What made you decide to start a bookstore on wheels?
I live in a small town in northwest Montana (pop 1,037). I quickly realized when I began to investigate opening a bookstore that the typical brick-and-mortar variety wouldn’t work there financially. After brainstorming with friends, the idea of a traveling bookstore emerged. I searched online and found one in Wales (Dylan’s Book Bus) and corresponded with them about their set up. I didn’t want a large bus so I settled on a Sprinter van, outfitted it with shelves (the books actually stay on the shelves while I am driving which is wonderful), a canopy to offer some protection from the elements and a solar panel which allows me to use lights in the van without running down my battery. The general idea was a traveling bookstore had low overhead, could be taken to places with people (festivals, fairs, cafes and breweries for example) and would not cost me much when I wasn’t actively using it.
How did you come up with the name and how would you describe Textual Apothecary?
During the incubation period of planning the bookstore, I had the idea to have the logo and name be reminiscent of the old-time medicine shows. I had gotten as far as St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore. Then one day after work (I still had a day job at that point), I came home not feeling well. I laid down and read a book. After an hour, I realized I felt much better and that reading can be medicinal. Thus the concept of a textual apothecary – where reading can actually make you feel better.
And I should mention that St. Rita is the patron saint of impossible causes. I did think trying to make a go of a traveling bookstore business was certainly close to impossible.
What are some of your fondest or funniest memories during your travels?
Oh my, I am not sure where to start…..there are so many. One of the funniest might be the time I pulled into a rest stop in the middle of Montana and decided to set up the bookstore for an hour or so while waiting to meet a friend who was driving in from another town in Montana to meet up with me. There was plenty of space so I didn’t think it would be an issue to park there and set out my things.
I had just finished setting the bookstore up when a police car pulled in. The police officer got out. I thought oh no, this is going to be my first ticket with the bookstore. He walked over to where I was sitting and asked, “Do you happen to have any Louis L’Amour books?”
The fondest is a challenge as there are many special moments.
A young man coming to the bookstore with his baby daughter, and telling me it was her first visit ever to a bookstore. A young boy who enjoyed hanging at the bookstore so much and asked his parents if he could go on the road with me. Turns out he was only 13 years old and wisely the parents decided he should wait until he was at least old enough to drive.
I don’t think people were worried but they might have been surprised. In general, I tend to spend a lot of time explaining what a traveling bookstore is. And the reality is that when I first started taking it out on the road, I didn’t have a real business plan. No one (including me) knew how this quirky business might work and what sort of ways it could be expanded. The first year I only did events in Montana. The second year I drove to Portland (my first city with the bookstore) and then feeling more confident took it across-country to NY. Year three I took it to SF, Kent (Washington) and Bellingham (Washington). Year four (this current one) I did a 6000 miles thirty-day bookstore tour in April from Montana to NC with eighteen stops. Now I am doing a two-week tour that includes Portland, SF, Port Orford and Hood River.
I believe an important part of the bookstore is listening to people. Anyone who comes into the traveling bookstore ends up talking with me. Sometimes it is to ask questions (like the ones you are asking) but often they tell me stories from their own life. I have chairs so people can sit down and get comfortable. I also really enjoy listening. I am not entirely sure what I can do with all these stories but they do seem valuable. Sometimes I write about them in my blog. Sometimes I jot them down in my journal. Sometimes I mention them to friends as I reflect on the day’s adventures.
People tend to be enthused when they see there is actually a bookstore inside the van. Often when they pause by the door, I say, “Please go in. It’s a bookstore”. That is when the exclamations begin – This is amazing! This is so cute! I never saw anything like it!
Often it depends on the day and season. Some books I enjoy for the story. Some for the writing. Some for both (those are always special). And of course, the list keeps changing as I read more. Charlotte’s Web (White), The Shipping News (Proulx), The Bone People (Hulme), Too Loud a Solitude (Hrabal), The Searunners (Doig), All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), The Plover (Doyle), Alice Munro’s short stories, Anne Tyler books (I am from Baltimore originally), Bruce Chatwin’s travelogues, Simon Winchester’s nonfiction, Milford’s Savage Beauty, Mueller’s The Land of Green Plums. Should I keep going?
This is Adam Thorsfeldt, signing off.
Thank you for spending some time with us today.
St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary will be at the Port Orford Library Monday, June 25th 10 AM – 5 PM.
For more details visit:https://www.facebook.com/events/938083826352462/
You can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/amazingtravelingbookstore/
Rita has lived in nine states and three countries.
She’s studied philosophy, education and adult literacy. She’s taught children with special needs, English to immigrants in Oregon and educational methodology at a Czech university. Being a teacher meant being an artist because to teach well requires creativity.
Often when searching for how to teach a concept, Rita discovered an idea for writing. In recent years She’s explored bookbinding and letterpress printing. Speaking of that time she says “The process of turning what is inside into words on a page and then those pages into a package is an alchemy that captured me.” Now at sixty-six, Rita is focused on those words, her writing.
Many themes come from her experiences finding her place in 21st century America. Many themes are from individuals who intersect her life in classrooms, city streets, small towns.
Five years ago Rita began developing the idea of a traveling bookstore. “Is it a business? a hobby? a vocation?” She pondered.
Now in its fourth year on the road, St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textural Apothecary has been in over thirty states, thousands and thousands of miles, selling books and talking about literature to people from Yaak, Montana to Asheville, NC.