The Pop-up Bookstore

It wasn’t a bookstore, really; but we had to call it something. 

It was early 2021, the pandemic was still underway, and I was picking up the pieces of a failed business. My mental health was at a low ebb – I’d spent most of the year with a knot of anxiety in my chest, staring at my bank account and wondering if I’d even have the emotional stamina to rebuild once things returned to semi-normal.

I wasn’t alone. A friend of mine owned a building on Main Street and occupancy was at 50%. An empty ground-level storefront stood out like a black eye, and the downtown association was concerned that it and a few others would drive our already-reduced volume of foot traffic away.

I needed to get out of the house. I talked with my friend, and we decided that since he didn’t have a tenant at the moment, we would fill the space ourselves. I signed a month-to-month lease for a dollar, agreed to help with the wifi bill, and opened a pop-up bookstore.

It was a shoestring DIY project: we hauled in an assortment of mismatched bookcases, stocked them with surplus books purchased in bulk from a nearby thrift store, and decorated it with a combination of furniture borrowed from friends. A chalkboard sign on the sidewalk announced our arrival.

Word got around and the place became a local hangout. Artists decorated our walls with consigned pieces; someone filled a shelf with board games; we hauled in a large fridge and stocked it with bottled soda. Between book and beverage sales, we were able to pay the utility bills.

We quickly discovered we weren’t the only ones itching to get out of the house. A few telework friends set up a regular outpost. We hauled in a few desks and tables, and set them up in a back corner. As interest spread, a buzzing shared workspace spilled over into the unit upstairs.

The bookstore was only open a few months before a permanent tenant leased the shopfront. We moved it to a new home five doors down, but my friend decided to keep the shared workspace running. In the ensuing year we ended up moving again, and we christened our little neighborhood bookstore “The Gypsy Caravan.” We think it might actually be around for awhile, even if it continues to roam.

“Before our life is rolling down into an inescapable descent, let us snoop around and poke about the happy surprises falling into the basket of our inventiveness and keep on laughing and dancing until the end of time, whatever happens.”

Erik Pevernagie

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Article by: Dave

Dave Cannon is a Seattle-based entrepreneur and consultant to nonprofits and small businesses. He loves Thai food and takes terrible photographs. You can follow him on Linkedin.
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