Friday, February 17, 2017

This weekend, go bookmobiling with Bucks on the Bookshelf!

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It’s Bookmobile Week at Bucks on the Bookshelf! And not the creaky, lovable old WPA bookmobiles of the Depression and war years, meandering the back roads of the South, either.

Yes, host Steven Eisenstein is hitting the road with Julie Turner of Charleston, South Carolina-based Itinerant Literate Books, a mobile, pop-up bookstore whose she calls  “a community-oriented bookstore with a selection of new and used titles reflective of the community. We engage in knowledgeable bookselling that puts our readers first and abide by the values of respect, thoughtfulness, inclusivity, intellectual individuality, and community empowerment. Our goal is to hand-sell to each adult and child in our community his/her/their (new) favorite book” (they also have a Facebook page: go at once and Like!).

Turner and her co-venturer, Christen Thompson, saw a niche in the Charleston booksphere two years ago. Let City Paper pick up the story of

...a two-woman pop-up and mobile bookseller which will operate out of an Airstream trailer in the upper peninsula. It's the modern incarnation of the bookmobile: stylish, streamlined, and, we expect, endlessly Instagrammable. Currently, the new booksellers are exclusively doing pop-up events around town, but they plan to have their bookmobile up and running by the fall. Depending on when they open their doors, they'll be only the third or fourth commercial bookmobile in the country.

The women behind the Itinerant Literate are Christen Thompson and Julia Turner, two publishing professionals who hail from Atlanta. After graduating in 2012 from two different colleges in the Atlanta area — Thompson attended Agnes Scott College, while Turner went to Georgia Tech — both went on to the Denver Publishing Institute, an intensive four-week program at the University of Denver that gives students a crash course in the publishing industry. That's where they met and became friends, and after that, both wound up working at The History Press in Charleston (where they still work today).

That's also where they hatched their bookstore idea — Thompson and Turner are book people to the core, with a deep love for not only books themselves, but also the business of books, from publishing to selling. Opening a bookstore was a kind of back-burner dream for both of them. "We'd had a conversation about opening a bookstore," Thompson says. "It happened weirdly naturally and slowly. It would be little things we'd see in Shelf Awareness [a leading e-newsletter for the book industry], or seeing these little ideas for really cool things bookstores were doing. We'd say, 'We wish there was a bookstore here doing that.'"

So they started keeping a Google doc of ideas for their fantasy bookstore, and over time it grew into a feasible plan. "I think at one time we were talking about a seven-year plan," Turner says. "Five seemed too short and 10 seemed too long."

But about six months ago, the duo decided to scrap the seven-year plan and start making their bookstore a reality. They attended the American Booksellers Association (ABA) Winter Institute, a yearly three-day conference for booksellers and ABA members. Before they left for Winter Institute, Thompson and Turner had brainstormed some options for how to get their store off the ground so that they'd be able to get feedback and advice from other booksellers at the conference. That's when they came up with the mobile concept. "We were like, 'How can we prove we're serious about this before we actually have a space? We thought about doing pop-up events, maybe having a trailer we could sell out of. Then we decided we should just do everything mobile — do a bookmobile," Turner says.

The feedback they got at Winter Institute was overwhelmingly positive, and they came back energized — and with 13 bags of free books, courtesy of Winter Institute's galley room. Those 13 bags became their first round of inventory, which they used to furnish their first Itinerant Literate pop-up event back in April. They hosted a kids' Story Hour and raffle at the Revelry Brewing-sponsored Our Neck of the Woods fundraiser for Hampton Park, and Artist and Craftsman offered face painting of the characters from the books Thompson and Turner read.

Shortly after that, Itinerant Literate participated in the Dig South Spacewalk, offering a small selection of tech and creative books for sale at Lowcountry Local First. "Something we're hoping to be able to do more and more is offer really heavily curated title lists," Thompson says. "For Dig South we were looking for entrepreneurial books, outside-the-box and creative thinking, left brain-right brain — and of course, books by Dig South presenters." Those included a children's book that Thompson describes as "halfway between a children's book and a graphic novel" called Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith, and a little self-affirming book called You Are Doing A Freaking Great Job.

This kind of sales model is something the women want to continue to offer. "When we have our mobile unit, we're hoping to be able to do the same thing, but in a larger volume for corporate events or festivals," Thompson says. "It would be amazing to do that for Spoleto, or the Charleston Wine + Food Fest — to have very specific titles in there." Once they have their mobile unit, they also plan to offer book club packages and party rentals for both kids and adults.
The daring duo launched a crowfunding campaign that would leave most breathless: to raise $65,000 for the purchase of an Airstream trailer, rehabbing the inside with custom bookshelves, a computer, their first round of business-related fees, and their first inventory purchase, which will be about 3,000 titles.

The “bookmobile ladies of the Holy City” are making good on their visions, turning up to host book club meetings at restaurants, food truck lots and book fairs. Who’d’a thunk it, as my dad used to say. Indeed, City Paper wrote two years ago,

That community is what's really at the heart of this fantasy bookstore-turned-reality, anyway, say Turner and Thompson. In fact, that's one reason they started doing these events in the first place: to find out what people want. There are so many different niches for bookstores to fill, Thompson says, and each one can add something unique to the local fabric. "We don't want to be just the bookstore that we want — we want to be the bookstore that the community wants and needs. And we don't pretend to know everything the community wants or needs."

In addition to an on-air joyride around Charleston, Steven will also get a report from the Village Book Fair in New York, and there will be contests! And prizes! (Can you keep a secret? Here’s the great bit- it’s internet radio, so you can LOOK UP THE ANSWERS before you call in! Candy from a baby, I calls it).

Bucks on the Bookshelf can be heard at and, noon-2 p.m. EST with repeats at 8-10 a.m. EST Sundays; and 2-4 a.m EST, Mondays.

You can now listen to the show anytime on BOB$’ Facebook page after the live broadcast ends.

Calls from listeners make Steven exceedingly happy! The number is 727.498.0459. Steven can also be reached by email at

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