"Rolling Right Along with Richmond BooksellerWard Tefft is hitting the road. The Richmond, Va., bookseller is one of the driving forces behind a new non-profit venture, Books on Wheels, which gives away books and offers bike repair services free of charge.
The owner of used bookstores Chop Suey Books and the recently-opened Chop Suey Tuey, Tefft had sought an effective way to distribute merchandise he couldn't sell. A bookshelf outside the entrance of the flagship store (which marks its fifth anniversary in April) resulted in soggy tomes from inclement weather--and even provided some passersby objects to throw during fights. Tefft considered renting a separate space solely for the purpose of giving away free books, but it "wasn't feasible," he said, as it would mean "a lot of overhead with no income."
Tefft has since found the perfect storefront--a minibus painted sky blue and emblazoned with the vehicle's moniker in graffiti-style type: Mo'Book Mo'Bike Mobile.
During a conversation in January with friend and fellow philanthropist Shelley Briggs, the co-founder of Spokes, a non-profit bicycle repair operation, the duo decided to combine their respective interests and within 48 hours had purchased the bus. A mobile operation "is nicer because we can go to people instead of having them come to us," said Tefft, speaking last week from New Orleans, La., one of the stops on the Mo'Book Mo'Bike Mobile's inaugural road trip.
Tefft and Briggs plan to hold bi-monthly events in Richmond with occasional forays to other cities. Along with New Orleans, last week they visited Greensboro, N.C., Pensacola, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. They partnered with a local business or organization in each city, including a New Orleans school where children's shouts of "there's the book mobile" greeted their arrival.
Books on Wheels was part of an after-school program for the Crescent City students, who received Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket adventures as well as books by Richard Scarry and others. Neighborhood residents had their bikes repaired and browsed the book offerings while they waited.
Combining efforts with established programs and events is preferable "because there is a built-in audience," said Tefft, who noted that for the out-of-town trips it's sometimes difficult to garner publicity coverage. A second road trip is planned for June, when the Mo'Book Mo'Bike Mobile will be heading to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.
Books on Wheels' free books and bicycle repair services (bikes are also given away gratis) are available to anyone regardless of age or economic status, although Tefft and Briggs are making a special effort to reach out to underprivileged children and adolescents. "We want to encourage reading across the board," said Tefft. "Really this is for everyone."--Shannon McKenna
Books on Wheels accepts donations of gently used books, particularly children and young adult titles, as well as bicycles and bike parts. Visit bookonwheels.com for more information."