70-year-old woman drives cross-country in a bookstore on wheels.
From May to October, you can find Rita Collins, 70, in the front seat of a white Sprinter van, driving across America. While stopping in small towns and cities around the U.S., Collins relishes in the wonder that comes across people’s faces when they realize this van is not like any other.
“You look at it, and it’s a van. But I say, way too many times, 'You need to go in.' People go inside and say, ‘It’s a bookstore!” Collins said, laughing. “Of course it’s a bookstore! But it’s such a surprise. It doesn’t look like that from the outside.”
Like most traditional bookstores, St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary has floor-to-ceiling shelves organized by genre, overhead lighting and a carpet on the floor. The main difference, of course, is that it’s on wheels. The bookstores’ 600 volumes are set at a 15 degree angle to keep them from falling as Collins drives from state to state — so far, she’s been to 30, and has traveled cross-country three times.
“I can’t imagine a better way of spending time than the traveling bookstore,” Collins said. “It’s so special. But for some reason, there are so few.”
The bookstore was named after St. Rita, the patron saint of impossible causes. When Collins first came up with the idea, it really did seem impossible.
In 2015, while anticipating retiring from her job as a teacher, Collins dreamed of making a bookstore her next chapter. “Don’t all people who love books want to open up a bookstore?” she mused. There were not enough people in the small town where she lived, so a traveling bookstore became the best option.
She worked with an architect friend to set up shelves — and to this day, she said, she’s “never lost” a book while driving. Then, she hired a graphic designer to create the logo for the bookstore’s name, partially inspired by traveling medicine vans, only books were doing the healing.
“He said, “People don’t like long names.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. This is what we’re going with,’” she said.
It worked. “It really does feel fortuitous, how things unfolded,” Collins said.