“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my…”
That’s what we used to chant, three children in the back of our mom’s minivan driving the 10 minutes or so from our summer home in Columbia County to the Book Barn, a used book store nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. And it’s no wonder we did, looking back. Though only a few turns off the main road through the tiny town of Craryville, the road seemed to get narrower, the trees taller and the atmosphere darker with every mile.
It was all fun and games of course, and I always looked forward to our visits. My mother was an avid reader and book enthusiast who passed that love of the written word down to me. I would enthusiastically pick out new young adult novels and adult paperbacks which I would take home and tear through voraciously, lying draped across the cushioned chair in the living room. On a quiet day spent at home I could easily finish an average length paperback.
As I got further into my teenage years, we began spending less time upstate over the summer, and our trips out to the Book Barn dwindled as well. There were no more lazy weekdays to fill, just weekends spent with the whole family running from here to there, visiting, and trying to accomplish things (they were enjoyable too, just a bit more hectic).
Fast forward now: I started this story as a preteen, and at this point I’m a twenty-something upstate for a few days with just my fiance. We set out, unsure of if the Book Barn even still existed. After a few wrong turns (we missed the tiny signs along the road) we found it, and were lucky enough to have chosen a day the store was open to visit. That was the first of many trips where I set myself a budget and easily left with an entire armful of paperback novels, history books, flimsy paper guidebooks from various British castles open to the public, and the occasional craft or costuming book. Walk in with $20 cash, walk out with 4-5 new paperbacks, a hardcover and a few pamphlets from places I’d love to visit but likely never will? Don’t mind if I do!
Fast forward again, this time to present day. On a hot early September afternoon, too hot to want to do much of anything, my husband, toddler and I go for a drive. I direct my husband, now sure of my directions, even though I haven’t been since I was pregnant, the springtime before last. We pass several working farms along the way and what I remark to my husband is my dream home, a stately white house with a red door on a large corner property complete with idyllic fenced gardens and a tall stone wall along the side road. There’s also an old cemetery behind it, tall white sculpted headstones between towering trees with a deep covering of leaves (an old family plot perhaps?), but we’ll ignore that.
We pull up to plenty of space; only a few cars are outside this time. The building is as charming as ever, a weathered wood barn with a full apple tree out front, surrounded by garden decor and colorful wildflowers. The sun dappled property is not well manicured, but it looks cared for, and gives an instant feeling of coziness and old fashioned charm.
Inside is everything you think it will be and more. Bursting with character, the floorboards are uneven and the shelves mismatched, loaded from top to bottom with books of all descriptions. New books, old books and older books. Hardcovers and paperbacks, plus pamphlets, an assortment of music CDs and movie DVDs, old magazines and antique photographs.
It’s as well organized as you can expect considering how many books are in stock, with small handwritten paper signs labeling each section. On this particular day, determined to only buy titles I actively wanted since I’ve had little to no time to read since my daughter was born, I picked up a paperback copy of Gone Girl, perfect save for a few creases on the covers, for a mere $2.50.
As my husband paid inside, I wandered outside with Little Miss, hoping to keep her occasional one-year-old yowling from disturbing other shoppers. We accidentally interrupted a beautiful long haired cat who had been nosing around the remains of someone’s picnic in the garden, and who followed me towards the “free books” area, a table outside under a wood overhang next to the book annex, a small shed that houses (you guessed it) yet more books. Little Miss seemed to imitate the cat’s sweet meowing as her daddy emerged and we walked back to our car.
The long and short of this story is that the Book Barn is a veritable used book wonderland. Only a short drive from Hudson’s main street, popular for its antique stores and trendy restaurants and just over the state border from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, this hidden gem is well worth a stop if you’re in the area. The owner is the same woman I remember from my trips there 18 or more years ago, and it is just as impressive now as it was when I was a kid.
Book lovers rejoice – in a world of digital files, eReaders and online orders, old fashioned used book stores still exist.
Rodger’s Book Barn is located at 467 Rodman Road, Hillsdale, New York. As per it’s website, the store boasts over 50,000 titles and is open November through March on Fridays through Sundays, 11am-5pm and April through October on Thursdays through Mondays from 11am-5pm.