Your mom always said not to point at people or stare — it’s impolite. But pointing, staring and better yet, talking, are exactly the reaction Niles Graber Miller is hoping to get when he drives around town in his billboard on wheels.
"That’s the point," he said of the neck swivels he receives as he drives his 1970 Volkswagen van painted with advertisements for several downtown businesses.
The 2010 Bethany grad and current Goshen College student, thought of the van idea while living with his family in Cambodia last winter. He was inspired in part by friends Rich and Brenda Hostetler Meyer’s peace-slogan-filled "hippy van," which he occasionally borrowed for excursions around town during his junior and senior years.
"That one always got looks, so I thought I could apply that to something else," Graber Miller said.
He combined his appreciation of downtown businesses with his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship to come up with the idea.
"It feels good to be helping downtown businesses with advertising," he said. "With Elkhart County’s depressed economy, I thought it would be fun to encourage people to shop locally with this moving billboard. Since I was 16 I’ve worked for downtown Goshen stores, and I’ve always been a fan of supporting locally owned businesses."
Graber Miller started out working for former shoe store Shoo-be-Do and has since worked at Maple City Market and at his parents business, Graber Designs Gallery.
During the winter and spring Niles’ parents, Keith and Ann Graber Miller, were leading Goshen College’s international education program in Phnom Penh. From his temporary home in Cambodia, Niles began searching on various Web auction sites for vintage vans.
In late March Niles located the perfect van through craigslist.com and purchased it from the owner the week before his family returned to Goshen in early April. Within 24 hours after he landed in Indiana, Graber Miller went to pick up the van in Cincinnati.