The art of reading is one that seems in imminent danger today. In an age of e-readers and digitized media, the printed page seems at risk of becoming a thing of the past. There are, however, still places where the spirit of books is alive and well. A few hundred feet from Route 52 outside of West Chester, firmly settled among the overhanging branches of trees, Baldwin’s Book Barn is just such a place, and it stands as a monument to the age old art of reading.
Standing five stories high, the stone walls of the Book Barn tower over visitors when they first pull in to the gravel driveway outside the store. Inside, an antique wood-burning stove keeps the rooms warm while cats wander silently over the creaky wooden floors. The very atmosphere of the place seems devoted to old world comfort, making guests feel as though they have wandered into an early colonial American home rather than a book shop. In fact, paintings which line the walls depict a much older barn standing alone in the middle of an open field, years before it was converted to its present purpose. It seems a place frozen in time, immune to the changing world around it.
Another aspect which adds to the charm of Baldwin’s is the smell of the store. Hanging heavily over the comforting smell of burning wood is the unmistakable “old book smell” which has filled public libraries and private collections since the invention of the printing press. It is a scent as overwhelming as incense and it fills all five floors of the establishment.
As a matter of fact the barn is so large that the employees offer maps to first time visitors in order to help them find their way around the building. Overconfident customers may, indeed, soon find themselves lost in the labyrinth of shelves that waits around every corner. There seems to be no nook or cranny of the store which has not been crammed full of stacks of books, papers, maps or manuscripts. Housing everything from books on gardening to books on local history, alongside old folios, paintings, prints and other treasures, the barn houses something for every interest imaginable.
The Book Barn is also a favorite meeting place of the West Chester University English Club. The group often visits the barn either to shop or to share original works with one another. It is an apt meeting place for a group of people who share a deep love for literature.
There is something indescribable about Baldwin’s Book Barn. As a place which has withstood the test of time, changing from a rustic barn into a used book store, the past seems ever present within the stone walls of the place. It is not difficult to imagine the ghosts of farmers or fellow book lovers wandering the halls alongside the living clientele of the present day. During a time when the “print versus pixels” debate is raging and the values of the printed page are being weighed against the computer screen, Baldwin’s stands as a haven to champions of the traditional book. Readers across generations flock to the Barn in search of the written word, enclosed forever between the sweet smelling pages of a book.
Ryan Dean is a fourth-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at RD734764@wcupa.edu