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Greetings from Small-Town America: Hobart, New York

In this small New York town, a community of booksellers have gathered to create a hub of specialized shops that attract book lovers from far and wide.

Hobart booksellers Cheryl Clarke and Barbara Balliet; photo by Roy Gumpel

You’ve heard the saying “It takes a village….” There’s no better example than Hobart, New York, with its whopping eight used bookstores. (Not bad for a community of 351.) Clustered on Main Street, the shops form a unique literary path in the northern Catskills.

Hobart was a “ghost town” when retired piano teacher and furniture restorer Don Dales moved there in 1999. Hoping to revitalize the village, he bought empty storefronts and offered merchants a year of free rent.

In 2001, Manhattan bibliophiles Bill Adams, a physician, and his wife, Diana, a lawyer, drove through town. They needed somewhere to store their hundreds of books. When a cheap Hobart rental (not one of Don’s) caught Bill’s eye, the couple impulsively signed a lease. They came up on weekends and fell for the bucolic beauty.

Within months, they bought a house. That summer, they opened Wm. H. Adams’ Antiquarian Books, showcasing classics and rare, collectible first editions. Their first book sold was on the Celts. “We didn’t have another sale for months,” Diana recalls.

Don, meanwhile, was faring no better. In conversations with Bill and Diana, he worried that he couldn’t rent his buildings. The couple mentioned Hay-on-Wye, a village in Wales famous for its 19 bookshops.

Inspired, Don became a bookseller. He runs Quarry Books, specializing in mysteries and science fiction. The shop operates on the honor system: Customers use the cash box or the credit card device to pay.

When Creative Corner Books opened, a hub for cooks and crafters, Diana gave it her everyday cookbooks. “Everyone has a specialty,” she says. “But we work together.” Booksellers have keys to each other’s shops, coordinate hours and have made Hobart a travel destination.

Retired college professors Barbara Balliet and Cheryl Clarke took note. “The fact that stores were working cooperatively, and there was a vision, drew us here,” Barbara says. They opened Blenheim Hill Books in 2009. After a fire destroyed half of their stock of poetry, women’s studies and picture books, they got “so much community support,” it affirmed their decision to come to Hobart.

Liberty Rock Books, named for a Revolutionary War lookout, launched in 2013. Owners John and James Mahoney, an artist and library director respectively, and Tom Liotta, an Episcopal deacon, curate thousands of volumes, including religious texts. “I think of my bookstore work as a ministry,” says James. He loves discussing books with customers. “They go away smiling. That’s what is most important: sharing the human experience.”

Randi Sussman-Kim of LionEyes-Books thinks of herself as a hunter of quality books on art, philosophy and spirituality. For transportation or sports titles, try More Good Books. History buffs love New York Books & Ephemera, which also offers memorabilia relating to the Empire State.

Each September, the Hobart Festival of Women Writers hosts free public readings, plus writing workshops led by established authors. It’s no wonder people call Hobart “the village that books built.”

Explore more of Hobart’s charming bookstores!

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