Just 45 miles outside of New York City, on the south fork of Long Island, a big blue bus acts as an eye-grabber and a question magnet. Converted school buses—known as “skoolies”—are already a big trend in the West. Now they’re coming for the East Coast.
“I am bringing something to the New York region that people haven’t seen before,” says Catherine Ovejas about the formerly-yellow school bus she and her boyfriend, Jose Rivera, transformed into a tiny house. Ovejas purchased the bus for $4,500 off Craigslist in 2017, then put in another $25,000 to turn it into an experience-machine. She calls it “an intentional, accidental business.”
The idea was born out of an urge to combat the “retail apocalypse” by offering an experienced-based business over brick-and-mortar. “It really does help the problem of people not connecting,” says Ovejas, a single mother and full-time marketing director in Manhattan. People constantly stop to talk to her about her bus, and those who rent it do so to enjoy each other’s company.
A tri-state tour
Apt84—named after the ages of Ovejas’ two children at the time of the finished conversion—is available for rent in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Rather than writing up a detailed marketing plan, Ovejas says her approach is to feel out what people think she can do with the bus. “The feedback to me is important—it helps me validate that I did something pretty awesome,” she says.
Customers have come up with lots of ideas for the bus, including wine tours—currently the hottest ticket on the Apt84 schedule. “We just took a group up from Brooklyn. They had never been to wine country in Long Island so to them it was a whole new experience,” Ovejas says. “It is not just transportation; you really do get to experience what it’s like to be in the skoolie, you get to be more comfortable with the way you are seated, and you get to interact with your group.” Customers can bring their own food and drinks with them, including alcohol.
The bus is popular for weddings, too, both as transportation to and from the wedding, and as a gathering spot for the bridal party. “It’s a private space to take pictures, freshen up, change, like a VIP suite,” Ovejas says—and it works especially well if the wedding is at a park, a marina, the beach, or a restaurant that doesn’t have a bridal suite. Apt84 already has weddings booked for the spring and summer of 2020.
Getting back to creativity
While looking for a secondary, viable revenue source, Ovejas discovered that building a skoolie was a way to reclaim a bit of herself after a bad relationship ended. “I lost a little bit of myself and my creativity, and I wanted to get that back,” she says.
It took Ovejas and Rivera about eight months to renovate the bus, which now has a rooftop deck, a dedicated bathroom with a shower, a bedroom nook that sleeps six (four adults and two kids, comfortably), and a full kitchen.
Building a skoolie is “harder than building a house,” says Ovejas, and she’s only half-joking. Rivera first had to remove the seats and other interior. Once everything was removed, the couple and Ovejas’ children had to learn to construct a livable space around the mechanics of an automobile.
The final interior design is boho chic, with lyrics displayed on framed posters and pillows, a chalkboard, and a flatscreen TV. In complementing sky blue tones, the coffee maker, mini oven, and mini fridge are functional accent pieces that offer a calming pop of color and help weave the whole look together. The outside of the bus is painted a soft aquamarine blue.
Feeling the love
In the short year since Apt84’s debut, the bus—which, when not in use, is parked on the side of Ovejas’s house on a cul-de-sac in Lindenhurst, New York—has also been rented for tailgating, photoshoots, bachelorette and birthday parties, corporate events, and family reunions. “We had a whole family in there,” Ovejas says, telling the story of how the bus was filled with two or three generations of family members. “We took them up to Gurney’s in Montauk. They were playing music and just had a blast.”
With RV-like seating, Apt84 holds up to 15 comfortably. There is no law that requires passengers, other than the driver, to wear a seatbelt. But don’t expect to have a chance to get behind the wheel. For liability reasons, Ovejas or Rivera do all the driving.
Ovejas is also a big believer in giving back, so Apt84 has become a big draw for charity events, as well. She has rented Apt84 for glamping, but says it makes her nervous to leave the bus with people overnight. “It’s kind of like my baby,” she says—a baby she’s incredibly proud of.
In the fall of 2018, Apt84 was listed among the top seven exhibits at New York City-based World Maker Faire. “We didn’t expect that kind of response,” Ovejas says. “For two whole days we had non-stop lines. Our jaws were to the floor. We didn’t expect that love.”
If you go
Apt84 is scheduled to appear at the Famous Food Festival in Deer Park, New York on October 12 and 13, where people will have the opportunity to tour the inside of the bus.