I went to the coolest bookstore this weekend out in Ojai. It’s an independent shop called Bart’s Books. It’s been around since the 1960’s, and was built around an old house. When the house was full, shelves were built around the outside of the house, then in the yard, then in the sheds. As it stands now, a wall has been built to enclose the whole establishment, but no roof. Only small awnings cover the shelves. Along the sidewalks outside the shop are shelves built into the walls. The books on those shelves remain outside twenty-four hours a day and are all fifty cents. If the shop is closed there is a slot in the door; just drop your quarters and enjoy your new books.
The collection is impressive, particularly when you remember that this is not a chain. Also impressive is the collection of rare books and first editions inside the converted house, now the heart of the shop (one which really caught my eye was a first edition On the Road by Jack Kerouac). The books are fairly well organized by subject, then alphabetized by author.
The best part of Bart’s is by far the atmosphere. There are more nooks and niches to sit and read than any other shop I’ve ever been to. There are a few chess sets out for use, an outdoor fireplace for when the weather turns chilly, and plenty of tables. The poetry section is housed in its own small building (a converted garage), setting it apart and making for a very peaceful time reading some great poets. Also in it’s own building was the art section. The room has the perfect reading couch and a great bank of windows covering one wall. The built-in bookcases are obviously homemade, but in a charming, thrown-together sort of way.
Bart’s seems a bit small when you first walk in the door, but once you start walking around, passages open and you find yourself going deeper and deeper into a maze of books, a bibliophile’s wonderland. The whole place is a bit overwhelming, and I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes just wandering around taking it all in.
The small staff is very knowledgeable and very helpful. Though the books are outside, they are definitely cared for (with the exception of the honor system books along the sidewalk, many of these have seen far better days), though not as cheap as I would have hoped. The prices aren’t unreasonable; I’ve just been to too many library sales.
All in all this was a great place to visit, and I’ll definitely be going back. The rest of the town seemed interesting enough, but truthfully, by the time we walked out of Bart’s most of the shops were closed.
Bart’s Books is located at 302 West Matlija Street Ojai, California 93023. Open 7 days a week from 9:30-sunset.