“The bookstore…had its own special aroma, the incomparable and unforgettable scent of books and dust, paper and ink, type and binding, the dazzling anticipation and excitement of seekers after books.” – Marvin Mondlin & Roy Meador, Book Row.
This is the feeling one has the pleasure of experiencing upon entering Otter Creek Used Books. This special gem, located in Middlebury’s historic Marbleworks, is owned by Barbara Harding and it’s one of the local businesses featured in our Co-op Connection lineup. Harding has owned the store for sixteen years. Twelve of those years were in the current location and four were in the previous location in downtown Middlebury’s now-demolished Lazarus building. Harding never thought she’d own a bookstore, but while taking a walk downtown one day on a break from her work at the Addison County Chamber of Commerce where she worked to promote travel and tourism, she discovered that the used bookstore was for sale. She walked in to inquire about the price and made the decision that very day to become its new owner. Talk about a leap of faith!
Harding says that she’d always loved books, particularly used books, and has fond memories of walking out of libraries and used bookstores with her arms full as a kid. She had a passion for turning this particular bookstore around, as she’d witnessed its decline over the years and knew it had the potential to be something special. And she has most certainly succeeded in giving it new life, not once, but thrice, as the move to the new location nine years ago necessitated another rebirth of sorts, followed in 2020 by a lengthy and unplanned closure due to the pandemic, which required new resolve to bring the bookstore back on track. The lengthy closure provided Harding the opportunity to do some rearranging, expanding some categories, condensing others, and she’s bringing in new inventory daily. Much is the same as it was pre-pandemic, though there have been some minor changes to store hours and procedures. The shop is now open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm and “by chance” on Sundays and Mondays.
When asked if she has a favorite book in the store, Harding insists that she couldn’t possibly choose just one. She confesses that when certain coveted titles arrive in the store, she tends to keep them in a small stack near her desk so that she can enjoy their presence for a period of time before eventually deciding that she’s ready to part with them. Long-time customers often ask to see what’s in her pile and she jokes that she’s reluctant to share until she’s truly ready for them to have a new home.
According to Harding, “owning a used bookstore is everything you think it would be. Should be. But it’s so much more. There is the realization that all the books actually belong to you. To you! You can claim each and every book if you want. But, of course, you don’t because how are you going to keep the store going? So, you have to be able to let go. And know that a sold book is going to a good home. To be reread. Or even sit prettily on a bookshelf.”
Her general preference is for non-fiction and one of her priorities when initially purchasing the store was to have a dedicated Vermont section, which was absent from the store at that time. Visitors to the store will now find a robust selection of Vermont titles from Frost to McKibben and everything in between.
Be sure to check out the Otter Creek Used Books blog and social media to stay up to speed on pop-up book sales and access Harding’s valuable insights into the treasures housed within the walls of the shop. And, if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the shop, do yourself a favor and swing by. There’s no better time than now to rally around this local treasure. Whether you’re already a loyal customer or it’s your very first visit, you’ll find it to be a warm and welcoming space full of all of the magic and mystery that make a used book store so alluring. There’s something there to satisfy every interest, and Barbara will be there behind the counter to greet you with a smile.
“I feel so lucky,” says Harding. “Lucky to decide to purchase the store and bring new life to it. Lucky to open the door each day, turn on lights, sweep floors, polish windows, dust off books. Decorating windows, tops of bookcases, shuffling shelves around. Selecting background music. Creating an atmosphere of coziness. Somewhat organized. Somewhat not. Cluttered. But hopefully not too much.”