NIANTIC — The Book Barn on West Main Street offers visitors thousands of used books in a place nearly as magical as the stories.
The 30-year-old business consists of a three-floor barn packed with books, and smaller structures outside containing even more volumes.
Visitors can browse books and visit goats and cats on the property. There’s a basketball hoop, picnic tables, playgrounds and colorful gardens.
“The key to this whole thing is the property, it gave us the chance to do something unusual,” said owner Randi White. He said the vision was to make it a “Disney-like” bookstore and use humor and creative ways to display the books.
The bookstore at 41 West Main St. primarily buys and sells books, but White said he loves to see people come with picnic lunches or fall asleep in the chairs reading.
“I love to see nothing better than a little kid get all excited by a book. That, to me, is just the most important thing there is,” White said. “If a kid reads, his life will be better, college is gonna be easier, there really is no downside to being a reader, there really isn’t ...”
The Book Barn started in what's now called “The Main Barn.” The store has grown to have 3 locations, each within a mile of each other.
When it started in 1988, books were stored on three bookcases on a cement floor with a single couch in the basement of the main barn.
“It was about the ugliest space but it was cheap, that was the key,” White said.
Over the years, White and his wife bought the entire property and moved into the property’s home, where he and his family still live.
White, an avid reader, said the book business was something he fell in love with only after working for a former book store nearby.
White said his experience in the industry showed him how great it is to talk to people about books, a rarity in most businesses.
A total of between 250,000 and 400,000 books are in all the stores at any given time.
Local bookseller Becky Martone — who works for RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison — was at the bookstore Monday with her mom. She usually comes with a bag of books to sell and uses the store credit to buy more books.
“I like how unique it is because it’s outside and there’s so many places to go and there’s cats and goats and I just really like used books,” said Martone, adding that she loves finding notes that former owners have made in them.
White often helps with going through peoples’ books and said, even after three decades, he still runs into titles and authors that are new to him.
“It’s wonderful to see that it’s not gonna die with me, an old guy, it’s nice to see younger people still reading,” White said.
One book that always seems to fly on and off the shelves? The Harry Potter series.
“People want their library,” White said. “We all want that room with the books that we love.”
The Book Barn is open 363 days a year — closed Christmas and Thanksgiving.