Book-centric bar goes mobile

Nicole Sullivan, left, and Anna Kongs in front of the Book Moble. (Amy DiPierro)

Nicole Sullivan, left, and Anna Kongs in front of the Book Moble. (Amy DiPierro)

Nicole Sullivan easily could have closed the book on her business model years ago. Instead, she’s writing a new chapter with a mobile book-selling truck.

The founder of BookBar on Tennyson Street started selling old-fashioned hardbacks. But she knew book clubs love wine, so she decided to build the store around a bar. When she noticed out-of-town authors needed lodging after a book talk, she fitted a bed-and-breakfast upstairs.

Sullivan’s next idea: Taking BookBar on the road.

“The problem that brick-and-mortar stores have is getting people to come to you,” she said.

Last month, BookBar started going to its customers. The Berkeley book store is now the proud owner of Mavis the Magical Book Mobile, a converted ambulance stocked with donated books. It cost $3,500 to outfit.

“This expands our outreach for sure,” Sullivan said. “It’s a great marketing tool.”

After some minor renovations, like adding a BookBar logo and raising the interior roof, the Book Mobile should be ready to roll in spring.

Sullivan bought the van from BookBar employee Anna Kongs, a library and information science master’s student at the University of Denver. For the past year, Kongs drove the 1994 former ambulance to local breweries, art festivals and shelters, distributing donated books on a pay-what-you-can model and often giving them away for free.

Not too long ago, Sullivan gave Kongs a fairytale offer.

“I was like, what if BookBar purchased (the Book Mobile), and you can run it,” Sullivan recalled. “And you actually get paid to do what you love to do.”

Kongs said yes, and will soon share Book Mobile driving duty with Sullivan and her husband.

Now everyone at BookBar has ideas for the Book Mobile. The manager of children’s programs wants to use the van as a learning tool during story time and birthday parties. Sullivan would like to re-program the ambulance lights and sound system to twinkle and sing, to host offsite author readings and writing workshops, or to make same-day deliveries to nearby customers.

“That would be a super fun way to compete with Amazon,” Sullivan said. And, she said, it would be more convenient for customers that don’t want to circle the block in search of parking on Tennyson Street.

Book Mobile will continue collecting donated books to give to people that can’t afford them. But it also will sell books from BookBar.

Kongs sees the Book Mobile as a good vehicle to bring pop-up stores to local markets like the Big Wonderful. After all, Denver has a proven appetite for local truck vendors.

“People right now are so used to food truck culture,” she said. “And we’re going to be a part of that.”

Down the road, they might even serve food and drinks, too.

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