“When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.”
That quote is from Parnassus on Wheels, Christopher Morley’s eccentric and delightful 1917 novel about a 39-year old New England woman who leaves her farm and takes to the open road with a horse-drawn book wagon. It’s one on my favorite books about books, and Diarra “Crckt” Leggett (whose nickname is pronounced “Cricket”) is the only person I know who has read it. Leggett has another quote from it,
“Books, the truest friends of man, fill this rolling caravan,” wheat-pasted above the windshield inside his mobile bookstore, Boomerang Bookshop: Nomad Chapter.
The last time I saw Leggett, he was working for an hourly wage at Empire Books on Spring Garden. Today, when he sells me a lovely hardcover edition of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just-So Stories,” all the money goes to him and his wife Elizabeth, who isn’t in the comfortably air-conditioned short bus on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, but rather his partner in the new business.
“That was a childhood dream of mine,” he said. “I’ve sold books for the better part of 16 years, so I guess I’ve been a bookseller all that time. It feels good to have it say that on a business card that is something that I have built though, for sure.”
Leggett, who is also a library assistant in Kernersville, inherited his love of books from his mother, who worked for 30 years as a librarian in Winston-Salem. When he and Elizabeth moved to Chicago in 2001, he got a job as a bike messenger, delivering special orders for the now-defunct Brent Books and Cards.
“Once they caught on that I was a literate pack mule, I started pulling shifts in the store,” Leggett said. “After that, I ended up back in Greensboro, and at Edward McKay for few years. From there, I worked for a now-defunct, pop-up remainder bookselling business, Giant Book Sale.”
Leggett said after Shane, the original owner of Empire Books, died his business partner Mark Wingfield was keen to move the store from Quaker Village to Spring Garden. Leggett helped and stayed on afterward.
“Mark and I, although still great friends, weren’t able to continue working as a duo (namely because my dear friend was a cheapskate), but when he was ready to sell, he suggested hiring me to the buyer,” Leggett said. “I worked under the new owner for two years before we parted ways, and now I making a go at it for myself.”
At first, he thought about a brick and mortar store. He said that Wingfield’s successor was eager to get out of the book business as well and that Leggett had aspirations to purchase it from Wingfield.
“But, upon closer consideration, I realized that would prove detrimental to our family,” Leggett said. “Elizabeth offhandedly suggested, while I was lamenting this missed opportunity, that I start ‘a food truck, but for books.’ The idea seemed crazy enough to work.”
Leggett started looking for bookmobiles online but he soon realized that it was “effing expensive!” Leggett looked at some retired delivery trucks, but he said the prospect of wholly repurposing one was too daunting.
“On a lark, I typed the word ‘bookmobile’ into Craigslist and, lo and behold, there was one in Greensboro,” Leggett said. “I did the decoupage of book pages on the ceiling myself. Phil Fuentes built the beautiful shelves in the bus, Lisa Sussman did the amazing design work and Shawn Smith lent his expertise in sign-making.”
Leggett and Elizabeth have been selling online under the Boomerang moniker since last fall, but the Nomad Chapter has only been a working entity for roughly three months. Leggett said he did not spend much time debating the new adventure.
“Not after we found the bus,” Leggett said. “The way I see it, my overhead is much less than a brick and mortar store, and in the event of outright failure (which I have to be prepared for the possibility of). I can sell, or worst case scenario, live in the vehicle.”
Leggett said people react differently when they first enter the bus with Mad Max’s sidekick the Feral Kid and the words, “Boomerang Bookshop: Nomad” painted on it.
“I hear a lot of ‘I’ve never seen anything like this! This is a really great idea,’” Leggett said. “At which point I have to admit that the idea was Elizabeth’s.”
As a bookseller, Leggett said that his favorite experience is when people find the exact book they are looking for.
“I’m a man of simple pleasures,” Leggett said. “Every time I hear someone excitedly exclaim, ‘Yes!’ because they found just what they were after, is my favorite experience selling books.”
Boomerang Bookshop: Nomad Chapter can be found at the Corner Farmer’s Market in the Lindley Park neighborhood on Saturday mornings and the Grove Street People’s Market in Glenwood on Thursday afternoons. Follow them at www.facebook.com/nomadchapter/ or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.