The village of Hobart, New York, is home to two restaurants, one coffee shop, zero liquor stores, and, strangely enough, five independent bookstores. “The books just show up,” Barbara Balliet, who owns Blenheim Hill Books, says. “I’ve come to the store and bags of books are waiting for me.” 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. “I saw what a charming, and somewhat rustic, but civilized, area it was.” He and his wife Diana, a former lawyer, were looking for retirement activities that they could pursue into their old age.
Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books. 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. Toward the end of his career, Bill had worked six days a week at Harlem Hospital, and to help himself unwind, he taught himself classical Greek. He used to spend evenings jogging at the 92nd Street Y, listening to recordings of the Iliad. Eventually, he started collecting classical texts, and even translated Hippocrates in his spare time. Diana, for her part, preferred 19th-century political writing.
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.
You might expect neighboring bookstores to compete with one another, like side-by-side movie theaters or department stores. But Dales suspected that the opposite was true.
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.)
By 2005, when a New York Times writer passed through, Hobart had earned its moniker: “Hobart Book Village.”