The Book Bus mobile, ephemeral library

Kaitlynn Perry, a junior at Georgia Southern University and a resident of Savannah, knows the books.

And she should.

When the double major in history and archeology isn’t researching artifacts from digs in and around Chatham County, or studying early 19th-century pottery fragments, it’s curating and selling novels, short stories, and of used and new poetry.

Earlier this year, Perry painstakingly converted a small school bus into a mobile bookstore, and this month, “Betty the Book Bus” is embarking on regular activity at pop-ups and celebrations across the city.

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A history buff, Perry traveled to Savannah four years ago from West Virginia to soak up and learn from the city’s rich and complicated past. When she found the archeology program at Georgia Southern, Perry knew she had landed in the right place. She dove into her studies, quickly landing a job as a research assistant where she worked in the field with local artifacts.

“I was in a lab for two years doing a project, dealing with artifacts from digs around Savannah,” Perry recalls. “I cleaned, categorized, identified and pulled research to generate more questions about specific findings and engaged in extensive research on the use of pottery in slave life.”

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After the assistantship ended, Perry had more time to focus on his lifelong dream of owning a book retail space. In Savannah, with record-breaking rents, she knew a physical store would be out of reach. But she noted that the mobile vendors seemed to be doing well, especially since they weren’t tied to one location in town.

Christopher Webb and Rhonda Faison browse the selection of books available on the Book Bus during a stop at Starland Yard.

Perry came up with the idea in early December to start looking at vans and utility buses. Shortly after writing a business plan, and as fate would have it, she returned to West Virginia during winter vacation and met a friend who had a small school bus for sale.

In late January, Perry had purchased it, and by mid-February moved the bus to his new home in Savannah.

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Turning it into a bookstore on wheels and registering as a business in the city came with its own set of challenges.

A variety of new and used books are available on the Book Bus.

Perry is partially disabled – a connective tissue disorder means she often has to rely on a cane to walk. With the help of her life partner, she began the conversion of the bus, which progressed slowly. Perry found plenty of advice online on how to turn a bus into a living space, but couldn’t find much on building sturdy and reliable floor-to-ceiling shelving specifically designed for interior dimensions no conventional small bus. Trial and error ruled the process.

“We wasted a lot of money on the shelves,” Perry recalls. “I wanted to install prefabricated ones to save costs, but because of the curve of the bus at the top, the traditional shelving didn’t work at all. We then designed and built shelves for the bus and attached them directly to the walls. The shelves have a bottom edge to ensure books stay in place and bungee cords to keep them secure while driving. When the shelves are full, the books do not move.

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The book bus is Perry’s first business venture through which she learned what it takes to start a business. Perry has become very aware of the drawbacks that many first-time owners often face.

Kaitlynn Perry inside

As a full-time student without much money, she turned to online crowdsourcing to raise funds. A successful Kickstarter campaign raised just over $3,000 to help defray some of the cost of converting the bus. But other challenges, like getting a business license, proved more daunting.

“I did most of this on my own,” Perry pointed out, “in a place with no family to ask for help or money to hire a lawyer for legal formalities. helped the city drop my business license for two months. It was a very stressful time with lots of ramen noodles and lots of lost income opportunities. But I made it, and here we are. I’m grateful to all the supporters, all those who participated along the way to bring this book bus to life.

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With a business license officially in place, Betty the Book Bus has been selling a range of novels and tales across the city since late July.

Christopher Webb and Rhonda Faison visit the Book Bus during a stop at Starland Yard.

Currently, the bus frequents Starland Yard, De Soto Street Market, Coastal Empire Beer Company and Merchants on Bee, bringing with it an ever-growing collection of almost 500 books. A section comes only from thrift stores and donations; another section presents bound books and novelties. She also sells children’s books.

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Perry, who one day sees herself enrolled in a doctorate in archaeological anthropology. program at William & Mary College or Yale University, sees the book bus as an important community tool to inspire people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

“Literacy impacts all areas of life, it affects a person’s ability to do math and do well in high school,” Perry pointed out. “Literacy, and being literate, is the most important thing you can do to increase your chances of success in life. My goal is to make people want to read again, and the book bus offers a unique experience for people to get on it, buy a book and get back to reading.

A selection of unpublished books on the shelves of the Book Bus.

Find Betty the Book Bus online

Stops added to Instagram at @thebookbus and Facebook at facebook.com/TheBooksBus. More info at thebooksbus.com.

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