In the age of the online store, I appreciate the entrepreneurs who are keeping retail retro. Their mobile shops–converted trailers stocked with clothing, jewelry, home decor, and gifts–roll from town to town, finding customers where we live. I shopped two in Atlanta and one in LA this year and was wowed by the smart use of space, the stylish merchandising, the character evoked by the camper itself. Here I highlight four roving retailers and ask them to share stories and tips from their adventures.
Unless otherwise noted, photos are by the shop owners.
small room collective
Husband and wife team Lauren and Travis may be cross-country roamers, but their mission is to make connections. They think of Small Room Collective as a gathering place where perfect strangers can feel at ease and at home. In June, outside Victory Sandwich Bar in Decatur, GA, this stranger felt comfortable and excited among the handmade art prints, stationery, soap, and jewelry on board. I bought a cast brass Fitzgerald Forbes bangle that reminds me of midcentury Brutalist work. I found out the couple lives in their Airstream, making their clean design all the more impressive since it fulfills both their personal and professional needs.
Me: What’s your favorite part about owning a mobile shop?
Lauren: I like the unexpected element of it, and being able to connect with new people and places. . . . We have to go outside, we have to explore, we have to make new friends, otherwise we’d go nuts!
Me: What’s your best story from the road?
Lauren: We had less than 36 hours to get to Louisville [from Denver]. Just so happens, we would be chasing a string of tornadoes, torrential rain and storms, speckled with some high winds. We were going 45 mph at this point in thick fog and not getting anywhere fast. It was getting dark outside, so we decided to stop at a Walmart for the night in Colby, Kansas. The winds became so loud that we were more praying for our lives than sleeping, and we just decided at 4 a.m. that we’d try to keep going. The rains were fierce, and the trailer was swaying in the wind like a giant aluminum whale behind us. George was trembling and curled up in his storm position in the back. We noticed something amiss with our rooftop carrier and realized the wind had shoved it at a 45-degree angle. Nice. We struggle to get it straight again, the wind slamming the car doors open. After two episodes of this rooftop carrier situation along the stretch of the flat Kansas plains, a good dose of snail pacing, and some disgruntled mumbling, we made it through the worst of the storm. We eventually made it to Louisville, and actually made the event on time.
Me: What’s your advice for someone who’s thinking about building a mobile shop?
Lauren: Really understand the inner workings of the trailer itself, and make sure it’s sturdy and safe for a small stampede of wild buffalo to pass through.