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Meet Fort Wayne’s first mobile book cart: Piebald Shark Books

“Our vision with this book cart is to make everything visually interesting and reward people for picking something up and trying something new.”
Meet Fort Wayne’s first mobile book cart: Piebald Shark Books
Friends Nick Tash and Sarah Suraci started Piebald Shark Books mobile book cart in the fall of 2023.

You might say it started with a love of print. When Fort Wayne-based friends Nick Tash and Sarah Suraci discovered a mutual interest in risograph, or digital screen, printing, they ended up collaborating around a different, but related project: Launching the city’s first mobile book cart for new “strange and unusual” titles. 

“We thought: Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a shop, where one half was a print shop and the other half was a bookstore?” says Tash. “The reason we went with a book cart was because it was low overhead, and we felt like it would be a good way to begin with the potential to grow.”

Last summer, the two commissioned Suraci’s father to build a custom book cart and launched their venture, Piebald Shark Books, as a pop-up outside Firefly Coffee House in mid-September. Since then, they’ve been regulars at Firefly on the weekends, along with other pop-ups at Conjure Coffee’s flagship location. 

Going into 2024, they hope to expand the reach of their mobile book cart to more coffee shops and businesses around town. This winter, you can find them at Conjure Coffee on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and at Firefly Coffee (occasionally) on Sundays (with a smaller selection of books, since the cart can't fit indoors).

We sat down with Tash and Suraci to learn more about their journey and what obscure books are on their shelves.

Piebald Shark Books hopes to expand the reach of its mobile book cart this year to more coffee shops and businesses around town.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves, Piebald Shark Books and what inspired you to start it.

NT: Sarah and I are both from Fort Wayne, and I call us the “proprietors” of Piebald Shark Books, which is a nice and bookish way to say: We’re book peddlers. 

As a designer, Sarah is the art director for the project. She did the logos, painted the cart, and she creates custom risograph printed bookmarks, which we distribute for free to guests. I am the primary book buyer.

Overall, Piebald Shark Books is just like a normal bookstore, but smaller, mobile and one that specializes in stocking stuff you wouldn’t find anywhere else. So if you’re on the lookout for something different, we’re the place to go.

All of this stemmed from some conversations about a gap we saw in the local book market, where you’ve got a used books institution, like Hyde Bros, and national chains, like Half-Priced Books. Then you have Barnes & Noble selling new books. But that’s really the only place in town where you can find new books. There is no existing independent new bookseller, so we started thinking: What’s a low-stakes way we can fill that gap and grow from there? A book cart seemed like a good place to start.

SS: For me, it was also about envisioning the type of place I would want to browse books and spend time. I was picturing this cozy bookstore with tea or coffee, and by bringing our book cart to existing local coffee shops, we can create that atmosphere. I also really like that our book cart sells highly curated, well-designed books or stranger titles you don’t see elsewhere. 

Sometimes, when I go into a big bookstore, I get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Our vision with this book cart is to make everything visually interesting and reward people for picking something up and trying something new. 

What’s the meaning behind the name Piebald Shark Books? 

NT: That came from a book I read a long time ago called Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. It’s a fantasy novel that’s part of his series called Gormenghast about this “infinite castle” that never stops being built. In the very first chapter, it describes a guy walking through this big hall filled with painted wood carvings, and he starts listing off the names of animals painted in these outlandish colors. One is a Piebald Shark, and I remember thinking: That’s a great name for something. It felt like the name of an old tavern, and for some reason, it seemed to fit this project well. There’s something that feels old timey and classic about it. Plus, it has a nice, obscure literary reference, just in case anyone doubts we’re literary people.

How would you describe “strange and unusual” books, and why did you want to focus on this genre specifically?

NT: It’s less a specific genre and more catchall term for the stuff we like to carry, which is mostly just what I like. We carry a lot of unusual scientific books you wouldn’t see around town and horror titles. We also carry a lot of harder to find film books and weird histories of unusual people or events. Our stock is a reflection of my weird interests because if I figured if I carry what is interesting to me, maybe somebody else will like it, too. It also fills that gap in books that might be harder to find at a Barnes & Noble.

The other genre we have an emphasis on is unusual children’s books, partially because I have kids myself (five-year-old twins). So we have a huge children’s book section, and the majority comes from a publisher out of New York called Enchanted Lion Books. They specialize in a lot of translated books from Japan, Italy and other places. They were titles I found at the Allen County Public Library and my own kids enjoyed, so we made a deal with the publisher. I also really like finding older, vintage kids’ books that have been reprinted recently – stuff people haven’t seen in awhile and can rediscover.

SS: We’re trying to stock more zines, too. We don’t have a whole bunch yet, but I think it’s an area we can grow. We’re interested in stocking zines by local artists, specifically, so if you have one, please contact us! We’d love to create more of a local community around zines.

In addition to zines with local artists, you’re doing a free bookmark program with artists, too. Tell us about that.

SS: So far, I’ve been designing the bookmarks myself and printing them on the risograph. We use them as free giveaways because it has our Instagram handle on it, that way people can take one and find us online or use it in a book they just purchased.

Then I thought, it’d be pretty great if we had a variety of bookmarks available in different styles and created by local artists. I recently started a Ko-fi account we use as a bookmark fund. So far I’ve paid for the cost of paper, etc., out of pocket. But the hope is that as the project grows, donations can help the free bookmark project sustain itself. We’ve already had a couple donations that can either cover the next ream of paper, or go towards a fund for commissioning local artists!

Give us a little more background on what risogaph printing is, for those who aren’t familiar.

SS: A risograph looks like an ordinary bulky office printer, but it uses stencils and ink instead of lasers and toner. I've heard it described as basically an automated screen printing machine. It’s pretty niche, but I was thinking of how to use mine to offer printing services on a small scale. And Nick had always wanted to open a book shop, so that’s how our initial concept for a print and book shop combo came into play.

For now, how can people keep up with Piebald Shark Books, and do you still plan to open a brick-and-mortar someday?

SS: Right now, we’re a pop-up business, so people can find us by following us on Instagram @piebaldsharkbooks, where we post our location. We did well outdoors at Firefly this fall, and it still feels like home to us. But now that the weather has turned, we’re in the midst of finding more places, like Conjure, where we can pop-up indoors this winter. 

We love coffee shops because it pairs so well together – getting your coffee or tea and buying a book (or browsing one). If any local coffee shops or other small businesses are interested in hosting us for pop-ups, please let us know!

NT: A brick-and-mortar feels fairly far down the road for us right now, but it is still the end goal. Our next step is to get our website up and running, which is our main project this year. That will allow customers to find us, and order online. 

But someday, we would love to have a centrally located bookshop Downtown. Growing up in Fort Wayne, I have core memories of my mom taking me to Little Professor Book Co. in Covington Plaza, and I remember being amazed by all the books there. It was so fun to have the experience of shopping and attending story times in a bookstore like that, or Mr. McGregor's Garden. From that point on, I always thought I’d love to work in a bookstore someday; it’s a dream job. 

How can people get in touch with you about pop-ups, zines, or general questions?

 NT: Email us at nick@piebaldsharkbooks.com.

SS: Feel free to send us a DM on instagram at @piebaldsharkbooks, as well!