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Chester County Press

Lions offer a reader’s paradise to the community

04/05/2021 07:53PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Where once farmers tended their livestock and the silo yielded the grain for the winter, a magnificent used bookstore has arisen courtesy of the Avon Grove Lions Club.

Last week, the Lions opened the doors of the Avon Grove Book Barn for another warm weather stretch in a tradition that began in 2002.

The barn is on the family farm of C.P. Yeatman and Sons mushroom company just north of Avondale Borough. Members of the Lions Club and even the Yeatman family themselves are not sure exactly when the barn was initially built, but they know this: It was created to serve a dairy farm before the mushroom industry even started in Chester County. In 1920, it blew down in a windstorm and had to be rebuilt.

This year, just like every year for the last two decades, it reopened in early April for the warm seasons. It will continue through October.

The building itself is sprawling with a host of large nooks and crannies. It houses sections on fiction, non-fiction, specialty subjects and an impressive children’s book room. In the back are storage areas that hold volumes piled up and waiting to be catalogued as well as a supply of donated used medical equipment that the club gives out free to people in need.

Lion Bob Yeatman, on whose family land the barn stands, said the tradition of giving out and selling books for virtually pennies began in 2002.

“We started having it only one weekend per year in the Friends Meeting the first couple years. Then we moved to the barn. Originally, we only used the main barn floor and gradually expanded the current layout. It has become our biggest fundraise in the last 10 years or so,” he said.

Eric Hansen, who was staffing the checkout counter on Saturday with his fellow club member Fran Thompson, said the reason for the move from taking the books to the Friends Meeting was the exhaustion of carrying out the boxes every month and bringing them back. “We decided to let the public just come to the barn,” he said.

The club advertises its hours as Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon; and Sundays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There is an estimated supply of 70,000 books available. Paperbacks are 75 cents; hardbacks are $1.50; children’s books are 25 cents.

Often families come in with their children and let them browse as long as they want, picking out whatever suits their fancy. At other times, collectors of rare old volumes stop by repeatedly to see if any new treasures have arrived.

Hansen and Thompson cited examples of good memories they have of participating in the project.

Hansen said there are families the come in year after year, and they are pleasantly surprised to see the older ones mature and younger ones appear.

He also spoke about the folks who come in to browse and the variety of books they come upon. He said he once helped clean out the estate of a man who had died. He came upon a leather-bound Bible that he thought would be valuable, but it was not. However, surprisingly, among that same collection, he found an original book of etchings done in the 17th century that was assessed to be worth thousands of dollars.

The power and order behind the operation of the book barn is Sylvia Field, 61, of West Grove. She and a host of volunteers make sure that the books are shelved and sorted according to a classic system by alphabetical order of authors’ last names – except biographies, which are in order of the last names of the people the books are about.

Accompanying Field are four beloved cats who live in the barn year ‘round and are pampered by Field. “Without the cats, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. The dominant cat, Murphy, rules the roost, greets guests and most often follows Field wherever she goes.

Field oversees all the books and their cataloguing. When asked about an author or title, she most often knows exactly where it is.

As the number of books grows, Field applies her creativity to their placement. Most recently she created a shelf she calls the “Eclectic.” She said it’s hard to describe exactly which books are sitting there, only that they are unusual or quirky. One, for example, looks like a rolled-up paper towel package, but it is actually a compilation of culture-changing stories that have been written in the New York Times. Another section is books by local authors. Still another is a large book that is so old the cover is disconnected.

When asked what Field’s title or position is, Hansen and Thompson were stumped. All they could say was that she is “The Everything.”

As the years go by, the Book Barn has increased not only in space and volume but in popularity. Hansen said many parents of home-schooled children come in as well as those looking for supplementary material for their kids in the traditional local schools.

Some people come from as far away as New Jersey and Lancaster County. Others arrive after having been referred by the operators of Baldwin’s Book Barn in East Bradford.

The book barn is part of the overall mission of the Lions to provide community service. In that connection they send all their paperback fiction books at the end of each season to the military for inclusion in service members’ Christmas stockings.

Additionally, their collection of gently used medical appliances has grown so that anyone who needs a wheelchair, crutches, a walker or other device can come and request one for free.

The Lions Book Barn is on the Mother Earth Mushroom Farm at 600 North Baker Station Road in London Grove Township, just north of the Route 1 and  Route 41 intersection. Access Baker Station Road from Woodview Road, which has a bridge out farther down the way, but does not affect the entrance to Baker Station.