From ghost town to book village: A book lover’s guide to Hobart

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Once a booming Catskills farming community before it dwindled into a ghost town, Hobart in Delaware County is now a book lover’s paradise.

Bill and Diana Adams opened the original bookshop in town in 2000 as a way to store their overflowing books from their Manhattan apartment. Inspired by their choice, Don Dales, a former concert pianist who owned numerous storefronts in town, first opened two bookstores in 2005 and began renting out shops to other booksellers, most of whom sell used books. Over time, he fashioned Hobart Book Village in the mold of a book village in Wales called Hay-on-Wye.

Today, books are still the primary draw to this village of roughly 400. Only one inn provides a place to sleep and eat dinner in town, but nearby Stamford, seven minutes away, provides more lodging and dining options worth visiting on their own, a perfect bookend to forays into Hobart, a major attraction for bibliophiles.

Last summer, about 300 tourists made the pilgrimage to Hobart each week according to Dales, at least in part due to a viral TikTok about the town that drew almost 1 million likes and, in turn, inspired visitors from states as far as Michigan and South Carolina.

@clumsygirltravels Would you visit this town? #catskills #catskillsny #booktok #newyorknewyork #newyorktiktok #ny #nycheck #travelny #visitnewyork #visitny #traveltips ♬ original sound – Clumsy Girl Travels

Hobart also hosts an annual Festival of Women Writers in the fall, as well as art shows, author readings, and the popular Winter Respite Lecture Series. If you visit, you just may decide to stay and open a book shop like Randi Kim-Sussman or Kathy Duyer, one-time tourists who fell so in love with Hobart that they went from being frequent customers to bookstore owners.

Browsing Hobart’s eight bookstores

Hobart Book Village, with eight, mostly used bookstores along Main Street, has shown that literature can transform a struggling Catskills village of fewer than 500 people.

Hobart Book Village, with eight, mostly used bookstores along Main Street, has shown that literature can transform a struggling Catskills village of fewer than 500 people.

Paul Grondahl / Times Union

My 13-year-old daughter, who shares my passion for books, and I began our journey by pulling into the first parking lot we found, next to More Good Books (645 Main St.). At the time of our visit, the shop was mostly stocked with books from Blenheim Books (689 Main St), which had suffered a fire at the beginning of the pandemic. Generally, More Good Books carries titles on topics such as automobiles and sports, but since they had Blenheim’s collection, titles also included contemporary fiction by authors such as Katie Kitamura and Tessa Hadley. Those with little ones can also cozy up in the children’s lending library with its rocking chair and age-appropriate titles. While deciding which books to purchase (I chose the Hadley and “Runaway Bunny”), you might try on hats, dresses, shirts or purses, all available in the vintage clothing shop in back.

Blenheim re-opened in late November 2021, and according to owners Barbara Balliet, a historian, and Cheryl Clarke, a poet, it now has a refurbished open space where author readings and signings will soon be held again. The shop features new fiction, as well as a growing collection of children’s titles, poetry, and books on history. The two love owning the store the most for “getting the right book in people’s hands,” says Balliet.

At 5,000 square feet, Liberty Rock Books is the largest of Hobart's bookstores.

At 5,000 square feet, Liberty Rock Books is the largest of Hobart’s bookstores.

Paul Grondahl / Times Union

Across the street, Liberty Rock Books (678 E Main St.), is a cavernous 5,000-square-foot building erected in 1923, its first iteration as a garage selling Hudson cars. Liberty, which started as a family business in 1976 in Sloatsburg and moved to Hobart in 2008, features collector’s books such as texts in Middle English (my daughter got a kick out of trying to read these), biographies, and novels from past centuries, including a 40-volume series of 19th century novels by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. (As a fiction writer, I found it amusing that three of these were titled “My Novel”). They also have a large stock of more recent books, though Liberty does see the occasional dealer or collector. Graphic artist John Mahoney, who owns the store with his brother, plans to display art in a separate section of the bookstore as soon as they clear away the boxes of donated books.

Liberty is also home to a curious bookstore within a bookstore. We wandered through an open doorway to the left of Liberty’s cash register with a yellow sign reading Hobart Emporium. Filled with green bookshelves heavy with books of every variety, as well as eclectic knickknacks, this book emporium features titles from various vendors, who pay a small commission to Liberty for selling books without the stress of managing a store of their own.

Randi Kim-Sussman, a retired New York City teacher, opened the town’s newest bookstore, LionEyesBooks (722 Main St.) in May 2021 in a former hairdresser’s space after frequenting Hobart’s bookshops enough times that she decided to try her hand as a bookshop owner. Kim-Sussman stocks the shelves from her personal collection, which once filled 17 storage spaces. About 80 percent are books about art. After orienting ourselves to the unconventional cataloging method (Kim-Sussman currently shelves books according to where they fit, yet knows where everything is, and plans to categorize as she goes), I found the moving “If I Were Rain,” with poetry by children in India, and my daughter pored over boxes of comic books.

Excited to check out mystery and sci-fi books, we hopped inside Don Dales’ own Quarry Books (645 Main St.), a simple two-room shop warmed by a space heater. Here, my daughter found her first Agatha Christie, “Hickory Dickory Death,” and followed the honor system to purchase it: writing her name, the book title and price on a paper left on a small desk, and then I paid using the smart pay system Don Dales has wisely set up (an electronic Square reader for credit cards; a locked cash box with a slot to drop bills).

After hours of browsing, we wanted to sit down with our books and have coffee and a snack. Though Kim-Sussman plans to expand LionEyes to include an art studio and coffee for her customers, this isn’t in place yet. The only option in town is The Coffee Pot (581 Main St.), which has recently re-opened for breakfast and lunch after being temporarily closed due to COVID (call ahead for their current hours). This spring, Dales plans to open a new café in the home of the now-closed Dinner Plate restaurant. Come June, Tavern Books (645 Main St.), will feature books, boardgames, a full bar, coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as trivia nights, author readings, book clubs, and live music.

Kathy Duyer was an attorney living in Rockville, Md. Before she and her husband, George, moved to Hobart, bought a house and opened first Creative Corner Books and then New York Books And Ephemera next door.

Kathy Duyer was an attorney living in Rockville, Md. Before she and her husband, George, moved to Hobart, bought a house and opened first Creative Corner Books and then New York Books And Ephemera next door.

Paul Grondahl / Times Union

We continued our book shopping, and stopped in Creative Corner Books (607 Main St.) and adjacent New York Books And Ephemera (615 Main St.), both owned by Kathy Duyer, who started Creative Corner first, selling books from her extensive collection of cooking, DIY, and crafting books. Together with her husband, she remodeled the space next door and opened New York Books in September 2020, where we were delighted to browse books related to all things New York and by New York authors, both vintage and modern. The shop also carries made-in-NY treats by local artisans and farmers. I chose maple-flavored peanuts from Buck Hill Farm and sank into the store’s high-backed chairs to look through “Lost in New York” and “New York Diaries” (spoiler: purchased both), and my daughter read “Tom Sawyer,” laughing at the 19th century antics of a boy her age.

We made one last stop at the first bookstore to open in town, Wm. Adams’ Antiquarian Books (608 Main St.), featuring texts on subjects ranging from etiquette to theology to history, from the 17th through 20th centuries. Opened in 2002 by Bill, a physician, and Diana Adams, a lawyer, this husband-and-wife team realized Bill’s dream of repairing books, getting them back into circulation, and saving them for the next generation. Their first-ever purchase was a 10-volume set of Shakespeare they figured they would sell if they ever got to open their bookstore. Now they’re spending their retirement doing the hard work of running the store and hunting for books on their trips together.

Refueling after a book-buying binge

Nearby, Stamford Coffee offers space to page through your purchases over hot drinks. 

Nearby, Stamford Coffee offers space to page through your purchases over hot drinks. 

Carrie Esposito

In serious need of lunch, we headed back toward Stamford to visit Mac-A-Doodle (33 Harper St.), a no-frills eatery with extensive ice cream flavors and fantastic chili. At Stamford Coffee (79 Main St.), owned by an opera singer from New York City who opened the cafe during the pandemic, we sipped lattes and nibbled on scones while watching the falling snow through the picture windows and listening to a young musician play Phoebe Bridges on his keyboard.

Ready for a rest and time to gorge on our new books, we pulled into the Stamford Gables Bed & Breakfast (42 Main St.), seven minutes from Hobart and housed in a restored 1800s farmhouse. In 2003, owners Jean and Jim Kopp saved this house after it had been left vacant and decaying for years. Jean makes a memorable custom breakfast of anything you could want, from pumpkin pancakes to bacon, eggs, and toast. We loved the homemade chocolate chip cookies she leaves out for guests as well as sitting at the large wood kitchen table with her and Jim, hearing stories of the house’s past.

Jim is also filled with local recommendations. His claim that Mill Pond Inn (102 Main St., Jefferson) has the best burgers panned out, and Bull & Garland (760 Main St.), the only inn and dinner option back in Hobart, proved to be equally charming and excellent for dinner (don’t miss the chicken pot pie and sweet potato curry). Though there’s nary a book in sight, spending time in this dark and cozy pub-like inn was a fitting end to our literary adventure.

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Carrie Esposito’s short stories have been published in The Georgia Review, Ruminate Magazine, The MacGuffin, King Ludd’s Rag by Malarkey Books, Pif Magazine, Everyday Fiction, Mused and Little Rose Magazine. You can see more about her stories and novels at www.carrieesposito.com.

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