Since 2015, Rita Collins has been taking her love of books on the road.
It’s a frigid morning in April when a shiny white van pulls into the parking lot at Isabel’s Family Restaurant in Woodstock, Illinois. A few flakes of snow float in the air as the driver backs the van into a corner spot. Members of a local collective, the Atrocious Poets, climb out of their cars and start setting up typewriters to craft on-the-spot poems.
At the epicenter of this small-town gathering about 50 miles northwest of Chicago is Rita Collins. Wearing several warm layers, Collins pulls open the van’s sliding door. Next to the door and under an awning, she sets up a folding table and a few chairs along with several small merchandise racks. Book-shaped earrings—real paper pages bound in tiny leather covers—dangle from her ears as she writes prices on a white board. Setting up on this cold spring morning is just another day on the job at Saint Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary, a mobile bookshop run by the itinerant bookseller.
Since 2015, Collins has piloted her traveling bookstore around her home state of Montana and across the U.S. several times. What started as a seasonal summer project evolved into a year-round, part-time business after Collins retired in 2017 from a long career in adult education, teaching in Montana as well as recent stints in Romania and Czechia.
Like many bibliophiles, Collins had always wanted to own a bookstore. But she ran into a roadblock. Collins lives in Eureka, Montana, a town of just over 1,000 residents that can’t financially sustain a brick-and-mortar bookshop. Taking a one-week business-planning course with the American Booksellers Association, she realized another option was possible. “What about a traveling bookstore?” she asked her instructors. They were skeptical. But Collins knew she was onto something big—as big as a van or bus, anyway.
She drew inspiration (and some practical advice) from Dylans Mobile Bookstore, a traveling bookstore on the other side of the pond. Based in Wales, Jeff Towns, along with his son, Joe, turned to mobile bookselling after shuttering his storefront in the early 2000s. Named for Dylan Thomas, Towns was the only other traveling bookseller Collins could find to contact for advice. (Several novels featuring fictionalized traveling booksellers offer addition inspiration, including Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner and Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.) Collins named her venture Saint Rita’s not just for herself; Saint Rita of Cascia is the patron saint of impossible causes.
Source: Atlas Obscura “The Adventures of America’s Most Well-Traveled Bookstore”