This Cincinnati Bookstore Operates from the Bed of a Vintage Volkswagen Pick-Up Truck

The Book Bus is the city's new bookshop on wheels

May 21, 2019 at 4:04 pm
click to enlarge Melanie Moore and her Book Bus - Photo: Sami Stewart
Photo: Sami Stewart
Melanie Moore and her Book Bus

Everyone should grow up with a book in their hands. Not a tablet or an iPad, but a physical book with pages full of wildly imaginative stories. At least that’s what Melanie Moore believes. After 25 years of teaching in various schools across the country, she rerouted her career to focus on inspiring a passion for reading by delivering the joy of books to cafés, flea markets and nonprofit events all from the bed of a vintage Volkswagen pickup truck.

An intensive five-day bootcamp for booksellers taught her everything she needed to know about opening her dream bookstore, from finances and ordering to store layout and staffing. Once she conquered training, she drew up a business plan and started looking for spaces to house her dream.

At first, Moore was teetering on the edge of signing a lease in Oakley Square — the space that once housed the blue manatee bookstore.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, ‘What am I doing?’ ” she says. Disenchanted with the startup costs and putting in hours behind the scenes to keep her dream alive, she realized that in order to reach her goal of becoming a bookseller, she needed to refine her plan. 

That realization came in spring 2017 while sitting at her kitchen table: She glanced out the window to see her husband’s blue truck; there was a way to have the bookstore she’s always wanted without being tethered to a storefront. “I said, ‘Honey, can I have your truck?’” she says, laughing. “And he said, ‘Sure!’”

Thus the idea for the Cincy Book Bus was born. But it wasn’t until winter 2018 that Moore held her first official pop-up.

Moore and her husband, Tony, originally bought the truck from a cherry farm in Colorado and picked it up with cherry pits and juice stains still in the bed. It’s a manual and a little rickety, so Moore leaves the driving to Tony, who has an affinity for vintage vehicles. He’s happy to show off the book-mobile by welcoming customers into the driver’s seat or snapping photos of them with their newly purchased books in front of the bus. 

Tony frequently travels for work. With a mobile bookstore, Moore is now free to go with him. “It helps the bus, actually,” she says. “When he goes to Europe, I take a suitcase with me and buy books that you can’t get locally and bring them back.” 

Moore offers a unique, beautifully bound selection along with a personable book-buying experience in a time where the internet offers instant gratification and two-day delivery. 

“Amazon will always be there,” she says. “But bookstores can provide an experience that will pull you off the couch, to want to come talk books and get the feel of them.” 

On days she’s not popping up at cafés and markets, she’s pulling into yard sales and shuffling through cardboard boxes or meticulously scanning each shelf in any store that sells books. She won’t pick up just anything — they’ve got to be unique and in good shape to make the cut. 

“I think the quality shines through enough that people aren’t expecting garage-sale prices,” she says. “It’s not a garage-sale bus.” 

Keeping her bus stocked requires extensive research. She tries to read all the books she carries to be able to honestly “talk books” with her customers instead of just pushing product. But reading through every item in her inventory is impossible. As Moore says, there’s “too many books, too little time.” 

And though reading is her passion, she says she’s not a speed reader. She enjoys pausing on the words, breathing them in.

Though she stepped out of the education system two years ago, she still stays involved, helping schools in the area stock their libraries and participating in community literacy programs. She turned her bus into a water station during Ride for Reading’s Cincinnati stop a few weeks ago — a nationwide program based out of Nashville that delivers books to low-income schools in need of materials for its classrooms and libraries via a fleet of cyclists. Moore was able to donate $500 worth of books to this year’s event, which supported South Avondale schools. 

While she uses her cherry-truck-turned-book-mobile to benefit schools in dire need of reading materials, she also serves the folks just looking for a good read. Moore hopes that her rickety rolling library will inspire people to enthusiastically partake in the joys books have to offer. 

“I think the book bus does just that,” she says. “It brings smiles to people’s faces.”

To follow Melanie Moore’s Book Bus, check out