When I set up the bookstore for the first time in June, I felt a bit like the grasshopper in the fable. I had the van outfitted, some books sorted in the garage to replace those that sold, and a few events lined out. I was prepared to enjoy the first customers (happened to be a Canadian couple who bought art books) and..well..see how things would unfold. Now with the first frosts in northwest Montana and the aspen turning brilliant yellow, I realize its fall and that means it will soon be winter. What might this mean for a traveling bookstore? Before I had too much time to consider this though, the bookstore was invited to Zoe’s eighth birthday party. Each child attending could get one book as a party favor. You have to love parents who think like this! And on November 20th, the bookstore will be in Missoula to complement Radius Gallery‘s Holiday Art Show. A bit like one-stop shopping. You have an opportunity to buy both beautiful art and unusual used books for those who are special on your list. There are a few private events, a trip to Libby and another appearance at the HA) Brewery lined up. Will even bring the bookstore to a holiday bazaar in Eureka. This still doesn’t address winter though – not really. Does the bookstore hibernate when the temperatures dip or should it be available throughout the season? Should I put in carpeting that does well with snow? Feature books on tropical places? Perhaps I will wait to see what that chapter brings.
Going into the second month of the traveling bookstore business and I still feel that I am continually and delightfully amazed and perplexed by the way things unfold. People give me books to sell. I had thought that there would be initial donations as friends helped to get me started in this business. But now strangers who visit the bookstore might ask, “So where do you get your books?” and I explain that they have been donated and before you know it, this person I never met before is taking my address to drop off books. Or when I was at the HA Brewery, a woman who saw on Facebook that I was going to set up there, came with a box of books in her car to give me. And there are the people who seem to so thoroughly enjoy visiting the bookstore. Sometimes I am asked, “What sorts of people buy your books?” and well, really all kinds. The traveling bookstore seems to be a big hit with little kids but there are the older kids and the adults and those older ones as well. Last week at the Eureka farmers market, a young couple stopped by. It felt to me that they were having a date as she found a book she wanted (by Janet Evanovich), and the young man offered to buy it for her. All these things that happen and even more that I don’t have time today to write about, but encounters and overheard conversations and questions and remarks that come out of people walking into a van that is really a bookstore. Recently one of the remarks and then the conversation that resulted was about authenticity. I am still not entirely sure what it means in this context. I know the person who said it to me meant it as a compliment. And I know that the bookstore is there (wherever there happens to be on a given day) to give whomever walks by a chance to buy books. I am not doing a hard sell. I am trying not to over charge (Anne convinced me to lower my price on kids books). I want to pay the bills and offer the best books that I can cull from the piles in my garage. I want people to appreciate the book that they buy. But perhaps authenticity stretches beyond that. It is still early – my 39th day in business. I still might figure it out.
I don’t do well with summer. It is something of a conundrum when I realize I started a business that will mostly operate in warm weather months. Dealing with this reality, I wear loose fitting clothes, a large brimmed hat and dark sun glasses when I am out and about with the bookstore. I also read books I have been stockpiling for the season. Books about winter. Books with frozen tundra. Books where characters wrap up in thick coats and mufflers. This summer which looks exceptionally hot in Montana, I have the good fortune to read Adam Gopnik’s Winter. I learn about snowflakes which actually begin their existence rather similar to each other and develop their individuality as they descend through the sky. I read about the men who risked everything to get to the poles even when they weren’t entirely sure where the poles were. I read about icebergs and penguins and long winter nights. I sit in the shade with a cold drink and use the medicinal powers of reading to take me to a climate that is more akin to my nature. Thank you, Mr. Gopnik.
So it went from a dream to buying a used van to getting a guy to build shelves and then this weekend filling it with books. Now I just have to get the logo put on the outside (fingers crossed that Bitterroot Screen Printers magically push me to the top of their list). and I am ready to go. There is a Facebook page and this blog and 221 Dewey Graphics is setting up my website. I try to imagine if this is less complicated than opening a brick-and-mortar store. Or maybe its not more or less complicated – just a different kind. The space inside the van is small but not that small. I do think at some point I will need an awning to cover the entrance. oh my. So many details and truly I am not a business person. Years ago Don Fleck who was a business partner with me in a bakery said, “You don’t have to own a bakery if you like to eat good bread.” At the time though in the far northwest corner of Montana, it did seem that we needed to own a bakery or …well, I needed to start baking at home. Now I am venturing forth on this traveling bookstore business. Yes I like to read. Actually I really like to read. I obviously think reading is medicinal as I am claiming to be a textual apothecary. But is liking to read equivalent to owning a bookstore? Not only do I like to read but I think other people would like reading too if they can find the right book. And trying not to sound too smug, I think its difficult to find the right book browsing Amazon. I think it helps to hold it in your hands, look at the font and page size, give it a smell, maybe read a page or two and then decide if it can come home with you. I want to give this opportunity to find a good book to people. And I guess I need a traveling bookstore in order to do that.
I had to start somewhere so here it is. The van is parked next to my garage and I am starting to load in the hundreds of books that I have been collecting for the past year. The logo is designed. I have a name. Or rather the business has a name. I personally have had a name for the last 63 years. But now the business which is nearly new has its very own name. St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary. St. Rita of Cascia is the patron of impossible causes. I thought starting a mobile bookstore business in the far northwest corner of Montana might be nearly impossible so it would be good to have her on my side. We will see. There are all those sayings to encourage me as well. “A thousand mile journey begins with a single step” or “If you build it, they will come.” Not sure if a mobile bookstore fits in to either of these. I tend to be optimistic although not very good at business. However this turns out, its bound to be an adventure.