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Detours

Book Barn will corral even non-readers

Email|Print| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / September 28, 2003

NIANTIC, Conn. -- Even if you couldn't care less about the written word, the Book Barn in Niantic, Conn., is a must stopover 2 miles off Interstate 95. Sound strange? Well, far stranger are the four goats, three dogs, 18 cats, and countless goldfish that help to staff the business.

In an age of Barnes & Noble homogeneity, the Book Barn traffics in the gloriously offbeat. More rolling complex than simple store, the barn full of used books is only the beginning. Five more buildings are stuffed with the old, the new, and the future (reviewers' advance copies). Each is named: Ellis Island for recent arrivals, Hades for $1 books, or skirt the goldfish pond on the way to the Last Page. If you feel like risking the Haunted House, you can skitter through sci-fi, horror, mystery and media.

Randi White, brainchild and owner, buys as many as 10,000 used books every week.

On a recent visit, I began to wander and browse. Fountains trickled, otherworldly Electronica music filtered in from points unknown, cats impassively watched. Thirsty and hungry, I turned to the table of doughnuts, iced tea, lemonade, and fresh coffee. A whole case of books on Napoleon, labeled "That Pestiferous Little Corsican," snared me for an hour, then another with books about Tutankhamen. I sunk into a low-riding couch with a stack at my side, and later woke from a daze believing I was an Egyptian prince. The sun had set. After four hours in the Book Barn I stepped, somewhat surprised, not into a pyramid, but my old car.

The Book Barn has one store in downtown Niantic, at 269 Main St., while the six-building complex is a mile down the road at 41 West Main St. Telephone: 860-739-5715. www.bookbarnniantic.comMajestically idiosyncratic

CONWAY, N.H. -- Before the glow of the red lights fades and the film begins, there is no trailer of a flaming Barbie doll to illustrate the theater's smoking policy, there is no trivia contest, no advertising assault.

Instead, Joe Quirk, the owner of the Majestic Theatre, strolls down the carpeted aisle and under the ceiling fans in the single-screen Main Street movie house to brief the audience. If the movie were the lengthy "English Patient," he would advise patrons to use the facilities now. But on this night, it is "The Matrix Reloaded," and Quirk welcomes the audience. "Thanks for waiting instead of rushing to see it somewhere else," he says.

Quirk, a Somerville native, began the pre-show monologues when he enlisted patrons' help a few years ago for a mail campaign to get the fourth "Star Wars" film to his independent theater, which has been around since 1931. The plea didn't work. But word got around about his chat and a tradition was born.

Quirk won't give away a movie's storyline, but he might suggest paying attention to certain scenes. He'll tell theatergoers about coming shows. He might ask them what they want: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" played here for a whopping five months.

First-run commercial and select art films play at the 400-seat, single-screen Majestic, which shares an off-white brick-facade building on Main Street with an office equipment store, a couple of computer businesses, a hypnosis center, and a wellness shop. Inside are the original velvet curtain, tapestries, and photos of yesterday's Conway when frankfurters were two for a quarter. The Quirks bought the theater 10 years ago at auction when it was slated for demolition.

"They were going to tear it down and open a convenience store," said Quirk, whose family business is turning around depressed properties.

In summer, the offerings are more commercial: "Terminator 3" opened when it did in the rest of nation. But Quirk isn't above experimentation. Wednesday nights between shows he sometimes has an acoustic guitar jam session on stage.

And don't worry about missing such events. Quirk will announce them before the show.

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