Entrepreneurs People Places

One For The Books

Some places are special.  A place could be special to one person or many people, but when a place is special to a lot of people for a long time, it becomes something else.  It becomes more than a place.  Brought to life by the appreciation and attention, love, and support of the individuals in and around it, a place becomes an entity, a center, a part of the community.  It becomes a way of life.  In some rare cases, a place can become something bigger than life.  It can become a legacy. 

Familiar faces. The new owners are long time employees: (left to right) Julian Karhumaa, Charlie Balfour, Katie [Rarich] Hastings, and Buffy Hastings. Photo by Kristina Gibb Photography.

For locals and visitors, Farley’s Bookshop, in New Hope, is one of those places.  It has been a staple in the community since it opened its doors in July of 1967.  A block from where it stands now, Jim Farley and his wife, Nancy Stitchberry, opened the shop at 40 West Ferry Road.  In 1971, when the locally famous storefront at 44 South Main Street went up for sale, the Farleys bought the building and moved the shop.  They kept a small office upstairs, rented out the apartments overhead, and leased the secondary retail space.  It has been 52 years since the move and 56 years since Farley’s opening day.

In just one year, Julian Karhumaa will celebrate 40 years of his own at the shop.  The longest standing employee of the bookshop, he joined the Farley’s team in 1984.  He was 24 years old.  Julian came and went for some years, always keeping one foot in the door.  Eventually, he turned a corner.  “I decided at one point in my life that I really love doing this; I’m going to do this.”

It was then that Julian stepped into the bookshop permanently.  His years at the shop make him more than the most recognizable face there.  They also make him the resident historian.  He tells me how the building was used as a food co-op during World War II, complete with a space known since as “The Cold Room.”  It got its name, not because it was cold in there – though it was, but because it served as a meat locker.  Julian laughs, recalling how they found antique meat hooks in The Cold Room when they emptied the building for its recent transformation.

Farley’s Bookshop’s reopening brought a new look, as well as a new logo and loads of great merchandise for an old favorite. Photo by Kristina Gibb Photography.

From Julian’s arrival, it was a full 13 years before Farley’s would meet Charlie Balfour, the second in our list of four new owners.  Prior to joining the ranks in 1997, Charlie discovered the shop while visiting town.  Most of us probably don’t remember, but there used to be an Atlantic Book Warehouse on the first block of North Main.  Charlie stopped in Atlantic, then found Farley’s a short walk later.  Having immediately tapped into the charm and character we have all come to love, Charlie never went back to Atlantic.  Apparently, he wasn’t the only one.  Charlie recalls Julian telling him once that “the manager at the time, when [Atlantic] opened, came into Farley’s and said, ‘we’re going to put you out of business.’  A few years later, they were gone.”

When Charlie moved to town, he lived in one of the apartments upstairs and was such a fixture in the store that he was eventually offered a job.  Having two jobs already but not wanting to turn down the chance, Charlie took it on a very part-time basis.  He maintained other jobs in the computer science field until just recently, when ownership made Farley’s a full-time gig.

In 2007, Katie Rarich walked in.  She had graduated college, spent some years living abroad, and was looking for work upon her return to the States.  Her love of books carried her through the door and into the fabric of Farley’s.  When she started her 15 year journey toward ownership, Julian was managing the shop, and the locally famous bookstore cat, Butter, was an established extension to the staff. 

Just the mention of Butter brings an instant rise from the four.  It would seem some had a love-hate relationship with their furry cohabitant, but the laughter hints at more love.

They’re back, and countless bibliophiles couldn’t be happier. Photos by Kristina Gibb Photography.

Two years after Katie’s debut, Buffy Hastings was hired.  A Newtown local whose mother hails from Stockton, Buffy explains that Farley’s was “my childhood bookshop.  I always bought books here.”

Buffy put in an application and got a call to come in.  Katie was responsible for training him.  It wasn’t long before Buffy fell in love with more than the book trade.  He fell in love with Katie.  The two were married in 2015, and named their first of two daughters Paige, in honor of their bookshop romance.  In the years ahead, they will add a second daughter – Emma, a farm, and Freedom Creek Bakery (available at Manoff’s Market in Solebury) to their list of successes.

With the team complete and the shop in full tilt, things went smoothly for a while.  Then, on the last day of September in 2011, Jim Farley passed away.  His wife and cofounder of the shop, Nancy, was ailing at the time.  The couple’s daughters, Jen and Rebekah, managed the bookstore and Nancy’s care until she passed almost two years to the day after her husband. 

With both of their parents gone, it fell to the Farley sisters to run the building and the business.  For 11 years, they carried the torch their parents lit and kept the shop going, but the inevitable was looming somewhere in the future.

“A plan was already in place,” Buffy says, “because when Jim died in 2011, we were the four people in the store.  We said to each other then, ‘we can’t let anything happen to this place.’”

SLIDESHOW: Shelving designed and constructed by the owners themselves, along with newer style racks, serve to house Farley’s famously diverse collection of books. The store is undeniably different, but more beautiful than ever. Photos by Kristina Gibb Photography.

Over the next 11 years, several people would approach the Farley sisters, trying to buy the business.  It never worked out “for one reason or another,” Buffy explained.  Then, the sisters decided to put the building up for sale.  Modern Recycled Spaces came to the rescue.  Owner Dan Popkin knew two things: that he wanted to do his part to protect Farley’s Bookshop, and that the building was going to need serious repair to make that happen.

With more than a century of wear and tear, holding up literal tons of books, and millions of miles of foot traffic, the building’s interior was in serious peril.  It wasn’t going to be enough to shore up some beams here and there.  A total and complete renovation was in order.  Popkin was willing if it meant the bookshop would stay.  The deal was signed, and the building changed hands.  The business stayed with the sisters, but just a short while later, the news was out that the sisters were, indeed, looking to sell that, too.

“It was Go Time,” Buffy said.  The plan the four had conceived and were preparing to execute since Jim’s passing went into action.  The employees put together their offer, and the business went into contingency.  It took some time to sort out, as the sisters were unsure if they wanted their family name attached to the business going forward.  With some convincing, however, the faithful employees helped the Farleys’ daughters understand that it was about more than their parents’ name.  It was their legacy, and that belonged with the shop and the community it served.

New Farley’s merchandise is a big seller, and why shouldn’t it be? After all, we are all celebrating the next chapter of our beloved bookshop. Celebrate in style. Photos by Kristina Gibb Photography.

“The most important thing,” Buffy says, “is that it stayed Farley’s.  That is what we wanted to continue.”

“And the community wanted Farley’s to stay,” Katie adds.  “It would be huge if it wasn’t called Farley’s Bookshop.  That would matter to a lot of people.”

“And it mattered to us,” Charlie pipes in.  “To all of us, in a very important way.”

That important way is extremely clear when talking to the foursome.  Farley’s is more than a bookstore.  It is a home, of sorts; a place people return to with excitement and joy time and time again.  It is a special place.  Especially for these four individuals, who have seen Farley’s through some difficult times.  Losing Jim and Nancy was felt by all.  They supported the Farley sisters through their transition to ownership and the 11 years that followed.  Working through the pandemic was precarious at best, but they made it through.  The political climate leading into 2021 occasionally brought a combative element into the store, but it was handled with integrity.  The cat passed, sparking rumors of Farley’s permanent close.  The building was sold, and plans for a full renovation were made.  All of this in a swift decade’s time, and at no point did these four waiver.

Their resolve was firm.  Their intentions were clear.  Their dedication to Farley’s Bookshop was unfailing.  They would carry Farley’s legacy into the future.  There was no other way.  Nothing else made sense.

Whether early, emergent, or mid-level literacy, the children’s section is close to owner Katie’s heart. Just like co-founder Nancy Stitchberry Farley, Katie Hastings is a mother of two girls. Young readers can expect the best selection here. Photos by Kristina Gibb Photography.

“We had to do it,” Buffy says, as the others nod and comment in total agreement.

So, they have done it.  They officially owned the business by October of 2022, and just after the holiday season, they started packing more than 50 years of Farley’s.  Books went into boxes.  Shelves, now aged and inadequate for the changed format of modern books, were passed along.  They “spent all winter dreaming.”  Rough estimates served for planning the new shelving, made entirely from lumber from local yards.  The register stand was made for locally sourced materials.  Everything was built by the new owners, with the exception of signs and wall art done by local artists.

“It reflects the rest of the community as much as it reflects us,” Buffy says.

“It seemed weird to be the oldest independent bookstore in Bucks County, and then go buy all our stuff from Ikea,” Charlie laughs.

With a huge pile of lumber, waiting for the green light to enter the building, the team “cut thousands of holes,” Julian chortles with a smile and a hyperbolic roll of the eyes.

More than books. Farley’s also offers a wide variety of other beautiful and intellectual items to inspire the heart and mind… puzzles, seeds, greeting cards, tote bags, even locally grown flowers, and much more. Just more reasons to stope in. Photos by Kristina Gibb Photography.

When they finally did get the go ahead, they had six days before International Independent Bookshop Day, Farley’s official reopening date.  The foursome went in with five days to construct all of their custom shelving.  As quickly as the shelves were completed, books started flying out of boxes and onto them.  One would imagine that they had every man, woman, and child they could think of helping, but the process of stocking bookstore shelves is so exacting that it was easier to do it themselves. 

Charlie tells of how someone came in and asked when they would reopen.  When Charlie replied, “tomorrow,” the man left with a shocked and doubtful look.  Low and behold, however, the store did open on time and with most of the inventory in place.

As visitors return, overwhelmed with relief and joy, they see some significant changes.  In fact, the words “total transformation” would be more appropriate.  Guests aren’t alone in their marvel and adjustment to the new space.  As the new owners continue to unpack, they are also getting oriented and figuring out how to best bridge Farley’s past and its future.

The life and work of Jim Farley, a man the team clearly and deeply appreciated and respected, weighs on each decision that they make about the future of the business.  Yet, they also understand that they need to make it their own.

“We are a family business. We don’t care what you’re reading,” Buffy says. “We just want you to buy it from us. I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to sell you the book. We just want to bring the good stuff and to give everyone a place.” Photo by Kristina Gibb Photography.

“We have to continue to evolve,” Katie says, explaining that owning the shop has given them the ability to do that.  “The freedom is so exciting. ‘Oo, what do we want to bring in?  What do we want to do with our bookshop?’”

Ideas include kids’ story time, book clubs, writers’ circles, art openings, and other events.  They are also looking at ways to better the bookshop through conferences and literary events specific to vendors.  The future is limited only by their creativity.

In terms of gets put on the shelves, the team has all the bases covered.  With interests ranging widely between the four owners, there is almost no area of the shop that isn’t overseen by an expert.  What one bookseller can’t tell you, another can; and make no mistake – they are, indeed, booksellers.

“Bookselling is a trade; we look it that way,” Buffy says.  It is more than stocking shelves and finding titles for customers.  “When a person comes in and doesn’t know what they’re looking for, they’re relying on us… and that’s where it gets really beautiful and fun.”

“You could never know everything,” says Katie.

Julian agrees.  “It’s an acquired knowledge of books, of titles, subjects, publishers.  It’s just a tremendous amount to know.”

Every subject area is being focused on by a different member of the team, so there is nowhere you can go in the store where a bookseller can’t help you find what you’re looking for or what you are about to fall in love with. Photos by Kristina Gibb Photography.

Perhaps the computerized systems at corporate retailers, online or under giant roofs, can pull up what categories titles fall into and get them into a customer’s hands, but that kind of experience will never compare to walking into an independent bookshop and having a human talk to you about what you like and don’t like, helping you find what you’re looking for or turning you on to something new.  With four veteran sellers reading in multiple areas each, constantly looking for ways to increase their knowledge and broaden their scope, Farley’s offers buyers and browsers an unforgettable experience.  One Jim and Nancy, Jen and Rebekah, can be proud of.

“We believe in books,” Katie says with a grin of endearment, her hands folded over her heart.  “Books are essential.  It’s more than just a job to us.  It’s our life.”

…Just as it was the lives of the four Farley’s before them. 

The story of Farley’s bookshop is one about knowledge and love, and it’s heading into a new chapter.  It is a legacy of literature, renewed and protected by people who believe this place is special.  Farley’s was, is, and continues to be truly one for the books.

Throwing bouquets. Locals and visitors, alike, are celebrating Farley’s triumphant reopening, and wishing them another 56 years (and then some). Photo by Kristina Gibb Photography.

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