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Rodgers Book Barn: A Community Shop With A Long Shelf Life

Owner Maureen Rodgers poses next to the woodstove.

By Amy Krzanik

“Old books and CDs” read the bookmarks and business cards used to advertise Rodgers Book Barn in Hillsdale, N.Y. And while that claim may technically be true — the barn-turned-bookshop does indeed offer those items —  the store’s dedicated fanbase knows this to be an obvious understatement. Even a first-time visitor to its tucked-away locale understands it to be much more: a book lover’s oasis, a neighborhood touchstone, a shelter from the storm.

The credit for this goes to owner Maureen Rodgers, who has manned the counter here for more than 40 years. Originally from England, Rodgers moved to New York City in the 1960s, where she worked selling hard-to-find textbooks to colleges. She and her ex-husband eventually moved to Hillsdale, where they purchased the “falling-down house and barn” and cleared the latter of its hay to create the two-story shop in 1972.

Rodgers points to the double supports on the first-floor’s ceiling. “A man came into the building one day and said ‘hay is a lot lighter than books’ and informed me that I needed more support to keep the second floor from buckling under the weight of all those books,” she says, laughing. “I told him, ‘you’ve got the job!’”

At first open only during the summer, the Book Barn is now a year-round business serving locals, seasonal vacationers and collectors who drive up from the city. The store is a must-stop for residents entertaining houseguests and some refer to the trip as more of a pilgrimage than a visit. There’s a colorful, light-filled children’s section upstairs that keeps even the youngest patrons entertained for hours.

The brightly painted children’s section.

In the summertime, the barn doors are thrown open, and visitors can enjoy picnics in the yard. The “free books” cart is out and the sale shed is busy. During the cooler seasons, a cast-iron woodstove keeps the place cozy, and upstairs, free coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available to keep browsers toasty (go ahead and have one, you’ll probably be here for a while).

In any season, it’s easy to lose yourself in the stacks. Seemingly around every corner (and there are lots of corners; bookshelves are good for that) is a comfy chair where you can steal some alone time with your finds. Rugs, oriental and otherwise, line the floors, stained glass lamps hang from the ceilings, and art — posters, prints and assorted knickknacks — are everywhere.

Beau the cat greets guests to the “free” table.

The store’s more than 50,000 books are carefully chosen and diligently arranged by Rodgers — this is no glorified tag sale. Unlike some second-hand shops that route their best stuff straight to their online store, here you’re getting all of what Rodgers has chosen from book and estate sales, and during private house calls. The merchandise is in great condition and the prices are a steal. (I got seven books for $19.) 

Although she buys selectively at this point — the barn is pretty full — Rodgers is always looking for good classics in nice editions, as well as art books and fiction, of which she is a huge fan. Warm and knowledgeable, Rodgers is ready to chat about books or to give reading recommendations, without aiming for the hard sell.

She says her first 30 years working as a bookseller was pretty much the same, until the internet changed the nature of the book trade steadily and completely during the last 20 years. Owing to the fact that there are no big box bookstores in the area, she says, shops like The Chatham Bookstore, Oblong Books in Millerton and Rhinebeck, N.Y., and The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass. have been allowed to thrive, and even to allow used stores like hers to stay in business.

“We’ve all been hit by the internet, but the stores around here are still doing well. I survived because I don’t pay rent,” she says.

Thank god for that.

Rodgers Book Barn
467 Rodman Road, Hillsdale, N.Y. 
(518) 325-3610
November—March: Fri—Sun 11 a.m.—5 p.m.
April—October: Thurs—Mon 11 a.m.—5 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 11/17/15 at 10:43 AM • Permalink