Some Catskill towns don't have any bookstores at all. Narrowsburg has a good one: One Grand Books, that gives you fun lists of books folks you admire might take with them to a deserted island. Livingston Manor used to have Hamish & Henry, but that's now a home store and wine shop. So many have nada. Where did they all go?
One theory might be this. They all moved to Hobart. Hobart, New York, is home to no less than six bookstores and has become something of a fabled book village. In fact, recently perusing one of my favorite New York City bookstores near the Flatiron, I came across a book all about book villages. I snatched it up and paged through it frantically to see if Hobart was in it. There it was -- as unlikely as you might think a small Catskill town would make an international list -- right between the book villages in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, and La Charité-sur-Loire, France.
I like to think about towns in Ireland that have more sheep than people. In Hobart, the 400 residents are seriously outnumbered, by books. Each bookstore has its own theme: antiquarian, new, cooking and DIY. Shelves and shelves. And the people who work there are all too happy to let you know there's another bookstore right down the road that you should also check out before you go. Hobart has a very village spirit.
The Hobart spirit was sparked in 1999 when resident Don Dales bought up a bunch of Main Street real estate and rented it to booksellers for cheap ... or even nothing. One and then another came. Voila. Book village.
The first time I found myself in Hobart was quite by accident. I was passing through early in the morning and found that my passengers were hungry. So I stopped on Main Street in Hobart and ran in to The Coffee Pot, grabbed a delicious, hot, bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich, a few cups of coffee and skedaddled. But not before making a few notes in the spiral notebook I always carry, which said: "Come back to The Coffee Pot, a cute cafe with coffee pots hanging over the banquet and funny signs; explore Hobart, saw a bookstore, but it was closed." That was three years ago.
Just this past weekend, we loaded up the dog and headed for Hobart, finally unearthing the instructions in that old notebook. I have to confess something to you. I was excited: about the books, the food, the simple idea of it all. I found all of that. What's more, I was rewarded with a perfect Sunday drive through the countryside. The kind where the greens of the farm fields meet the more textured darker greens of the old forests, with umpteen silos and barns popping up along the landscape. The light was perfect. Getting there was definitely half the fun.
After poking through each bookstore and smelling the dusty history that only piles of books can emit, we were hungry. The Coffee Pot was closed as it's more a breakfast joint and we were nearing 5 pm. I got the distinct feeling that it's always 5 o'clock at The Bull & Garland, a pub and inn at the end of Main Street. We got a refreshing gin cocktail with a sprig of rosemary -- they always have a special cocktail of the day -- and some delicious dishes of chicken liver pate, sautéed mushrooms on toast and a robust Caesar salad. Just what the doctor ordered and exactly what we needed to go with our new books.
Take a drive. See some silos. Get some books. Have a bite to eat. Keep Hobart going.
xoxo Farm Girl