Baldwin’s Book Barn is unlike any other bookstore in the area. Not only is it a bookstore, but it is a historical attraction that tourists visit annually. The barn is comprised of five different floors, holding approximately 250,000 books.
Baldwin’s Book Barn is a Quaker barn built in 1822 by the Quakers, to which Baldwin’s family was related. The Quakers immigrated to this area. The barn started as a dairy barn, but closed up in the depression in the 1930s. Baldwin’s father was in the navy, and when he returned home from war, he bought the barn in 1946 for $12,500, and reconstructed the barn. “Important landmark and history for our country, not just our country,” Baldwin mentioned.
Thomas Baldwin, the operator of Baldwin’s Book Barn, took over the reins from his father in 1988. “It was my father’s vision. I am just the caretaker, and I’m doing a good job,” Baldwin said. Baldwin spent his childhood in the barn, and continues to live there today in a house attached to the side of the store. Just a door separates the book store from his living room.
Baldwin’s Book Barn has been a destination for many travelers across the world. “Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the license plates from the cars parked outside were from all over,” Baldwin said, “We get busses in here, and the tourists come. We are very blessed. They come just to come.” Local residents visit Baldwin’s Book Barn and say, “We don’t know why we’re here. We went to Longwood Gardens and drove up the road and here we are.”
Baldwin’s Book Barn has been recognized internationally and has been published in numerous books reviewing the best bookstores in the world. The bookstore has been in five different books. One book published in Chinese has caused some Chinese tourists to come to Baldwin’s Book Barn. C-Span and Good Morning America also visited Baldwin’s Book Barn in the late 90s, and the bookstore was on national television.
Baldwin’s Book Barn has seen a change in the demographics of people who visit. Every day has different turnouts, some days they will have a lot of visitors, and other days not as many, but Baldwin did mention that the turnout is much less than it used to be. They see some families with children, and Baldwin said, “Children just love it; I have animals, cats and dogs, and they are running around and out on the property and they just love it. It’s an event for them.”
“Not as many young people as there used to be, but it seems to be turning. There used to be a lot of students, but that kind of slowed down. It’s because of technology and the internet and how that impacted us,” Baldwin stated. In 1995, when the internet first became popular, Baldwin took a risk and started to put his books online for sale, because it was a new media, and it proved to be successful.
They are getting newer all the time, but they also have a lot of vintage books. “We get some interesting things. Libraries and Goodwill are full; they can’t take any more books, so we are here and we can always take new books.” Baldwin says the books find him now; some mornings he will wake up and his front porch will be full of books that people just donate. “Nobody’s buying them, so the trucks just come in and give us the books,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin’s Book Barn continues to thrive, even though other bookstores are experiencing some difficulty. “Even Barnes & Noble is in trouble right now, and Chester County Books just closed,” Baldwin mentioned. Baldwin’s used to employ 22 people, but now they are cut down to one full-time and six part-time employees. “I have books for $10,000 and books for $2. I hate throwing books away, so I will sell some paper backs for $0.25 because I don’t want to throw them away,” Baldwin mentioned.
Baldwin’s Book Barn is attempting to get more activity in the barn from both locals and tourists. They are promoting more activity by hosting book signings, readings, and meetings, all at no charge to the visitors. “I don’t charge for them, I just want activity,” Baldwin said. “I have Wi-Fi, so I want people to come out and hang around. I want activity, I need activity. It’s not just some old place. “We have nine computers, we do a lot of online business, and we move with the future. But the center, the core, is that it is going to stay this way. It’s not a transaction; it’s an event, that’s the difference. Our past is our future, but our future dives in.”
Samantha Schaule is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at SS687322@wcupa.edu.