One of the best reads on the internet is Austin’s Antiquarian Books new blog. Here’s a recent article by Garry on one of the grand old shops, Whitlock Farms of Bethany, Connecticut ~
Memories of Whitlock Farms ~ by Garry Austin [posted 6-13-2012]
Browsing a bin at a paper show I discovered two letters written on Whitlock Farms Book Shop stationary. They were from the 1920′s and were written to an attorney in New Haven regarding a financial matter. They were signed by the proprietor who was the father of the Whitlocks that I had known, Gil & Everett. I bought them and sent them down to Bethany as a gift. Memories of Whitlock Farms began to flow.
When I was young and knew everything about the old book biz, I was a frequent visitor to the “Farms” in Bethany. In rapt anticipation I would drive there on my way to, or home from Atlanta or some other of the endless number of shows that I exhibited at. Making my way to Whitlock’s was an adventure, an exploration. As I approached up the road, (it was all dirt then), I felt I was the only person who would be there, it seemed so isolated. As I rounded the corner I was always amazed at the number of cars in the lot. I never knew what to expect but I was rarely disappointed.
Sets in leather were my standard fare then but that shop had so much more. I would ask for entry to the cases and the “keys” would appear. My purchases were mostly curtailed by my lack of knowledge and financial restraints. Still, I took some chances then, leaps of faith, believing that I could move these new pieces and at a profit besides. My faith was always rewarded.
Some times I would get there early in the morning before opening and wait. There was a stray dog that was always about the place then. I would sit outside in the yard, enjoying a cup of coffee and that dog would settle in at my side. He was waiting for the Whitlocks too knowing he would be fed. When that blue Volvo station wagon arrived it was time to go to work. I would be the first customer of the day, I would have the first choice.
Whilock’s maintained two catalogue lists; East Coast & West Coast. You could subscribe to either but not both. When that mimeograph catalogue arrived, one read fast and dialed the phone even faster. Many times I would call and was more often than not disappointed, but occasionally …….
I remember fondly once when Gil allowed me to go into the “Morgue”. This was a high honor. The “Morgue” was a long narrow closet that ran from the main aisle to the eaves at the end of the main shop, just before the shipping area. It was filled with catalogue treasures and special books. Gil let me have the run of it that day and I bought more than I could afford I’m sure.
Whitlock’s was that rarest of book shops. It’s operation spanned generations but with the same family ownership. That is very uncommon in the United States. Both Gil & Everett are gone now and so is the book business as they knew and loved it. Whitlocks continues under new ownership. It was purchased by a man who loved it for what it was. He retained the staff and the feel of the place is the same. What also hasn’t changed is that there are still individuals that are captivated by the printed word. Whose intellectual curiosity compels them to seek out and find an author’s work. Who love to hold a bound book closely and feel a warmth that can hardly be described. There are those that would rather browse 10,000 real books in a drafty old chicken barn on a New England hillside than 10 million virtual records on the internet databases. For them Whitlock’s remains a special place.
About a year or so ago I stopped there on a quiet Sunday. There wasn’t much that I found that demanded I buy it, but there is always something in a shop like this. What was really wonderful was what transpired while I was there. A middle aged woman led a small group of college age people walking in from the road. There were only about a dozen or slightly more. The woman was a Professor and neighbor and this was her class. She spoke of Whitlock’s and how it had been there for decades and what a lovely old book shop it was. I wanted to interrupt her and tell her of the importance of this shop to the community at large and to the trade specifically, but I didn’t interrupt. She encouraged the kids to browse. That’s when the magic began. I would watch them look at books. Picking something out, they would share it with their friends. They became excited, animated in conversation. They had become captivated by the book. They were seeing old things in a new light. What happened next was encouraging. Several of these young browsers bought books. I hope they will remember Whitlock’s fondly. I hope they will return again. I also hope they will visit an old O.P. shop near where they live and not come to believe that all books come from Amazon and are delivered to a Kindle.
So a belated thanks to Gil & Everett and to all the staff of all the years at Whitlock’s Book Barn. They helped me become a better bookman. I owe them more than I can repay.
© 2012 Garry Austin