” wrote Davidson. “I have been (through) recessions, warm winters (we sell a lot of winter coats when it’s cold or snowy). But the toughest year of all was last year. Luckily, my son had developed an online store presence and we were able to offer curbside pickup and delivery. I did my best for the community and my customers. I am very thankful for their support.”

Community members are invited to celebrate Bivouac’s 50th anniversary on Oct. 9 with free raffle prizes all day long to mark the milestone. In addition, Bivouac will be donating 10% of sales to the Huron River Watershed Council.

Bivouac is located at 336 S. State St.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.