“In a time when people say that [folks] are reading less and less and that books are expensive, I wanted to propose a solution,” says Jean-Jacques Megel-Nuber when discussing his mobile bookstore: Le Vrai Chic Littérère, which literally translates from French to English as “the true chic literature.”
Back in April 2015, the 47-year-old quit his job as an artistic director, with plans to open a “cultural bistro” dedicated to the arts, offering visitors the chance to mingle, read, and listen to music with a side of coffee and light bites. “I abandoned the idea because I did not want to wait for people to come to me,” he says. “I preferred to be the one to go to the people.”
Ideally seeking to make literature more accessible to folks both geographically and financially, Megel-Nuber realized that his business’ overall appeal also depended on the look of his venue. So, he set out to open his second-hand bookstore in a tiny house. “I needed a place that makes people want to enter,” he says.
Adding a level of novelty, creativity, and accessibility to the concept, Megel-Nuber decided to make the tiny house even more special by building it on wheels. To do so, he enlisted the help of La Maison Qui Chemine (“the house that walks”), a French company that conceptualizes and builds tiny houses on wheels all over France.
The itinerant bookshop was built during the summer and autumn of 2016, but officially completed on February 1, 2017. Before then, Megel-Nuber took it on its first run to Les Voivres, a village roughly five kilometers from the workshop where it was being built, to be part of a local Christmas market.
Since then, the structure, which Megel-Nuber drives around the East of France, has stopped by approximately 30 different destinations, including Mulhouse, Colmar, and Strasbourg. It travels on average twice a month and stays in a certain location between two days and two weeks but is mainly stationed in Alsace, where the bookseller himself lives. Fans can sometimes spot it in Frenche-Comté and Burgundy as well.
Next on the literary tour: Rochejean. “It is in the mountains, about a thousand meters above sea level,” Megel-Nuber says. “She will be welcomed as part of a festival for children.”
When it comes to selecting destinations, Megel-Nuber explains that the process doesn’t rest entirely in his hands: towns and villages reach out to him directly and he then considers whether to accept their invitation or not. This system allows him not to have to worry about securing permits to park his bookstore on wheels in a specific area as the festivals, markets, and cities that ask him to visit take care of it all. “I respond to requests from people who invite the bookstore to festivals or literary events,” he says. “They give me permission to install it [wherever it is that I’m being invited to].”
Today, the shop is home to 3,000 books, which Megel-Nuber picks himself: “I choose them according to what I know of authors, publishers, collections but also because I find them beautiful or their theme interesting.”
But inventiveness and an original concept can only take a businessman so far: are visitors actually buying books? “But of course!” Megel-Nuber says. Most head out with a single tome or two, he says, but there are some customers that have purchased up to “fifty pounds” of literature from inside the concoction. These customers run the gamut from folks looking to actually buy books to those interested in the discovery of “the unusual” and others yet who only really care about seeing one of the famous tiny houses that pepper France.
As eclectic as his creation is, Megel-Nuber acknowledges the presence of other traveling bookshops in France—”but, for now, none in a tiny house.” Individuals interested in pursuing a similar business model have reached out to Megel-Nuber directly.
But what is it really like to step into a tiny house on wheels that’s attached to a trailer and be engulfed by thousands of books? Unusual, for once. But also “warm,” Megel-Nuber says. “The reactions are rather positive.” He goes on to mention one of his favorite responses: “I am often told that it is difficult to leave [the bookstore] and that they’d like to have the same thing in their own garden.”
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