Meet the Mom of 3 Who Opened a Bookstore On a Bus
Latanya DeVaughn was raised by her grandmother, an educator in the New York City school system, who adopted her when she was 2 days old. "I never really noticed that we were lacking in anything," says DeVaughn. "We always had food. She always had savings. We went on trips when we could."
DeVaughn's grandmother instilled a love of experiences in her, and one of the main activities they enjoyed doing was book shopping throughout the city. "She would take me to the bookstores," says the Bronx, New York native. "And we would go to garage sales, and I would buy books while everyone else was looking for furniture or clothing."
When her grandmother passed away, DeVaughn was just 19 and working in finance. "That was the point where I knew that I was depending on myself," she says. "I didn't have a safety net, so I was always extra careful with money."
Rarely accumulating debt, DeVaughn has never wanted anything outside of her means. "And if I want something, I know that there's a way for me to attain it," she says.
In 2004, she became a mom to her first of three children, and although she went back to work in accounting when he was 1, she dreamed of owning a bookstore. "Anyone who knew me knew that I always wanted to own a bookstore," she notes. "So when I wasn't happy at my job, my friends would just say, 'Well, why don't you just start the bookstore, just try or do it on the weekends?'"
Although she saw a real need for a bookstore in the Bronx, which was lacking one for almost four years, DeVaughn worried the rents were too high. That's when a friend showed her a mobile book truck in Delaware. And from the moment she saw the book truck, she began to reimagine it on a bus.
"From that point on, I started to manifest this concept of Bronx Bound Books—a mobile bookstore," notes DeVaughn, explaining that it would be the bookstore that "comes to you." The bus would head to parks, beaches, farmers' markets, and other locations.
DeVaughn was so inspired by the concept that she worked to make it a reality. In May 2019, she had a business reveal, letting people in her community know that she was raising money to buy the bus. "Your community is your most valuable asset when starting a small business," she notes. "If you're vulnerable enough to let them know what you want, they'll try and make it happen for you."
After the reveal, DeVaughn collected used books from her neighbors and friends, and publishers sent her titles as well. She paid $150 a month to store the growing library.
DeVaughn also felt that if her community saw her investing in herself, they would invest in her as well. After raising the funds to buy a shuttle bus, DeVaughn applied for a small business grant and ultimately received $20,000 that allowed her to convert the bus into the bookstore.
At that point, she had been working at the New-York Historical Society, and in January 2020, she decided to leave to focus on Bronx Bound Books full-time. "My supervisor at the time said, 'Oh, you're leaving us to go follow your dreams,'" recalls DeVaughn. "I said, 'Yes, I am.'"
At the same time, she remembers having to adjust her finances and revamp her savings but wanted to bootstrap in a way that her kids wouldn't notice. It wasn't tough, as they had always lived a low-maintenance lifestyle, and from an early age, she aimed to instill the value of money in her children. "When we're shopping, I ask them, 'Are you sure you want this? And why do you want this? And how long do you think you're going to be interested in this?'" she says.
With her kids' and community's support, DeVaughn officially launched her business in September 2021. "Labor Day weekend was the first time the bus was out," she recalls. "The bus is still not painted on the outside, but I didn't want to wait for perfection."
She's proudly keeping her community abreast of the funds she's raising to make changes to the bus. "Right now, I'm raising money to paint the mural on the outside, and it needs some bodywork," says DeVaughn. "So I'm bringing the people with me on this journey, and as they see the improvements, they feel like they're part of it."
So far, the mom of three has been deeply heartened to see the impact her bookstore on wheels is making. "The elders in our community who come in and sometimes they're emotional because growing up, they didn't get to see Black authors and Black faces or people of color on the covers of the books that were displayed at the local bookstore or a library," says DeVaughn. "A woman was in tears. One time she walked in and said, 'This is beautiful. I didn't see this growing up and for the kids of today to see themselves, when they walk in here, you have no idea how much of a impact you're making right now.'"
DeVaughn continues to dream big, hoping to partner with schools, do book fairs that offer fair prices and diverse titles, and get a second bus eventually to cover more ground. "For my family, I want it to continue to be an inspiration for them to follow their dreams," says the proud mom.
Here are DeVaughn's tips to set yourself up financially to make your big dream a reality.
Be Transparent With Your Money
All too often, says DeVaughn, we don't want to take a deep look at our finances. "Some people just don't want to do the accounting part of their business," she notes. But it's crucial to be transparent with yourself.
She also urges would-be entrepreneurs to be realistic. "Find out what you absolutely need and what you can do without," says DeVaughn. "Create a structure, a budget."
Calculate Your Time
DeVaughn emphasizes the need to zero in on how much time you're putting into your business and realize what that costs. "That's something that we sometimes forget because we're loving the journey of entrepreneurship, and we don't realize we're spending a lot of time on certain things," she says.
Make Time to Rest
Burnout can hit when you're opening your own shop—to sell books or anything else. That's why DeVaughn believes it's important to prioritize self-care as well. "Entrepreneurial burnout is real, and it can really cost you," she notes. "Budget time for rest."
Lean on Your Community
Along the way, DeVaughn found support from her neighbors and friends. It's something she celebrates as an entrepreneur and hopes to pass on to her kids as well. "I want them to be able to see that their community does support," says DeVaughn. "And as they grow older, I want them to be proud of where they come from and of their upbringing."