Hay-on-Wye was the original "book town." Today it's still filled with bookstores, many selling used materials and specializing in certain subjects. Some retailers have expanded to include antiques and collectibles on their shelves as well. The book town movement was started in the 1960s by Hay resident Richard Booth, who had the idea to promote his economically struggling town as a destination for book lovers and collectors.
The eccentric Booth once bought a local castle and claimed Hay-on-Wye was an independent country (and he was the king). Whether serious or stunt, the resulting publicity helped the book town idea gain media attention. The castle still stands, and now it has bookshelves outside its gates. In addition to the shops, the town holds the annual Hay Festival, which draws hundreds of thousands of attendees and features 1,000 events with authors, artists and musicians. After attending in 2001, former President Bill Clinton called it "Woodstock for the Mind."