Riverhead Free Library’s historic Yellow Barn bookstore reopened this spring after an extensive interior renovation.
Last Wednesday, the sliding wooden doors on the front of the circa 1873 building were opened wide to the public as library trustees, staff members and Friends of the Riverhead Free Library, which runs the bookstore, gathered alongside elected officials and community members to snip a ceremonial red ribbon.
“This is Riverhead’s Strand,” said Chamber of Commerce President Robert Kern, referring to the legendary bookseller in downtown Manhattan, which has an enormous collection of used and rare books. The Yellow Barn has floor to ceiling shelves filled with gently used books, most bearing a price tag of just one dollar. All proceeds from the operation of the Yellow Barn go to support the library.
“It’s truly a gem,” Kern said.
The interior renovations cost more than $60,000, Riverhead Free Library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith said. Now the library trustees and the Friends of the library have set their sights the second phase of the Yellow Barn restoration project: an exterior renovation that is estimated to cost more than $100,000, she said. The library’s fundraising drive to pay the cost of the work is ongoing. Part of the effort is a buy-a-brick project, which offers donors the chance to have an inscription on a 4- by 8-inch or 8- by 8-inch brick for donations of $100 and $250, respectively. Donations of $500 to $2,000 will be recognized with plaques.
The Yellow Barn was built as a carriage house on the homestead property of John R. Perkins, a prominent Riverhead businessman, who served for 20 years as a justice of the peace and as town supervisor for 14 years, from 1878 to 1892.
The property was donated to the Riverhad Library Association in 1958, after the death of his last surviving child, Alice Perkins.
The Perkins family home was demolished, but the carriage house, built later but in the same Victorian style, remained standing.
The Riverhead library was built on the property in 1964 and the carriage house, which became known as the Yellow Barn, was first restored by the Friends of the Riverhead Free Library in 1965. The Yellow Barn is a town-designated landmark.
The history of the place was on everyone’s mind at the June 16 grand opening, which featured a special appearance by Clara Perkins, portrayed by Riverhead actor Cindy Clifford. Clara was the youngest of four children born to John and Alice Perkins and raised on the family homestead. After horse-drawn carriages gave way to automobiles, Clara used the carriage house as a workshop, where she restored and refurbished wood furniture.
Clifford entertained the crowd gathered outside the Yellow Barn with a soliloquy about the Perkins family history and Riverhead life in the late 19th Century and the first half of the 20th. Clara’s father and his brother founded the Perkins Electric Company, generating electricity using a dynamo driven by a water wheel at the Perkins mill. Her uncle, Henry Perkins also established the Henry Perkins Hotel, an upscale inn that provided lodging to travelers, including lawyers with business at the county courthouse, and served as a gathering place for local celebrations.
“The Perkins Family was an iconic part of the history of the town of Riverhead,” Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
McMullen-Smith said the library is hoping to expand the reach of the Yellow Barn. “There are the regulars who come here all the time, but there are still a lot of people who don’t know about it, she said.”
The number of brick-and-mortar bookstores have dwindled since online bookseller-turned-mega-marketplace Amazon launched “Earth’s biggest bookstore” in 1995. Large national retailers like B. Dalton, Waldenbooks and Borders went belly-up and pressure on smaller chains and independent booksellers has been intense. Regionally, there are only a handful of bookstores — including a storeroom at Tanger Outlets occupied by the discount chain Book Warehouse. Stores that sell used and rare books are even harder to come by.
The Yellow Barn presents book-lovers with a unique opportunity, McMullen-Smith said.
The shop welcomes donations of gently used books. It is open from spring to fall on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will also be open on the following Saturdays: July 17, Aug. 21, Sept. 25 and Oct. 30.
To support the Yellow Barn restoration project, visit the library’s website.
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