Crossing the wooden threshold into the main room of Baldwin’s Book Barn is like stepping into a different world, where time seems slower and the network of non-stop technology is silenced.
The inviting front room of the humongous bookstore offers a warming wood stove and a few chairs into which readers can settle, after wandering the expansive five floors of the upgraded barn.
Bought and converted into a bookstore in 1946 by William and Lilla Baldwin to provide more space for their expanding book business, the Book Barn was once used by Quakers Brinton and Sarah Darlington to house their dairy cows. The small milking house next to the barn was converted into a home for the Baldwin family, so they could be close by to the shop at all times. The 1822 building has been refurbished to include shelf space for hundreds of thousands of books, most of which are used or rare. Housing everything from children’s books to extraordinary first editions, every inch of space is put to use, with books even lining the walls of the staircases that lead from floor to floor.
The current owner is William and Lilla Baldwin’s son Tom, who took over the business in 1985, after spending a childhood in the company of the thousands of volumes. Baldwin still lives in the small milking house next to the large store and takes pride in being available at any time to show someone around the old barn.
People come from miles away to visit Baldwin’s Book Barn; the shop has even hosted guests from China. Baldwin says that it’s a real event for people to come visit the store, planning road trips around the one day they spend rooting for literary treasure in the labyrinth of shelves. Families find comfort in the store, which is unlike any other kind of summer destination. The beating sun is banished, long lines are left behind, and parents with children of any age can appreciate the way a good book can quiet them.
Baldwin, speaking of the store’s appeal, says, “People come here and they say, ‘We don’t know why we’re here, but we just came down the road and there you were.” We have doctors and lawyers who come in and say, ‘We want to get lost.” ” With the wide selection of books, ranging from two dollars to $200,000, it’s not difficult to do. Baldwin comes across most of his books when he buys entire collections from estate sales or auctions. When asked to describe the process, Baldwin explains, “I would pay one thousand dollars for a library, and then … if I find something that was worth a lot more than I thought in the beginning, I share that money with the seller of the books.” In the end, everyone benefits from the trade.
Unlike many other privately owned bookstores, Tom has been able to keep his business booming by taking full advantage of the technological age, though you wouldn’t know it when you walk into the store, even after hours spent there. Baldwin recalls what it was like when the store first went online in 1997.
“We went on eBay when it first started, so we just did fantastic business, we boomed … if I wasn’t part of that, [the store] wouldn’t still be here.” But he constantly reiterates that people who come to the bookstore to get away from the incessant nags of the modern world won’t be disappointed by what they find, saying “We’re very strong on the Internet, but you don’t see that unless you go on the website.” The Book Barn works with larger sites like Amazon, eBay, and ABE Books to obtain copies of books customers are seeking.
Not that one will encounter a shortage of any type of tome at Baldwin’s shop. Endless hours could be spent searching through the stacks, or one could make a brief visit to settle into a comfortable armchair and crack open a latest favorite. Either way, Mr. Baldwin looks forward to seeing you and sharing his timeless passion.
The Book Barn is open everyday from 10am to 6pm, but those wishing to visit any time outside of those hours are encouraged to contact Tom Baldwin via the Baldwin’s Book Barn website at www.bookbarn.com.