Baldwin’s Book Barn: Happiest Place on Earth

To quote Snoop Dog: Greetings, loved ones. Let’s take a journey.

It’s a few days after a major snow and you’re visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania to wander the greenhouses and get away from it all for just a few hours. You’re on your way out and by the exit, you notice a tiny winding road. It reaches forward circuitously, tightly wound like a curl, but somehow it is completely inviting. You follow it past grand stone houses and over a tiny, quaint bridge. Most likely, you drive past your destination once or twice- it blends in with the landscape, so completely logical there that you’d assume it was a home. And it is. When you walk in the door, you can feel it- that warm fit, like your favorite sweater, despite the cold. There’s a fireplace burning in the little stove, and a cat lazily circles your legs as you realize- everything else on your schedule can wait.

Photo credit Delaware County Times

Baldwin’s Book Barn, located in Chester County Pennsylvania, does not boast- it really is a barn, and once inside you won’t mistake it for anything else. There are drafts in the winter and the top floors get hot in the summer. The doors, walls, and stairs are made of a wood that sighs and giggles as you pass, as friendly and welcoming as the staff who happily busy themselves with your search.

On my last visit, I was on a rather specific quest: I wanted to find works of fiction about women of the Old Testament, not including the two I had already read, preferably told in the first person. We didn’t find anything that perfectly fit my criteria, but an hour and a half later, with the almost non-stop help of three different staffers, I left with an armful of books that were so closely related to my original search, I couldn’t have complained. In fact, these were a little better- they were books I never would have found or selected on my own, but they piqued my curiosity. And since they were all used (Baldwin’s is also a great place to sell your old books, though I usually end up giving mine away), I still had change in my pocket for a nice lunch.

The owner, Tom Baldwin, is a rare treat in his own right.

Photo credit Mainline Today

While hosting some out-of-town friends this summer (Bill and Jane Thurman of Read Aloud Chattanooga, a very exciting project on the rise), I loudly professed a desire to one day live in the Book Barn. Tom came out from some nearby shadow, introduced himself, and showed us his personal apartment, just beyond the area accessible to the public. He let us poke around and told personal stories from growing up in the Barn. His passion for the store is obvious, and his love is infectious- if Baldwin’s wasn’t your favorite book store when you walked in, it will be before he’s done with you.

Baldwin’s is a bibliophile’s happiest dream, a lifeboat in a tumultuous time for literature. Even as you get in your car, you’ll find yourself counting down to your next visit. The strange combination of soothing and exciting (I don’t know anyone who can stay perfectly calm amidst 5 stories of floor-to-ceiling books) is addictive. It’s a great place to run away, and even in better place to find yourself, as cliche as both ideas are.

I don’t know how we are going to get future generations to read, but I am certain that stores like Baldwin’s are a part of the solution. Hats off to the real happiest place on Earth.

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey Kristen! Congrats again on everything! I’m really excited for you. After reading this entry, I thought you’d be interested in this neat little book store in Philly called “Brickbat Books.” The owner designed the whole store and constantly changes his logo. But most importantly, it’s not like most bookstores where you go in knowing what you want to read, here the owner’s goal was for people to enter the store to discover a new read. It’s a cute little place, I think you should visit sometime! The address is: 709 S 4th St in Queens Villiage.


    • I love that style of book store- I will have to check it out! I’ve heard of it before, and it has all been great stuff. I am looking forward to it!

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