Here Comes the Bookmobile

Bookstore-in-a-van Twenty Stories puts LA in the rearview to set up shop in Providence


When mobile bookstore Twenty Stories made its debut at the Hope Street Block Party last month, owners Alexa Trembly and Emory Harkins felt right at home.

“We got a car wash near Julian’s, and as we were driving down Broadway some girl came up to our window and was like ‘I saw you were coming to town and I’m so excited!’” explains Harkins who, as someone who grew up in Providence, is familiar with that kind of small-town, everybody-knows-everybody mentality. But it’s not like Twenty Stories was rolling in from remote locales like Jamestown or Westerly. It was coming from Los Angeles, which by Rhode Island measurements may as well be another planet. Thanks to social media, their reputation preceded them.

The two writers-turned-entrepreneurs opened Twenty Stories in November. For them the decision to open a mobile bookstore was a pragmatic one. They wanted to work with books (“When you say ‘I’m a writer’ [in LA],” explains Harkins, “it’s like ‘Oh, film of TV?’”) but they knew they didn’t have the capital to open a bookstore.

“We both had jobs unrelated to writing and were super dissatisfied,” says Trembly. “So we brainstormed. Food trucks are so big in LA. Maybe we could do this.”

The concept took off, with Twenty Stories popping up throughout the week, but LA is a demanding town notorious for its traffic. With growing their business and allowing themselves time to explore their own creative pursuits, Harkins and Trembly did what brick-and-mortar business owners can’t: they moved the whole operation 3,000 miles East.

Each month, Twenty Stories will feature, well, 20 stories – a 20-title selection of (mostly) fiction, non-fiction, and poetry culled from personal interests, positive reviews, and whatever might be coming down the line.

“We try to read as many of the books that we’re selling as possible,” says Trembly, with each of them doing their best to read 10 of the month’s picks.

The van will spend most of the week roaming the city, with weekends reserved for events and markets. Unlike in LA, where they utilize ”guerilla parking” tactics to show up unannounced in front of coffee shops and along the beach, they’re hoping to develop partnerships with local businesses to plan out appearances. “We’d like them to know who we are and not just show up,” says Harkins. They’re also offering a subscription service where members will be mailed one of each month’s featured titles, and will host a monthly book club.

After last month’s warm reception, the two are excited to weave their way into the fabric of the city. “I’m excited by how community focused everyone is here,” says Trembly. “They really want to support things like this, and you could feel that.” Follow Twenty Stories on Instagram @TwentyStoriesLA for exact locations Wednesday-Sunday