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Posts Tagged ‘book towns’

Photo: Bjørn/Book Towns
The book town of Fjærland, Norway. About 30 or 40 villages around the world have a high concentration of booksellers who are drawing visitors and building the local economy.

When I was writing my March post about Hobart, an upstate New York village that boasted five bookstores, I learned that the idea of being a “book town” wasn’t an entirely new concept. In fact, there may be as many as 40 book towns around the world.

Unsurprisingly, someone has written a book about them. Sarah Laskow interviewed Book Towns author Alex Johnson for Atlas Obscura.

“What makes a book town? It can’t be too big — not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops — not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.”

Atlas Obscura: “What makes a good book town?”
Alex Johnson: “Well, they’re all very picturesque. That’s one of the reasons they generally get picked. They’re away from cities, so rents are low. … Often, they’ve been in places where economically things have been a bit slim, or the population’s been decreasing as the younger people move away into the cities. Hay-on-Wye, in Wales, was the first one, and it started in 1977.

“How have book towns changed over the past few decades?
“I think they’re actually quite similar to when [bookseller] Richard Booth came up with the idea. He started Hay as a book town very much to regenerate it — to provide employment, keep people in Hay, and provide an actual tourist destination. … Book towns are tiny little places, and people wouldn’t come to them otherwise. …

What does it take to set up a book town that will survive?
“They’ve got to be sensible about providing a large amount of bookshops. You can’t do it with one or two. You need plenty. You need to cover a range of things. Some of the most successful ones have been where it’s not just bookselling. There are publishers or printers or artists or designers. …

“Nearly all bookstore owners, especially secondhand ones, have their own interests. So they tend to specialize in things anyway. … A few places [have] quite a strong central group, but most of them are quite loose. They nearly all have booksellers associations, but it’s quite like a friendly cooperative. …

“If someone wanted to understand the range of book towns, what four or five would you send them to?
“I would definitely go to Hay. … Paju Book City in South Korea. There’s a huge number of publishers and printers there, as well as books. … Clunes, in Australia, has done a very good job of building themselves up. Originally it was a gold rush town, and they quite often shoot films there. …

“Wigtown, in Scotland, is a good example of a place that’s really regenerated. Twenty years ago, it was having a really tough time — shops and industries closing, people moving out. And they’ve absolutely turned it around.

More here.

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Photos: Rachel Watson
Barbara Balliet and Cheryl Clarke, owners of Blenheim Hill Books, one of five bookstores in an upstate New York village of 500 souls.

This village sounds like heaven to a book lover. I think the people who live there must be very happy. I’m pretty sure they are well-read.

Daniel A. Gross writes at Atlas Obscura, “The village of Hobart, New York, is home to two restaurants, one coffee shop, zero liquor stores, and, strangely enough, five independent bookstores. … Fewer than 500 people live in Hobart. Yet from Main Street, in the center of town, you’re closer to a copy of the Odyssey in classical Greek, or a vintage collection of Jell-O recipes, than a gas station.

“This literature-laden state of affairs emerged just after the turn of the millennium, when two residents of Manhattan, Diana and Bill Adams, stopped in Hobart during a trip through the Catskills. ‘We were both intrigued,’ says Bill, who worked as a physician for 40 years. … He and his wife, Diana, a former lawyer, were looking for retirement activities that they could pursue into their old age.

“During that first trip, in 2001, the couple spotted a corner store for rent at the end of Main Street. After speaking with the owner, they decided to rent it on the spot, and soon they were lugging their hefty personal book collection to Hobart, one rental car-load at a time. They didn’t expect to establish a book village in the process. ‘There was no plan,’ Bill says. They weren’t even sure whether their bookstore would survive in the foothills of the Catskills, three miles from the main highway.

“But they did own a lot of books. … That was how it became possible to buy a leather-bound collection of classical verse, or a set of classic political essays, in a tiny village more than two hours from New York City. Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books had a relatively quiet first year. But then Don Dales, a local entrepreneur and piano teacher, decided that one good bookstore deserves another, and opened his own shop. …

“Readers, like shoppers at the mall, often wandered back and forth between the shops. As more bookstores came to town, one of Hobart’s original booksellers (no one can quite remember who) began to describe the town as ‘the only book village east of the Mississippi.’ (Other American book towns include Stillwater, Minnesota, and Archer City, Texas.) …

“Barbara Balliet and Cheryl Clarke, a couple who spent their careers at Rutgers University, moved to Hobart at around that time. Clarke was surprised to find such a tiny community, far from cities or colleges, so overrun with books. …

” ‘She says, “You find all kinds of people who like books, and they’re not just college-educated.’ When the two women arrived, they met a bookseller who was ready to sell her stock, so Balliet bought it and they hopped into business themselves.

“Both women saw right away that, compared to other Catskills towns that have lost jobs and emptied out, Hobart seemed to be coming back to life. … The bookstores were a part of that. …

“Balliet says that, although she can’t make a living off the store, she can make a tidy profit — enough to grow a garden, travel, and buy more books. …

“According to the International Organisation of Book Towns, [the first] was Hay-on-Wye, Wales, founded in 1961 by Richard Booth. … Others include Wigtown, Scotland; Featherston, New Zealand; Kampung Buku, Malaysia; and Paju Book City, South Korea.

“As Hobart evolved, individual book shops have found their own specialty, like siblings who each choose their own path. ‘We try to complement each other,’ Balliet says. ‘Each one maintained its own identity and individuality,’ adds Bill Adams. Creative Corner Books, a cozy one-room shop that specializes in craft, cooking, and DIY books, is Hobart’s only shop with a knitting corner.”

More here.

Hat tip: @michikokakutani on twitter

Photo: Blenheim Hill Books in Hobart.

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