01 September 2012

A Bookstore for All Seasons

NOTE: This week I have again invited my friend and fellow crimewriter Herschel Cozine to stand in as a guest columnist. As you might already know, Herschel's work has appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Orchard Press Mysteries, and many other magazines and anthologies.  His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and several of his tales are currently available at Untreed Reads. Herschel lives with his wife in Santa Rosa, California. This piece, by the way, first appeared in Kings River Life Magazine and is reprinted here with their permission. (Herschel, it's good to have you here again. Readers, I'll be back on September 15.) -- John Floyd

There is a bookstore in my hometown, Ojai, California, that is one of the most interesting I have ever been in.  Before I tell you about it, I would like to give a few facts about Ojai (pronounced "Oh Hi") itself.  Situated in the foothills of Southern California, between Santa Barbara and Ventura, it has a short rainy season, and what rain does fall quickly evaporates, with very little runoff.  The residents hardly miss a beat because of rain.  Also, because of its small size and rural atmosphere, there is little need for folks to double lock or even single lock their doors.  All in all, it is small town America at its best.  Both of these factors (rain, locks) make it possible for the bookstore to operate successfully.

The first thing one notices about Bart's Books is the sign by the front door: "When closed, please throw coins in slot in the door."  Lining the outside wall are rows and rows of books.  One is free to read them or purchase one even if the store is closed; the honor system that is sadly disappearing in this country.

When one steps inside, the big surprise is this: There is no roof!  The entire bookstore is open to the atmosphere.  Shaded here and there by a tree, only the bookshelves themselves have a covering.

On the rare occasions when it rains, the books are protected by these coverings.  The water evaporates in hours, leaving the area dry and the books undamaged.

There are thousands of books in every category one can imagine.  Fiction and non-fiction, clearly marked and separated into the various genres.  History, biography, sports, and so on.  There are a few enclosed rooms where cookbooks, art, specialty and rare books are housed.  In these rooms are chairs and couches where one can sit while contemplating whether or not to purchase the book.

The fiction is by far the most abundant.  Classified by author alphabetically within the various genres, it is easy for one to find his favorite author or title.  And if you have difficulty, there are helpful staff members to aid you.  Needless to say, the staff is a happy one.  I overheard a customer ask an employee: "Do you actually get paid for working here?"  Considering the environment, it was a legitimate question.

Once you have found the book you have been looking for, there are tables and chairs available for you to sit in the shade of one of the many trees and read.  There are even snacks and soft drinks available.  It would be easy for one to spend the entire day in the store.  I have been there several times and still have not seen it all.
The store deals primarily in used books.  And, having been asked the question countless times, the management has T-shirts for sale with "What Do You Do When It Rains?" printed on them.

For those of you who love books, and that includes everyone in this group, if you are ever in the vicinity, make the detour to Ojai and visit this amazing store.  You will find it well worth your while.


  1. I'm sold Herschel.

    I'm gravely disappointed the B&N closest to me pulled out its sofas and easy chairs. I rarely visit since and when I do, I don't linger, just that male hunting instinct– track it down, trap it, pay at the reg, and I'm outta there.

  2. Herschel, we have family in Santa Barbara and last year when we visited we took a ride to Ojai purposely to see the bookstore. We loved the town and the store--well worth the trip.

  3. Sounds great! And such nice weather.

  4. Ojai is beautiful. And the book store - when can I move in?

  5. Very cool. I will suggest this to our local bookstore, but since it rains 200 days per year...

  6. Interesting column, Herschel. That whole area is beautiful, and Bart's sounds like a great store. It's certainly unique.

    I agree with Rob--an open-air bookstore probably wouldn't work in my part of the country either. Isaac and Katrina wouldn't have been welcome visitors.

  7. What a wonderful place! Great piece, Herschel--you should get a chair dedicated to you in the bookstore.

  8. Thanks,John for all your hard work and dedication. You probably spent more time on this than I did.

    I don't suppose there are too many places where such a store is possible. My fear is that, with the print book industry in such a state, the store will go out of business.

  9. I don't visit the used bookstore where I used to buy books anymore because it has moved too far away from my house. But if I lived any where near Ojai, I'd visit every day just to sit and relax. it sounds great.

  10. The wind would be part of the problem for a store like that here in Wichita! :):) Thanks for the pictures! I'd love to see it in the moonlight----like something out of Borges.


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