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  • Tara Crutchfield

Little Bus Books

In his 2000 memoir, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” Stephen King calls books a “uniquely portable magic.” It seems only fitting to purchase such ‘portable magic’ in a bookshop of the same vein – perhaps we’ll call it ‘uniquely mobile magic.’ Little Bus Books is a mobile bookshop offering new and used books for middle grades, young adults, and adults. The family-owned and operated shop aims to provide “curated book selections based on broadening cultural perspectives through customers’ existing interests.”



Michael and Lynsey Pippen met in college at Louisiana Tech University. After college, the two married and settled in Ruston, Louisiana. Five years ago, Michael’s job brought them to Florida, where he is now Director of Business Development for a global irrigation manufacturer. Lynsey is a speech therapist and special educator. She earned her doctorate in special education and taught at the college level before moving to the Sunshine State. When the Pippens adopted their sons, Nolan, age 12, and Luke, 13, ten years ago, she took her speech therapy online, where she continued to teach until last January.


Moving to Lakeland, the Pippens liked the electricity crackling within the local small business scene and had in mind to be further immersed in it. “We had this idea of how we wanted to be a part of the community but didn’t really have a good business to do it with,” Michael said.


The Pippens have always loved going to bookstores, especially on vacation when they could spend hours perusing the shelves. Each year, the couple travels to a different state to celebrate their anniversary – a tradition they’ve dubbed “50 states in 50 years.” During a 2020 trip to Kansas, their mobile bookshop dream began to take shape. A bookstore seemed a communitycentered endeavor that could forge the connections they were looking to make. “On the way home and over the next six months, we would just write down ideas, but never thinking, ‘this year,’” Lynsey said. As fate (and a call to the farmers market) would have it, Little Bus Books would indeed start within a year.


BROADENING CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES

Little Bus Books debuted on May 1, 2021, at the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market. “We started with a tent and a table and some of our favorite books,” Lynsey said. Friends and family donated books and came to shop to support Little Bus Books. “We said, ‘It’ll be a success when the first stranger buys a book,’” said Lynsey, who remains friends with that ‘first stranger.’


The mobile bookshop didn’t go on wheels until last October. They began looking for the perfect ‘bus’ to house Little Bus Books last summer when they stumbled upon a 1953 VaKaShunette camper trailer. “We were glad we did tent to table so we could figure out what fit best in the market spot,” said Lynsey. Michael agreed that they now had proof of concept and described selling out of the bus as “almost like a light switch came on.” Lynsey credits Michael, who has his M.B.A., with helping to get Little Bus Books off the ground, or rather, on the road. “His knowledge was the reason we were able to set up the business so quickly,” she said.


Inside, the vintage camper gives way to a cozy book nook with a selection of reads curated by Lynsey Pippen. Though they love books, the Pippens wouldn’t describe themselves as voracious readers. “I think that helped to build our brand,” Lynsey said. “Everyone assumes that every bookseller reads every book they have in their bookstore.” That’s a lot of pressure for a wouldbe reader to ask some all-knowing word-wizard for a book recommendation. Little Bus Books makes the experience less intimidating with its smaller, tightly-curated offerings. Lynsey notes Little Bus Books isn’t for the “avid reader who knows exactly what they want to read.” She said, “We like to think of ourselves as helping you find the book you didn’t know you needed.”



“I don’t know how she does it,” Michael said in awe of his wife. “Lynsey has a great style and a great eye.” Though he knew her vision for the bus would be a hit – both the style and substance – he wondered how and where they would find the right books for their selection, thinking a vast knowledge of books and literature was a must. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” he said. Curation soon revealed itself to be another of Lynsey’s gifts. Michael described Lynsey as a creative who enjoys being around people. “We’re not artists by any stretch of the imagination, but she has a very good eye for it,” he said. “That’s translated to the books, one hundred percent. She knows what people like.”


“One of the biggest challenges is determining our audience before we get to the market,” said Lynsey. By frequenting markets like the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market, Bandit Market, Winter Haven Farmers Market, and Buena Market, the Pippens are learning what their customers like to read. Lynsey notes that determining eye-catching covers and riveting reads suited to her local customer base is ‘a fun challenge.’


Vacation was the only time the pair could spend hours browsing bookshelves for the perfect read. Everyday life didn’t afford them that. “That’s how we developed the Little Bus on a smaller scale, being more intentional about what we put in the bus rather than just having lots of books for people to dig through,” Lynsey said. Little Bus Books was developed with farmers markets and community events in mind. The Pippens aim not to overwhelm their customers with a daunting selection of books but to curate some 40-60 books and help steer customers toward texts most suited to their reading tastes. And for those who do like to dig through books, Lynsey welcomes them to rifle through the Little Bus Books cabinets and crannies, where they house inventory.


Upon first inspection of Little Bus Books, one will notice the variety – new and used, fiction and nonfiction, genre, author, origin, and publication date. “That’s an intentional piece of the business, too,” Michael said. “We want to have everybody represented there. […] We’re trying to broaden cultural perspectives.”


Michael used a book on hiking as an example of how they may help someone select a title within their tastes but perhaps outside of what they’re used to reading. “What is like that, but maybe the characters are a little different, or the author has a little different background, so she writes with a different perspective?” That doesn’t mean they don’t have a few good lazy beach reads or cozy mysteries on hand – because sometimes you just need a little brain candy. “We put stuff in there that we really love,” Michael said. “I like a lot of memoirs from famous people. I find that super entertaining. […] I probably try to get Lynsey to put too many memoirs in,” he smiled at his wife.


“People have a lot of choice fatigue, and they like being able to go in there and grab anything off the shelf, and you’ll like all of it,” said Michael. “People don’t come in there and buy certain authors or certain books. The experience is what they’re buying, and we hope that everything in there, we’ve vetted enough that it’s all good.”


BOOK CRAWL

Some of the community connections the Pippens have made are with other local booksellers. “We like that there are numerous booksellers [in the area],” said Lynsey. The Little Bus Book cofounder likened it to a choice of coffee shop or lunch spot – each bringing a different experience to the table. Little Bus Books linked up with fellow Lakeland booksellers a few months ago for the first of what looks to be an annual book crawl. The 2022 Lakeland Book Crawl was held during the week leading up to Independent Bookstore Day (always the last Saturday in April) and involved Little Bus Books, Pressed, Inklings, Bookends Used Books, Crash Bookshop, and Unbound Bookery.


According to Michael and Lynsey, the book crawl was a success. “Every bookstore, all week long, had above average across the board – in terms of response, activity on social media, and people coming in buying books,” said Michael. “Everybody did a really nice job focusing on what they did differently.”


For their part in the weeklong event, Little Bus Books partnered with PACE Center for Girls. The mobile book shop had its highest sales ever – half of which went to help with the PACE Center for Girls’ library this summer – a nod to their nonprofit efforts.


A FAMILY AFFAIR

Little Bus Books is a family operation, and every co-founding member has a title. Chief content officer Lynsey “serves as the head organizer and reading researcher.” President Michael is more of a “behind the scenes guy.” Son Luke serves as operations manager, helping out with heavy lifting, but says his main job with the book shop “is to make sure all employees are happy and fed!” Communications director Nolan is described as a “social butterfly” and says his job is to “make sure that our customers get the attention they deserve!”


Both Luke and Nolan have special needs. “One thing we wanted this business to be from the very beginning is something they could be a part of,” said Michael. Being market merchants provides the boys with variety in their perspective roles. From interacting with customers to cashing out purchases, the Pippens feel learning these skills is important and can translate into other opportunities for the boys.


“I think we’re finding that there are two sets of people learning here,” said Lynsey of her sons and society at large. She notes that tending to the Little Bus at markets has “helped [her sons] with real-world experience.” The boys are paid for their work and choose how to spend (or save) their money. Foodie Nolan loves to buy treats from the market food vendors. Luke recently saved up for a ‘space jacket’ from the Kennedy Space Center.


Both Nolan and Luke have high-functioning autism and interact with and experience the world differently. The social environment at the market has been to their benefit, said their parents. Extrovert Nolan has been able to experience independence, like going to the food truck by himself. The more reserved of the two, Luke has started greeting people at the markets, whereas he wouldn’t talk to strangers before.


“I also think having our boys out there is teaching our society around us as well,” said Lynsey. “Having the boys out there shows people that they are human too. Someone may say something ‘weird,’ or you may not understand exactly what they said because they have some speech difficulties, but guess what – they live in your world too, and they’re right here in your community and your farmers market. [...] I think it not only helps our boys, it not only brings together our family, […] but it’s also helping our community to see that we include everybody.”


NO COVERS

“We really wanted to be part of the community,” said Michael. “Being mobile helped us move in the community to different demographics.”


Not only did Little Bus Books want to pop up in hip and happening downtown spots, but they also wanted to serve a different audience. So, they began setting up shop at nonprofits like Talbot House, Gospel Village, and the Mission of Winter Haven. “You couldn’t really do that and have a brick and mortar in my mind,” Michael said of their mobile concept.


The future of Little Bus Books will focus on its nonprofit initiatives. “We found how to connect within the community that we would typically connect with because we like that. We like going to the markets. And we’ve met a lot of diverse people there. […] We’ve had to work harder to get outside of those circles a little bit with some of our nonprofit initiatives.”


The Pippens felt the demand for their services was higher outside their circle and asked themselves how they could bring the two together. The bridge between these two sides of the community is through their nonprofit initiative, No Covers. The name is apt and intentional – a play on the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and on ‘no cover’ as in ‘free of charge.’


Little Bus Books has partnered with six area nonprofits, including VISTE, Talbot House, Mission of Winter Haven, Gospel Inc., PACE Center for Girls, and Trinity Apartments of Lakeland, to give away books and make connections with people. “We feel like there’s a larger demand there and probably a larger calling,” Michael said.


The Pippens would love to see their No Covers initiative blossom into a full-time nonprofit organization supported by revenues from Little Bus Books’ for-profit market pop-ups.


“That’s the highest goal we have. We’re not trying to push across some initiative. We’re not trying to make everybody read anything,” Michael said. “We are using the books as our platform to get to know people that otherwise we’d have no real interaction with [and] making that very intentional with the hopes that it connects the other part of the community we are already in.”


Check out their website and social media pages to find out more about Little Bus Books, No Covers, or what market they’ll attend next. You’ll want to ‘book’ it over there to find your next favorite read!


Little Bus Books

FB @littlebusbooks

IG @littlebusbooks

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