New Paltz is a town built on its history. From being home to Huguenot Street, one of the oldest streets in the United States, to being mere miles away from the Mohonk Mountain House, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the longest standing bookstores in the Hudson Valley resides within the village’s confines as well.
A chipper, light blue house at 3 Church St. is home to Barner Books. Though the shop has only dwelled in this location for 10 years, it still shares the name of its founder, the late Jim Barner, who opened the business 30 years ago at the spot currently occupied by the Cocoon home decor boutique on Main Street.
Upon first entering, Barner Books feels a bit cluttered, but that’s what gives this long-time New Paltz business its boundless charm. Customers are overwhelmed by the immediate scent of aging books and pages, the sight of thousands of them lining all depths of the store’s walls. But perhaps more than anything, they are overcome by the distinct feel of the place: the vintage yet timeless atmosphere of it, the experience of somehow being transported to a different time.
Or so say owner David Friedman and manager Abby Chance, two self-proclaimed book lovers themselves.
“Every bookstore has its own character,” Friedman said. “We try to reflect a lot of what we think the community is interested in.”
This is where Barner Books’ extensive book selection comes in. This particular shop prides itself on its variety of both used and new classic fiction novels, beat generation poetry and wide-ranged informational texts, scaling from different subjects like art history, Eastern religion and philosophy, field guides, as well as health, alternative medicine, natural healing and children’s books. Among some of its most famous works include those by Vonnegut, Salinger, Kerouac, Ginsberg and even Lewis Carroll, whose signed copies of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” sold for thousands of dollars.
While Barner Books is primarily a bookstore, it also sells interesting artifacts such as notebooks, pens, bookmarks, vintage magnets, typewriters, handmade journals and vintage posters — the latter three being what help the shop stand out most.
“These are kind of unique to us,” Friedman said. “I think that people come in and the feeling of it is very literary. It’s the kind of place where you could imagine being inspired to write things.”
These offbeat books and items do not only attract those living in New Paltz and the surrounding areas. During a normal working day, Friedman and Chance meet customers from all over the country and even the world, too, adding to the shop’s worldly mystique.
“We get a lot of people from all over,” Friedman said. “The Hudson Valley is a big part of the draw. But New Paltz is really, for the Hudson Valley, a crossroads kind of town. A lot of people come through. It might not be a final destination, but it ends up being a place where people end up one way or another.”
Chance agrees, thinking back to the many people she has encountered during her time at the bookstore. She has met people from areas as nearby as New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey, while also having interacted with faraway travelers from places like England and South America.
“Aside from the diverse local population of New Paltz — families, seniors, students, everyone across the board — we get a lot of visits from out-of-towners,” Chance said. “New Paltz is a great destination for people, and the book lovers find us.”
The question remains: what continues to attract people to Barner Books, and how can this shop coexist across the street from Inquiring Minds, another New Paltz bookstore? Well, according to Chance and Friedman, the relationship there is rather symbiotic, surprisingly enough, but that’s what makes it work.
“You’ve got to pay attention to what’s around you,” Chance said. “New Paltz has two record stores, two bookstores. Inquiring Minds does a certain style, we do a certain style, we send people across to each other all the time and I like that. It gives people choices of things rooted in literature and culture. If you’ve got more than one choice in a town, that’s a real plus, I think.”
To keep up with Barner Books’ shenanigans, follow them on Facebook and Instagram via @barnerbooks. To purchase books from them online, visit their site at barnerbooks.com.
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on March 9, 2017.