Bookshop on a mobile mission

Mario Bartel / Tri-City News
January 11, 2018 07:00 PM

People aren’t going to independent book shops as much. So Hilary Atleo is bringing her independent book shop to the people.

Atleo is the driver of Iron Dog Books. 

Yes, you read that right. Her book shop is on wheels. And since she opened last November, Atleo’s made Port Moody her regular Saturday destination where her panel truck is usually parked at Moody and St. John’s streets, by Meat & Craft, or sometimes down by Brewer’s Row.

Atleo, who lives in the Universcity neighbourhood on Burnaby Mountain, said the idea of a mobile book store was borne from serendipity and necessity. When she was working at a book shop in Edmonton, she would often daydream with her colleagues about casting off the drudgery of the work day routine to hit the road doing what they love the most — selling books. The necessity is two young kids who demand flexibility in her work schedule.

Atleo said she explored opening her own brick and mortar shop. But there was too much uncertainty about finding a location at a rent she could afford, and too much risk as book buyers opt for the convenience of online shopping or the vast selection of big box retailers.

That brought her back to the fantastical notion of bringing a selection of used and new books to readers. It combines the convenience of online shopping with the relaxed vibe of browsing shelves and being surrounded by literary possibilities.

Moreover, it would give her self-employment a sense of mission.

“Independent and second-hand bookstores are disappearing,” Atleo said. “We realize how many areas are becoming literary deserts.”

But creating her paperback oasis took some luck and creativity.

After a deal for an initial truck fell through, Atleo found a suitable panel truck on Craigslist, in Victoria. But regular home renovation contractors were stumped how to turn a cold, metal former medical services vehicle into a warm, inviting space that resembles “an old British philosopher’s den.”

Atleo also had specific technical requirements; she wanted the vehicle to be completely self-contained so she didn’t have to carry a generator or search for an electrical outlet and the interior had to be kept above a minimum temperature so the glue in book bindings wouldn’t freeze and cause their spines to crack.

Her saviour was a boat builder in Richmond. After all, boats are mostly self-contained and they often have warm, woodsy interiors and fittings.

Atleo said she couldn’t be more pleased with the end result.

The dark wood shelves hold about 3,500 books. 

Atleo said her overall collection is much larger, though, so she can rotate stock and curate selection to her anticiapted market when she takes the truck to community events and festivals.

There’s also a small selection of door latches attached to one of the interior wood panels to occupy little ones while their parents browse, as well as a couple of small stools to accomodate story time.

Atleo said running a bookshop is as much about creating community as selling tomes so she has plans for author readings as well as collaborations with other retailers like the breweries on Murray Street where the shop will be hosting a book launch in April.

She also wants to bring her truck further afield, to remote communities in the north and on Vancouver Island where residents might be struggling for access to books.

That’s the beauty of her idea, Atleo said; she can shape it any way she likes.

“It’s still surreal,” she said. “There’s lots of days I don’t believe it’s a real thing.”• Iron Dog Books will be parked in front of Meat & Craft in Port Moody on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. After that the mobile bookshopo is at the mercy of the parking spot gods. To find out its location, check out the shop’s Facebook page


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