I took the bookstore down to Libby and then up to the Yaak recently. Mostly visiting friends but it was also nice to introduce it to some new people. And there are times when I feel although it might seem rather odd, that its not just about taking books to people but giving the bookstore some adventures of its own. Like that moment in the photo along side Lake Koocanusa. I really didn’t need to be in that particular spot but it just seemed a beautiful moment with the late afternoon sun and the fall colors. I pulled over and took one of those panoramic shots that Rob had shown me about. But mostly I wanted the bookstore to be in that setting. Like wanting it to be on the coast one of these days or drive it across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Or setting it up in a playground with kids all around. Or pulling into a snowy field. Thinking about the bookstore in this way does give pause. It doesn’t really feel like an entrepreneurial perspective. Perhaps because most businesses aren’t mobile. You could think of a brick-and-mortar store in different types of weather but not in different locations. But a traveling bookstore…well, the possibilities are nearly limitless and I enjoy imagining all the places that this bookstore can travel to and all the adventures it might have. Another thought that came to me on this recent trip was about the redistribution of books. A week ago I came home one day to find a couple boxes of books on my front steps. This is not unusual. When I got around to sorting them, I discovered one box was full of books on spiritual topics. I put some in the bookstore and stored the rest. On this trip while in the Yaak, a man asked if I happened to have any books on Zen Buddhism. Sure enough, there were two from the ones I had just found in the box on my steps. This part doesn’t feel like a business – at least not a retail business. It feels more like a delivery service. I get the books which then need to be delivered to the individuals waiting to read them. I guess that’s my job.
I took the first tentative steps into the traveling bookstore business. I have the van and the shelves, a garage full of inventory, a name and business cards. Even a Facebook page. I’ve become an expected feature at the weekly Eureka Farmers Market. I was an unusual attraction at a couple music festivals. I set up the bookstore up at a brew pub and a marina. A few people called me looking for books and I met them along the road to slide open the door to the bookstore. I got my first fan mail from a woman in Florida who was enchanted with the idea of a traveling bookstore and offered to mail me books. I have been invited to bring the bookstore to New York, Washington, Portland, North Carolina and Texas. And I have passed from the early glow of starting the business to a momentary hesitation. It reminds me of coming upon a river in the forest with a fallen log across it. You put a foot on the log to see if it’s stable and then start across the river focusing on your balance. But then at some point, maybe when you look down and see the water rushing below, there’s a hesitation. Is this safe? Is this really what I should be doing? But at that point it would be just as foolish to turn around to go back as it would to continue across. I am by no means half way into the traveling bookstore business. I am still a novice. Maybe this is the point where I am testing the log with my foot. Maybe this is the point where I actually start to cross the river.
I thought about doing a business plan some months ago when I was first getting serious about starting the traveling bookstore. I did talk with a few people about it – being an extrovert that is how I learn and process things. Basically it came down to trying to figure out how not to lose money on this venture. Now that I actually started taking the bookstore out on the road, meeting people, selling books and cards, realizing the structural changes I needed to make like adding a grab bar that people can hold on to when going in and out of the van, I see aspects of this business that never occurred to me before. For example – I thought running a bookstore meant that I would invite authors to do readings occasionally but now I realize that I can actually drive the bookstore to where the authors are rather than asking them to come to the hills of Montana. And I had thought that I would need to do lengthy internet searches to find all the fairs and festivals that would be good and perhaps the only places to take the business. But now there are people who are requesting that I bring my bookstore to their parties, writers retreats, events, and businesses which is something I hadn’t thought of before. Experiential learning. I am learning how to run this business by doing it and hopefully I will be savvy enough to pick up all the necessary clues and make them work. Last week at the Farmers Market a man suggested I put a sandwich board out to help draw more attention (I was accosting people politely, pointing to the entrance and saying, “Come in. It’s a bookstore!”). So a friend is making the board which hopefully will be ready for next week’s event. I plan to take the traveling bookstore to the Yaak River Jam.
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.