Former teacher transforms her Volkswagen Transporter into a mobile bookshop

Melanie Moore had always wanted to open her own bookstore. After retiring from 25 years of teaching, she decided it was time to pursue her dream and get books into the hands of kids who need them most.

She was about to sign a lease on a physical storefront when she got cold feet and decided to proceed in a new direction.

“I realized that if I had a brick and mortar bookstore, I wouldn’t be able to do the fun part of the business, which is talking [about] books and putting books in people’s hands,” Moore says.

Inspired by a novel centered around a fictional, female horse-drawn carriage bookseller, Moore decided to launch the Cincy Book Bus – a mobile bookstore – out of the bed of her husband’s teal 1962 Volkswagen Transporter.

“Everything just clicked into place,” Moore says.

The vintage Volkswagen, which Moore affectionately refers to as “old gal,” turned out to be the perfect vehicle to help Moore accomplish her vision. It was purchased by her husband Tony at a Volkswagen car show in Los Angeles in 2014 and had previously served as a working truck at a cherry farm in Colorado.

“It’s a family passion,” Moore explains. “My husband has been a VW enthusiast his whole life – his first car was a ‘77 Beetle he bought at 16 – and I can’t even tell you how many Volkswagens we’ve had since then. We go to all the Volkswagen shows.”

Before the Book Bus’ debut in November 2018, Moore had to re-learn how to drive a stick shift and refurbish the rusty, 58-year-old truck with new paint and parts. She also designed several custom-made wooden milk crates to display her large and ever-growing collection of new and gently used books for sale.

The van holds about 150 books, and Moore regularly rotates titles to cater to her audiences. Additionally, she’s developed relationships with foreign book publishers and authors to sell unique and hard-to-get titles.

And, thanks to the Bus’ unusual appearance, customers often stop and pose for fun photo-ops. “It’s not just about selling a book. I want to be able to have an experience with the people that visit the bus,” says Moore.

Normally, Moore sells her inventory at area coffee shops, farmers’ markets and public events around Cincinnati. However, due to COVID-19, she has moved the bulk of her business online. She accepts book orders through her website and ships them across the United States. She’s also found new and creative ways to promote literacy and connection during this time of isolation and separation with virtual book clubs, online audiobook sales and at-home book deliveries.

Charity has always been the main component of Moore’s business; she dedicates all of her profits to stocking classroom libraries in schools that do not have school libraries and supporting charitable organizations that need books.

“A lot of the funding has been cut for school libraries, so it’s great to be able to work with teachers directly and ask them, ‘What do you need?’ and deliver them books that are racially and culturally diverse,” Moore says.

Her partnership with the local Blue Manatee Literacy Project and Book Store has enabled her to enhance her charity work. “I could get the books cheaper from my supplier, but for every book I buy through them they donate a book back to the community,” says Moore.

Over the course of 2020, she’s donated $16,500 worth of books to non-profit organizations like Casa de Paz (House of Peace), a safe house for Latina women and their children who have suffered trauma and abuse, and schools such as Pleasant Ridge Montessori.

“I usually fill up the truck with books I plan to donate and drive directly to the school so kids can come up and pick out their books in person. It’s one of my favorite things to see how excited the children get about the Book Bus,” Moore says. “The old gal is really the star of the show.”