The family behind Lakeland’s Little Bus Books is ready to debut their little bus. It’s a vintage metal travel trailer that will make their bookstore truly mobile.
The reveal takes place Saturday at Buena Market Block Party, which takes place downtown along Kentucky Avenue from 5 to 10 p.m.
The family-owned company began selling books in May and has been a vendor at the Lakeland and Winter Haven Saturday farmer markets. After three months of renovating a 1953 Va-ka-shun-ette, the mobile bookshop will finally have a mobile vehicle to call home.
“It’s been a bit surreal for us that things are falling into place so quickly and we are ready to put it on the road in order to focus on other aspects of building the business,” said Lynsey Pippen, one of the co-owners. “We are most excited to share a space that we hope will bring joy to others and add value to the community.”
Little Bus Books is owned by the Pippen family, which includes Lynsey, 39, Michael, 41, Luke, 12 and Nolan, 11. The idea for the bookstore came from one of the couple’s wedding anniversary trips. For more than a decade, they have traveled to a different state every year and have always found themselves visiting local bookstores.
“At the time of our Kansas 2020 trip, we came to the realization that a bookshop stop is not something that is likely to happen during our daily routines at home because of the time it takes to find ‘just the right book’ in a bookstore. This is when the book bus dream started brewing and Michael had the idea to start small and mobile,” Lynsey explained.
Their sons, Nolan and Luke, both help run the shop. Nolan often works as the cashier while Luke can be found doing the “heavy lifting,” according to the shop’s website.
“They both have a diagnosis of high-functioning autism, and our goal is to utilize their unique abilities by teaching them the responsibilities of work and how they can be productive citizens of the community in which they live, despite the challenges that come along with their disability,” Lynsey said.
Lynsey has a doctorate in special education from Nova Southeastern University. Besides the bookshop, she authors Happiness and Humility, a website about adoption and autism. The couple adopted their sons, who are biological brothers, from Bulgaria, when they were toddlers.
Lynsey and Michael are originally from Louisiana and moved to Lakeland in 2017 due to Michael’s job as a director of business development for a global irrigation manufacturer.
“We knew on our first visit that this would be the place for us!” Lynsey said. “Having moved from a rural college town, we have enjoyed ‘city life.’ We appreciate the amenities of a larger town, along with the friendliness and comforts of a small town.”
One of their goals is to offer books written by a diverse array of authors, covering a variety of perspectives.
“Our mission started with the realization that we needed to broaden our own cultural perspectives,” Lynsey recalled. “Books provide a simple, unobtrusive way for individuals to gain knowledge and experience a variety of cultures.”
Along with offering books that discuss the topics of race, religion, LGBTQ, disabilities, they also sell books written in Spanish.
The mobile bookshop also prides itself in selling books written by local authors and collaborates with them directly. It has also contracted with local artists to create and sell original bookmarks. Lynsey said they’re looking to work with more artists.
The shop currently has around 100 books, but customers will only see 50 on display at a time. Its selection rotates at every market. The books are new and used, fiction and non-fiction, in the young adult and adult genres. Lynsey said they prefer to buy used books from individuals. The store is expanding to middle grade books this month. Customers can also buy books from the shop online.
“Our business concept is set up as quality over quantity in order to make our mission practical. We stock a smaller selection of books in [order] to make being mobile functional and we strive to avoid customer overwhelm or decision fatigue when they enter our shop,” Lynsey explained.
Lynsey curates the selection; she reads about a third of each book on display and provides reviews for her customers. The cover weighs heavily in her decision on whether to sell a particular book in the family’s bookshop.
“We look at the attractiveness of the cover and the catchiness of the title,” Lynsey said.
She also evaluates whether the book’s content fits the shop’s mission and customer interest.
The family hopes to use the bookshop to fund a non-profit that would provide a free mobile bookshop to people who do not have access to libraries and bookstores.
“We started this summer by collaborating with a local homeless ministry during their meal service and an apartment complex that serves as affordable housing for seniors,” Lynsey explained.
“We are looking to expand our partnership with more non-profits in Polk County who could benefit from this service, as well as connect with community members who could use assistance with building or reviving their Little Free Libraries.”