New York’s Coolest Bookstore Is Hidden in an Ancient Barn
A cozy hideaway in the middle of nowhere.
“You’re not getting out of here without apples,” Sally Brillon declares over the hum of classical music in her old, weathered barn. Though I had come for the hardbound books lining the shelves, who was I to turn down some of her fall bounty?
The middle of nowhere is an odd place for a bookstore, but that’s exactly where you’ll find the Wilson Homestead. Located just outside of sleepy Salem, New York, the 18th century barn turned antiques emporium is nestled in rolling hills and miles of farmland that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a Vermont postcard. Which makes sense, given that the property practically straddles the state border.
Inside, visitors can unearth textiles, old photographs, and art. A beauteous copper tea pot hangs suspended above meticulously organized shelves. A top hat with a Charlie Chaplin flair sits perched in aisle four. One of many ancient postcards describes Aunt Marie’s vacation to Lake George in loopy handwriting.
And of course, there are the books: an encyclopedia of music machines throughout the ages, a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook with handwritten tips, out-of-print tomes with unheard of titles, and a “World Travel” section with regal gold lettering spelling out The Wonders of Italy. It’s the kind of place where hours could easily vanish.
The barn, which dates back circa 1786, came into the hands of Sally and Joe Brillon in 1990, along with a few other buildings on the property. While managing an antique store half an hour north, they carefully restored each building before moving in full time eight years later. They filled the barn with books in 2010.
Sally describes it as “a non-fiction bookstore with a cul-de-sac of fiction.” She credits children’s books, particularly pop-up style reads, for igniting her passion—that, and her love of old “stuff.” The store has since expanded into another building on the homestead. An old workshop turned “Chicken Coop” is now full of farm books, blacksmith tools, and yes, chickens galore.
You’d definitely drive right by if you didn’t already know about it. Other than a few signs on nearby Route 22, the bookstore draws upon word-of-mouth advertising, as all best kept secrets do. Some lucky roadtrippers may wander in, but most customers visit with an intent to be swooned or to discover a rare find.
For the owner, treasure hunting is as crucial as running the register. Sally curates the collection by frequenting shops, as well as lawn, library, and estate sales. Out-of-print local history is usually her number one target, though architectural titles and cookbooks compete for her attention, too. Her most exciting personal find rests in the glass display case on her desk: an impeccable rendition of Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent, “in absolutely excellent condition,” she says.
Sally is a pillar of information herself, reading a little out of every book she buys. You’ll find her manning the bookstore on weekends from 11am - 4pm, May through October, or by appointment any other time.
The pandemic might’ve temporarily suspended the homemade cookies in the check-out room, but there’s still a bowl of wrapped chocolates as a parting gift. That, my bag of Cortland apples, even more books, and a promise to return are all part of my farewell to this middle of nowhere nook.
The Wilson Homestead is located at 1117 Chamberlin Mills Road, in Hebron (just outside of Salem) New York.