It was the first thing we noticed. The unmistakable smell of books, those that have been in someone's hands, well read, on a shelf for awhile. The kind of books that have that good old book smell.
"This is vintage children's, first editions and signed first editions," said Carol Rauch, general manager of Baldwin's Book Barn near West Chester. "In there was just one man's military collection, and now it's again. It's war."
Watch your head. Not much has changed since the cows were there. Baldwin's Book Barn is indeed an old barn. It was a dairy barn built in 1822. Book lover William Baldwin and his wife, Lilla, bought it in 1946 to sell their used books. Their son, Tom, took it over in the 1980s. He died earlier this summer.
"Every year, he kept expanding to the point that we now have 300, over 300,000 books in 25,000 square feet, and I think we're the largest book store in the world, explained Rauch.
That is, for used books. Rauch said the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records asked her to prove it.
"They said count, and I said no, no," she recalled.
It is organized though, sectioned into categories and then alphabetized on the shelf. There's a map, or you can just ask Rauch.
"I had someone yesterday come in, and I said third floor, second shelf, and he found it," she said. "He comes down and says they're amazed."
There are five floors, sometimes two staircases on the same floor, and every nook and cranny is stuffed with books. Do people ever get lost inside? Yes, said Rauch.
"People do all the time," she said. "They don't know the way out, if we didn't have the signs."
There are chairs around every bend, inviting you to take a seat and read what you just took off the shelf. It's not a library, but it's quiet like one, except for the occasional creak in the floor. It's a reminder the place is nearly 200 years old.
"You're learning something every day, just all the time," Rauch said. "Books are coming across in front of you. 'Oh, I have to read that! Oh, and I have to read that.'"
One of the favorites around here was a first edition "Great Gatsby" that had a mistake on the dust jacket. It sold for $110,000.
So many wonderful words to read, so many stories on the shelves. There are even books about books. Now, you just have to make the time to read them.