The concept was a classic pivot of the pandemic era. Longtime community college teacher Monica LeMoine wanted to open a bookstore, but her brick-and-mortar dream turned into something a little more #VanLife: Blue Kettle Books, a mobile bookstore housed in a retired shuttle.
LeMoine’s cute, bright blue bookmobile has taken over festivals, beer halls and neighborhood grounds with its meticulously curated reads. Inside the bespoke vehicle shop, affectionately nicknamed “Blue,” wooden shelves line the walls and witty signs organize the genres. “Get Out of This World” for sci-fi favorites; “Get Perspective” for non-fiction, historical and memoir readings. A kids’ corner with a padded window-side reading nook awaits younger readers, but most of Blue’s guests are adults.
Rekindling a love of literature among adult readers was LeMoine’s early inspiration for wanting to open his own independent book store. In her class at Highline College, the students started a book club that “ignited in me this joy of not just reading, but of bringing books to people.”
The selection on board Blue reflects this desire to connect readers to their next obsession. Like a bus loaded with the ever-popular Seattle Public Library picks, the small space forces LeMoine to be picky. Blue holds around 800 pounds on a busy day; Capitol Hill’s Elliott Bay Book Company, by comparison, houses 150,000 titles. With such limited space, LeMoine eschews older, well-known series (you won’t find Harry Potter on board) and favors under-the-radar reading to get book buyers hooked on something new.
At least, buying a book on a bus is a unique experience in itself. The same goes for driving. Shortly after LeMoine first got behind the wheel to drive Blue home from Portland, where a food truck company built the custom interior, she received a concerned phone call from her husband. He had just seen a Facebook post about a bookmobile swerving down the freeway near Portland. “I improved,” says LeMoine.
The mobile nature of Blue allows LeMoine to bring his independent bookstore to places that otherwise wouldn’t have the option of small-scale purchases. After several years of virtual events and e-learning, LeMoine has seen a craving for tactile, physical books that rustle when a page is turned. His business renewed his hope in the City of Literature. “Reading is not dead. People are still reading, and people are still reading real books.”