Comics Cradled in History

Lewisburg Opera House

The Opera House post fire

In 1868, Henry G. Schwartz, the architect responsible for many of the houses lining South Third Street in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, drew up designs for, and subsequently went about building, the Lewisburg Opera House, known at its birth by the simple moniker The Music Hall. From the group of local businessmen who came to own the building, investor H. Eyer Spyker rose to prominence, assuming control of the Opera House amidst his improvements to the House between 1894 and 1907. The recent development of railroads allowed theatrical performing companies to tour the country’s selection of theatres and draw in spectators, and the Opera House was no exception. Thirty-nine years after its original construction, however, the Opera House was the site of a terrible blaze. On December 27th, 1907, The Lewisburg Opera House burned to the ground. All that remains now of the once beautiful building is a single brick cornerstone, standing alone next to the municipal parking lot on South Third Street.

The street is home to a number of modern attractions. Just across from the remains of the Opera House, located at 26 South Third Street, is Comics Metropolis LLC, a comics shop opened in 2016. It’s a quaint building, and unless you know it’s there, you may very well miss it. It looks just like the houses further down the street, because that is exactly what it was before owners Albert and Laura Payne purchased it, and refashioned it as the welcoming nerd haven it now is. Nearby, there exists a particular location that seems as though it would offer a rather large clientele base for the store in question: Bucknell University. Bucknell is a mere four-minute drive, or, for those finding themselves bereft of a car, or merely seeking to get in a little exercise, a fifteen-minute walk, from Comics Metropolis. The “official” Bucknell Barnes and Noble branch exists much closer to the comics shop, and the shop may serve as a welcome nearby distraction from the rigor of shopping for college textbooks (and may also be a little more forgiving on the wallet).

The presence of Bucknell offers another layer to the identity of Comics Metropolis’s space. Later in his book, Cresswell examines the ideas of Doreen Massey. The third point of her’s that Cresswell highlights is the most pertinent: Massey states “a need for a clear sense of boundaries around the place separating it from the world outside” as an issue with reactionary definitions of place (Cresswell, 72). Massey, in the essay sampled by Cresswell, challenges readers to reexamine the way they think about globalization. Boundaries are an intensely present aspect of humans identifying their place in the world, both physically and situationally. States and countries have borders to physically allocate each territory particular allotments of space; that space in turn becomes synonymous with a particular place identity. Bucknell helps define the place of Lewisburg, helps define the space within which Comics Metropolis is contained, and offers an interesting factor to the identity of Lewisburg’s and Comics Metropolis’s places. According to Data USA, and as of 2016, 2,336 of the 5,757 person population of Lewisburg (40.6% of the population!) is within 18-24 years old. Of course, not all of these individuals are attending university, and indeed, many of those that are may not even be attending college at Bucknell or in the Lewisburg area, but the fact stands that almost half of the population of Lewisburg falls within the age range stereotypically assumed to be the main demographic consuming comics-related paraphernalia.

A 2012 survey taken to examine the consumer base of DC Comics (courtesy of comicsbeat.com) highlights a discrepancy in the argument I allowed: based on the survey’s findings, the two age groups that afforded the largest procurement of DC Comics releases were 25-34 years old and 35-44 years old (37%-42% and 27%-35%, respectively). College-age consumers come in at third place. Perhaps it is too large an allowance to say that Comics Metropolis is playing to the demographics of Lewisburg, as nearly sixty percent of Lewisburg’s population (58.3% to be precise) falls within these top three age ranges, but then again, its entirely possible that this is exactly what was aimed for. With such a large percentage of the population falling within the targeted demographic for one of the world’s leading comics publishers, there certainly is no shortage of business opportunity.

The final important idea of place to discuss is brought forward by Laura J. Miller in her book Reluctant Capitalists. In the chapter four section “The Critique of Standardization”, Miller uses the example of 1920’s ‘book-of-the-month’ clubs, which were critiqued for “driving Americans to read the same works, perpetuating literary standardization, and sapping the population’s individuality” (Miller, 106). I find that this “sapping of the population’s individuality” is not present in Comics Metropolis’s neighborhood. The uniqueness of building a bookstore in a house adds to the personality and individualism of the store, and makes it a perhaps welcome alternative to Bucknell’s Barnes and Noble, which is a product of standardization and capitalism. The lack of ‘retailization’ (I just made that word up I think) of the surrounding area lends Comics Metropolis an air of homeyness/personality. It makes it more welcoming, like you’re stepping into someone’s house rather than a place of business (helped, of course, by the physical location of the business itself). The fact that the bookstore is kind of removed from the commercial hub of Lewisburg makes casual browsers feel less like they are there to spend money, and makes the atmosphere more relaxing.

Comics Metropolis’s place is, at its core, a space for people to have a small escape from the consumerism of even just the main street of Lewisburg by stepping down a smaller street into a residential area populated by colorful houses (follow the street view above to the right and you’ll see what I’m talking about) and the churches mentioned earlier. Itself a house, Comics Metropolis holds the strength of the independent bookstore that standardized chains bookstores can never hope to compete with: a unique environment present only in this very particular store, and that alone is an intensely powerful draw.

 

Sources:

“Article 17.” Union County Historical Society, www.unioncountyhistoricalsociety.org/OnceUpon/Article17.pdf.

Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Cresswell, Tim. Place: a Short Introduction. Blackwell, 2010.

MacDonald, Heidi. “DC Retailer Survey Results: Older, Male, Middle-Class, Avid.” The Beat, 10 Feb. 2012, www.comicsbeat.com/dc-retailer-survey-results-older-male-middle-class-avid/.

“Lewisburg, PA.” Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/lewisburg-pa/.