Why I Love Ventura #9: Bart's Books in Ojai

Yeah, I know Bart's Books is in Ojai, a good 20-minute drive into the Topa Topas on Highway 33, but Bart's truly belongs to everyone in Ventura County.

Touted as the world's largest outdoor book store, Bart's Books was created in 1964 when owner Richard Bartinsdale's personal book collection grew too large for his bungalow on Matilaja Street. That's pronounced Muh-TILL-uh-haw.

When he ran out of bookshelves—and walls on which to place them—Richard decided to build shelves on the outside of his house and let people buy his books on the honor system. See a book you like? Just toss a quarter through the slot in the front door. After nearly half-a-century, people still exercise their better natures by following this innocent expectation. And in all that time the cost has only increased by a dime. He now asks 35¢ for the books outside the store.

Richard then began building bookshelves on the patio, against the outside walls of his house, in the garden, along the fence, and anywhere else he could find room. For a long time, instead of having a cash register, Richard put coffee cans on top of the shelves for payments. Eventually, he was forced by his collection to move out and leave the property to what is now Bart's Books.

The outdoor areas were covered with latticeworks and ad hoc covers, and the books stay in unbelievably good condition. But then, it is California—and Ojai, to boot—and weather isn't usually that much of a problem. The house itself is temperature-controlled and holds the rare and collectible books. And it smells delightfully bookish, just as you might expect, and just as it should.

The best thing about Bart's, however, is the price of the books. Whenever I've been there I've never left with fewer than twenty because most of them are marked at $3 and under. Many are even under a dollar, except for the new titles they started stocking last March. I bought a paperback edition of Boswell's London Journals for 75¢! And they have tons of sheet music to boot. Everything from Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton to the Hanon Scales. If you spend the entire afternoon there, you'll most certainly walk away with a treasure that cost you less than you'd spend on a cup of coffee.

Today, Bart's Books is home to nearly one million books ranging from the specials that line the outside walls to rare, out of print first editions and art books valued in the thousands of dollars.

If you ever go to Ojai (and you know, you really need to), you would be quite remiss if you didn't stop in at Bart's. Better take an empty suitcase to carry all your books home in.

302 Matilaja St.
Ojai, CA