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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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