Independent Booksellers Hit the Road

Books on the go? A traveling bookstore? Sounds like every book lovers dream! Well, readers, you’re in luck. Because mobile bookstores are a trend taking off all over the country, and we here at CCPI seriously love it.


Now, before you get too excited, we don’t have a bookmobile here in Burlington—at least not yet. But you’ve probably all seen a food truck or two, especially if you’ve ever spent a summer in our lovely little lakeside city. One true sign of the season is ArtsRiot’s Truck Stop, a weekly gathering of food truck vendors held on Friday evenings. Mobile book stores (book trucks?) are basically the same thing. Only instead of turning their refurbished vans or trucks into a restaurant serving food, vendors are installing bookshelves and setting up shop.


But why? Who needs a traveling bookstore? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and different bookmobiles open for different reasons. Take Itinerant Literate for example: opened by two young women, Christen and Julia, the bookstore came about as a scaled back version of their dream store, a brick-and-mortar location which would have been unaffordable for them when just starting out.


This photo from Itinerant Literate's website depicts story time in the mobile store.

This photo from Itinerant Literate’s website depicts story time in the mobile store.

Furthermore, the booksellers are using Itinerant Literate in an effort to build community. According to John Warner of the Chicago Tribune, Charleston, SC, is a city severely lacking in independent bookstores. Sure, they have a few Barnes & Nobles, but smaller bookstores are much harder to come by, and most of them are specialty stores focusing in areas like science fiction or fantasy. For Christen and Julia, Itinerant Literate has become a way to build community and bring books to areas that don’t normally benefit from having a local bookstore. The bookmobile, a 135-square foot trailer, houses both new and used books and regularly hosts special events like children’s story time.


And these rad Charleston ladies aren’t the only ones taking their books on the road. The famed independent bookstore Parnassus Books, co-owned by Karen Hayes and novelist Ann Patchett, has been a staple in Nashville, TN, since it’s opening in 2011. Last year, the booksellers took to the streets as well, when they converted an old library van into their own version of “Parnassus on Wheels,” based on the 1917 novel by Christopher Morley for which their store is named.


Parnassus maintains it’s original brick-and-mortar store, which is home to over 20,000 books, but their mobile bookstore allows them to expand their geographical reach. The van carries 1,000 books, which may seem minuscule in comparison, but allows Parnassus to bring their wares—mostly new releases and bestsellers—to outlying suburbs and towns that don’t have a bookstore of their own.


parnassus books

Photo of inside the Parnassus bookmobile courtesy of musing.

Hayes also told The New York Times that Parnassus on Wheels doubles as a rolling advertisement for the store itself. “It’s a great way to get our name out there,” she says.


It’s also an economical choice for many independent bookstores, which would explain why bookmobiles are popping up in places all over, from Seattle to Georgia, according to The New York Times. The best part is that these booksellers are in it for the love of books—because let’s face it, independent bookstores aren’t in it for the money these days—and they’re thriving. We may not see them multiplying as rapidly as food trucks did, but it’s a trend that appears to be growing. Even big publishers like Penguin Books are getting in on the action. Their Penguin Book Truck traveled across the U.S. in 2013, making guest appearances at literary locations and celebrating reading.


If you’d like to visit a bookmobile, you can search for mobile bookstores online, where most of them post where they’ll be and when they’ll be there. Some of them even host special events! And in the meantime, here’s for hoping Burlington gets it’s own bookmobile someday.