November 13, 2014
Outdoor bookstores? Yes, please.
by Rachel Smitley
Outdoor reading is one of those pleasures that most of us are only afforded in the warm months of the year. As soon as the cold weather arrives, we’re forced inside to endure whatever snow or ice storm heads our way. And, while reading by a fireplace with a nice cup of tea is charming in its own right, there is something special about reading outside in the open air. What could be better than reading a book while feeling the warm summer breeze or cool fall air, and getting lost in a book that you can’t seem to put down? Answer: wandering the bookshelves of an enormous outdoor bookstore in the lovely weather of Southern California.
Outdoor bookstores and libraries aren’t unheard of. They exist as a small phenomenon in areas where the temperature is a bit more predictable (see a list of 20 outdoor bookstores and libraries around the world, here), but are mostly unknown to east coast dwellers like myself, and anyone else living in areas with extreme season changes. Perhaps people don’t find the idea of browsing for books during a polar vortex all that appealing. (I actually think that an outdoor bookstore in New York City would have made last winter much more bearable, but that’s just me). Either way, if outdoor book browsing sounds as appealing to you as it should, then it’s time to take a trip—a trip to small town Ojai, California and Bart’s Books.
Bart’s Books is the largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in the USA, and has been around since 1964. The idea for the outdoor bookstore came about when the original owner, Richard Bartinsdale or “Bart,” had a book collection that was overflowing from his home with no place to go. To solve his problem Bart built some bookshelves, lined them up on the sidewalk outside, filled them with titles from his collection, and left coffee can “cash registers” on top for passerby to peruse the books and leave payment in the cans. Bart’s Books was born. Since that time in 1964 the store has morphed into quite a business, selling over one million titles over the years.
Take a trip to Bart’s and you can still find the 35 to 50-cent specials lined up on the shelves surrounding the building, a slot in the door replacing the coffee cans of Richard Bartinsdale’s time but the books still sold on the honor code, as well as rare and out of print books priced in the 1,000 dollar range inside the actual store. You can browse the fiction shelves in the backyard under the shade of trees, while listening to the birds, or feeling the rain on your head and trying to hurry through the last section to find what you’re looking for before it starts pouring. Just be sure to head out by sunset (closing time for Bart’s), as the one problem with an outdoor bookstore is the unfortunately early hours.