Blue Kettle Books Brings the Indie Bookstore to New Terrain

Monica LeMoine has long been a teacher—now she can add business owner and bus driver to her resume too.

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach June 24, 2022

The concept was a classic pandemic-era pivot. Longtime community college teacher Monica LeMoine wanted to open a bookstore, but her brick-and-mortar dream swerved into something a bit more #VanLife: Blue Kettle Books, a mobile bookstore housed inside a retired shuttle bus.

LeMoine's cute, bright-blue bookmobile has rolled into festivals, breweries, and neighborhood lots with its meticulously curated reads. Inside the bespoke vehicle-slash-shop—affectionately dubbed “Blue”—wooden shelves line the walls and witty placards organize genres. “Get Out of this World” for sci-fi favorites; “Get Perspective” for nonfiction, historical, and memoir reads. A children’s corner complete with a cushioned window-side reading nook awaits young readers, but most of Blue’s customers are adults.

Reigniting a love of literature among mature readers was LeMoine’s inspiration from the outset for wanting to open her own independent book outlet. In her Highline College class, students started a book club that “sparked in me this joy of not just reading, but bringing books to people.”

The selection aboard Blue reflects this desire to connect readers with their next obsession. Like a bus loaded with Seattle Public Library’s ever-popular Peak Picks, the small space forces LeMoine to be picky. Blue holds about 800 books on a heavy day; Capitol Hill’s Elliott Bay Book Company, by comparison, houses 150,000 titles. With such limited space, LeMoine shirks older, well-known series (you won’t find Harry Potter on board) and favors under-the-radar reads to get book buyers hooked on something new.

If nothing else, purchasing a book while on a bus is a novel experience in itself. So is driving it. 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 on the freeway down by Portland. “I’ve gotten better at it,” LeMoine assures. 

Blue's mobile nature enables LeMoine to bring her independent bookstore to locales that would otherwise lack the option to shop small. After several years of virtual events and online learning, LeMoine has seen a hunger for tactile, physical books that rustle when a page turns. Her business has renewed her hope in the City of Literature. “Reading is not dead. People still read, and people still read real books.”

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