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A haven for bookworms in the Catskills

Brake for indie bookstores. You'll find many in the book village of Hobart, N.Y.BETSY GROBAN

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” – Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”

Book towns, which are exactly what you’d expect, are located mostly outside the United States — in the United Kingdom, Norway, New Zealand, Japan, India, etc. According to Alex Johnson, author of “Book Towns,” the definitive book on the subject: “A book town is simply a small town, usually rural and scenic, full of bookshops and book-related industries … it started with Hay-on-Wye in Wales in the 1960s, picked up speed in the 1980s, and is continuing to thrive in the new millennium.” The success of book towns is very good news for those of us who revere the printed word.


Luckily for local bibliophiles, Hobart Book Village, the only book town east of the Mississippi River, is not too far away, in the northern Catskills. It’s a bucolic, blink-and-you-miss-it hamlet of fewer than 500 souls that was reinvented as a book village in 2005 through the efforts of local entrepreneur, Don Dales. Dales is Hobart Book Village’s prime mover, unofficial mayor, and, as it happens, an accomplished pianist. He sought to revive a faded and economically depressed community and, after hearing about Hay-on-Wye, hit upon the idea of using books to do so. He bought up a few key buildings on Main Street and rented them to bookshops at drastically reduced rates (initially zero dollars). And it worked. Now, according to Dales, “instead of tumbleweeds, we have pedestrians walking down Main Street.” He adds, somewhat emphatically, that the name of the village is pronounced “Hobert.” So now you know.

The book-loving booksellers of Hobart are mostly from elsewhere and were drawn to the town for its pastoral setting and strong sense of community. Most are professionals, including a doctor, several lawyers and scholars, an artist, and a poet, who left or retired from impressive positions to move to Hobart. They form a cohesive and congenial group and cooperate closely with one another, gathering monthly to discuss matters of mutual interest. They even share the keys to each other’s shops for safekeeping. The pandemic was very good for business in Hobart, according to Dales, “because lots of people fled the cities and moved or bought weekend homes in places like Hobart.” Also, according to bookseller Kathy Duyer, “it helped that we kept our shops open throughout.”


A parking sign in Hobart, N.Y.BETSY GROBAN

Hobart Book Village experienced a big boost in 2021 when a TikTok post by a visitor went viral and was viewed more than 5 million times. This led the booksellers to engage “digital native” Rio Caban — part of the family of artists who run one of the shops — to manage social media for the village. According to Caban, the TikTok video attracted “visitors from all around the world and continues to this day.” He has created unified Instagram and Facebook presences for the village and is working on TikTok.

This year, book signings, classes, workshops, lectures, tea parties, and other events have returned to Hobart. The biggest event is the annual Festival of Women Writers, run by Barbara Balliet and Cheryl Clarke of Blenheim Hill Books (see below). The Festival will take place June 16-18 and more than 20 writers will participate. There will be public readings, writing workshops, a book sale, and an art exhibit.


Before she opened her bookshop, Duyer was advised by established bookseller Diana Adams that running a bookshop in Hobart “changed my life and it will change yours.” And so it has. The two former lawyers agree that “owning a bookshop is so much more fun than practicing law. We wish we’d done this years ago.” Randi Sussman-Kim, the proprietor of LionEyesBooks, sums it up for everyone in Hobart when she says: “This is heaven on earth.”

The Book Nook in Hobart, N.Y.BETSY GROBAN

There are eight bookshops in Hobart Book Village, each with a distinctive flavor and focus.

Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books (“Uncommon Books at Reasonable Prices”). Proprietors: Diana and Bill Adams. The first bookstore to open in Hobart in 2002. It started with three bookcases and now includes an impressive three full floors of books. The wide-ranging categories of books include ancient (Greek and Roman) classics, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, art, architecture, theology, poetry, music, and local history. Not all the books are antiquarian, though many were printed before 1850. The basement features 20th- and 21st-century fiction and nonfiction. The Adams’s make several trips to England each year to replenish their impressive inventory.

Creative Corner Books and New York Books and Ephemera. Two adjoining shops run by proprietors Kathy and George Duyer. Creative Corner is a charming and aptly named shop full of new, used, and vintage cookbooks, craft books, and other hobby books, including a collection of vintage kitchen items. New York Books and Ephemera offers a tightly focused collection of new, used, and vintage books about New York — history, architecture, folklore, biography, arts and culture — as well as maps, magazines, travel brochures, postcards, and newspapers. A separate section called Made in New York, offers local farm products and gift items “made with love in the Catskills.”


Liberty Rock Books, LLC. Proprietors: John and Jim Mahoney and Tom Liotta. At 5,000 square feet, the largest shop in town. It’s chock-a-block with an eclectic array of used books that the owners have assembled over 45 years, including fiction, nonfiction, vintage children’s books, and music. It includes a consignment shop called Hobart Bookseller Emporium, an art gallery (John Mahoney is an artist), and space for workshops, readings, etc. The shop has 40,000 vintage postcards and has room for 50,000 books. The proprietors consider themselves “broad generalists” with room for specialty collections as they become available.

Blenheim Hill Books. Proprietors: Barbara Balliet and Cheryl Clarke. In addition to being the home office for the upcoming Festival of Women Writers, this inviting shop offers a wonderful selection of new and gently used children’s books (including young adult), contemporary fiction, womens’ studies, lesbian studies, poetry, short stories, essays, gardening, cooking, nature, and biography.

More Good Books in Hobart, N.Y.BETSY GROBAN

LionEyesBooks. Proprietor: Randi Sussman-Kim. This compact shop offers art books by artists, well-known and not, as well as books of philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. According to the “head huntress,” Sussman-Kim, “the carefully curated and handpicked inventory is arranged and priced according to my attachment to the art/artist/text.” LionEyesBooks will be moving soon to a much larger space in Stamford, N.Y., a Hobart-adjacent town a few miles down the road where Sussman’s inventory of more than 50,000 books will have room to breathe.


Quarry Books is run by the aforementioned Don Dales, the founder of Hobart as a book village. It focuses on mysteries and science fiction/fantasy. Because the bookshop is not staffed, you’ve gotta love that payment is on the “honor system.” Local lore has it that not a single person has yet been caught stealing a book.

Sharing space inside the rather grandly named Historic Hobart Inn are:

The Book Nook. Not a bookstore, but an unusual free and independent community lending library run by Julie Rockefeller. It started as a series of summer reading programs for kids. But, according to Rockefeller, “within a week, bags and boxes of books started appearing on the doorstep labeled as donations for my ‘library.’ It seemed simpler to start a library than to keep trying to explain that I wasn’t starting a library.” The number of patrons and circulation has increased each year and Rockefeller adds that “We have no residency requirement and charge no fees of any kind. Local community groups and a host of caring individuals have generously contributed to the library’s development over the years.” Just what you’d expect from a book village.

More Good Books, which focuses on well-priced books about what could loosely be called “hobbies” — railroads, ships and boats, cars, games, sports, pets. It’s run by the proprietors of Adams Antiquarian and Blenheim Hill.

CabanCompany, opened in 2022 and run by Susana Caban and her husband and three sons, all artists. The shop sells Caban family art as well as a nice selection of vintage clothing and music.

The Hobart Exchange and Country Store (“Artful, Playful, and Useful and Things”), opened in the last month by Julie Rockefeller and Susana Caban. It offers home goods, jewelry, art supplies, wood pieces, bird and botanical illustrations, and hand-painted furniture. It also has a refreshment stand where you can get a welcome cup of coffee.

In the winter months, the bookshops are open only on weekends and hold huge sales — with discounts up to 50 percent — over Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends. From Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the shops are open seven days a week. If you make the trip to Hobart Book Village looking to scoop up the latest bestsellers, you may be disappointed. Nearly all of the books in Hobart’s shops are used, and besides, there are plenty of other ways to buy brand-new bestsellers. In Hobart you have the chance to discover and fall in love with newfound, unusual, and unexpected literary gems to add to your shelves or, even better, to give to a book lover who will treasure them. And buying books in Hobart Book Village helps support a unique place for people who really love books.

Betsy Groban can be reached at betsy.groban@gmail.com.