Bookstore: Bart’s Book in Ojai

At my core, I am a planner. If we are going somewhere, even for just a day, I look up where we should eat, etc., etc. And I always, ALWAYS, look to see if there are any independent bookstores in the area.

Thanks to a junior golf tournament, last weekend I found myself in Ojai, CA. Even though it is only a short drive from home, we’ve never spent much time there. It’s a shame too because Ojai is such a charming community home to lots good food, cool coffee shops, and the famous Bart’s Books.

As the story goes, in 1964 Mr. Richard Bartinsdale’s collection of books was so large he decided to build a bunch of bookcases along the sidewalk of his home. People walking by were welcome to peruse the titles, and leave payment for the books in one of the coffee cans that “Bart” had placed on top of the bookcases. He clearly took sharing the love of reading with others very seriously.

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Since then, Bart’s Books has grown to over one million books making it the largest outdoor bookstore in the U.S.A. The books the line the sidewalk are still for sale on the honor system, although now there is a real cash register inside.

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I was a Bart’s on a perfect Southern California Saturday. Books are everywhere. There are books on every imaginable topic, making it hard to know where to begin. I decided Fiction was as good of a place to start as any, especially when I saw this cute sign.

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Bart’s is predominately a used books store; unfortunately, I forget to bring some to trade. But they also have a few new releases as well that can be found inside the house appropriately named the Bookhouse. Inside I found several new titles that I had been wanting to pick up.

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There was a reverence that you find in most bookstores. Lots of people walking around quietly as they skimmed shelf after shelf finally landing on one, pulling it out and reading a page or two. Occasionally there was a chair welcoming you to sit and read a while. (The painting of Lincoln saying, “I don’t want to hear about your book club” cracked me up.)

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I told my husband that I could have spent days at Bart’s and still not seen all of the books. Purchasing my books, some new and some old, I sat in the shade at one of the tables to read. I didn’t get much reading accomplished because I was enjoying watching other people looking at the books. I even had the pleasure of listening to a grandmother from the UK reading the story of Rudolph to her granddaughter. If you haven’t listened to a grandmother with a British accent read at Christmas story to her grandchild, then you’re missing out. I pretended to be reading but was listening to every word she said.

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Bart’s Books is a must for those of you with a bucket list of independent bookstores you hope to visit before you die. Being able to be outside 365 days a year is one of the benefits of living in Southern California. Being able to shop for books outside under the warm sun, occasionally hearing a squirrel running over the corrugated roof is an unusual treat.

I’m not sure what happened to Mr. Bartindale, but his home is a book lovers delight. I plan to take my family with me next time. My two teenagers often grumble about enduring their mother’s independent bookstore obsession, but this is one that even they will think is cool.

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