Do it. That is what often comes to my mind. When I realized I couldn’t make a go of a brick-and-mortar bookstore in a rural town (pop. 1,037) I began a traveling bookstore. When someone passing through Montana last summer suggested I take the bookstore to the Brooklyn Book Festival, I applied to be a vendor. So now here I am on the other side of that particular adventure. Drove out of Eureka, MT September 12 and returned September 24. In between those dates the bookstore covered over five thousand miles – about eight thousand kilometers. The distances and changing landscapes were significant but the people are what remain with me today.
People who stopped by the bookstore often had encouraging remarks. “This is utterly cool!” “Oh my god this is what I have always dreamed of doing!” “You are right – this is amazing!” There was the Canadian man who seriously wants to start one and I really hope he does. There is the young woman in Missoula who took photos of the interior of the bookstore to send her dad so he can help her create her own traveling bookstore. There was Walker whom I met along the way. He is just starting out with a small traveling bookstore and we hugged, feeling we are surely related.
I talked with people who are transitioning in their lives. Don at eighty-eight is thinking of retiring from the summer theater he began running decades ago. Deb will end her university job next year and might become a docent at the art museum. A woman who moved to Missoula two years ago, can’t find a comfortable place in that community so is looking where she will move next. Esther at eighty-two is exploring how to kayak on her own in upstate New York. Kory is taking off for central Europe to explore Romania and Slovakia while he remains in good health. The waitress at the bar in Mitchell, SD has lived in that town her whole life and is ready to move elsewhere.
Kindnesses were graciously given. Sarah made delicious home-cooked meals although we could only stop to visit in Bozeman for a few hours going and coming. The man who fixed the blown tire in the middle of nowhere suggested a good place to buy a new one in Kadoka, SD. The guy at J & S squeezed us in so we could get back on the road as soon as possible. Don and Tweet from WVIK in Rock Island, IL donated books as did Ya’aqov in Urbana. The volunteers at the Brooklyn Book Festival helped us navigate a great place for the traveling bookstore to set up. Lisa and Jason were wonderful Missoula hosts when the bookstore set up in front of Radius Gallery. Annette made us feel welcome when we set up by Cool Beanz in Illinois. Jenny talked life and whiskey, shared empanadas, and wowed me with her poetry and art.
Henry is a nine year old who typed for at least an hour by the bookstore while his dad drank coffee patiently. A woman let her two little girls play in the bookstore which was a delightful reprieve from serious literary conversations at the Brooklyn festival. One man explained to me the traveling bookstore is a pop-up business but didn’t elaborate whether this was a good thing or not.
I am sure changes will manifest from this experience. Nada talks of starting a book club in Kvacice. Melissa is going to put together a chapbook of her poetry. Jenny might give a writing workshop in Eureka. Anthony and I discussed a bookstore exchange – he would run my bookstore for a month while I ran his in Antigua, Guatemala. Lots of ideas and new connections. And all those individuals who intersected along the way. Yes, definitely do it.