A (Mon)Dragon’s Home
The town of Lewisburg was cast in grey and rain the day my group went to visit Mondragon. The local businesses each provided their own versions of warmth for the average passerby; from windows brightly decorated with handmade dresses to windows advertising the lunch specials of the day, I found myself attracted to the inviting nature of each business. But, as the assignment was to simply survey the area, I quickly moved on so that I could survey more and more of Market Street. While my compatriots fawned over the different businesses that lined the streets, I found myself fascinated in between the businesses. I wanted to journey down the alleyways decorated like old Irish Faerie realms have always been depicted. Lined with stones and moss and leading to patios of homemade furniture garnished with trellises, these alleyways appeared to lead to a realm different from the one portrayed by semi-bustle of the street. My friends moved quickly while I moved slowly (whether it was because of these alleyways or
my short legs, I do not know). I couldn’t help but wonder why each alleyway was decorated with such thought and care just to create the antithesis of what an alleyway is traditionally thought as.
Lewisburg is the small town that accompanies the local college, Bucknell University. Approximately half an hour away from my own university, Susquehanna University, the two are often compared as sister universities and/or rivals. If the rivalry were of the local towns, then Bucknell would be the clear winner. Littered with Boutiques and a generally Victorian visual aesthetic, Lewisburg presents itself as an upper middle town. The big difference between Lewisburg and Selinsgrove, at least from what caught my eye, is that Lewisburg seems to detach itself from the local college community. While there are a couple of Bucknell flags and the college’s bookstore. The town seems to want to keep its image as an upper middle class area rather than one that has its door open to the ever-changing community that colleges generally present. Lewisburg keeps its aesthetic image pristine and a place for the locals rather than the local college students.
Tim Cresswell in Place: An Introduction reflects on Doreen Massey’s reflection of Kilburn’s definition of place (I know, confusing right?) as one that is generally correct when talking about place as “global.” This definition is as follows (in Cresswell’s words):
- Place as process.
- Place as defined by the outside.
- Place as site of multiple identities and histories.
- A uniqueness of place defined by its interactions.
(Place: An Introduction). Lewisburg seems to be defining itself as such as well, mostly in numbers 2 and 4. The town seems more concerned about its visual and aesthetic appeal as seen by “outsiders” and how these “outsiders” view the town and the businesses interact with each other.
I can see this as being highly true about the area surrounding Mondragon Bookstore. Lewisburg seems to take care of their main marketable street (Market Street) whether it is with ice sculptures (although thoroughly melted by the unseasonably warm and wet weather earlier in the week) or maintaining the Victorian aesthetic with the local businesses. I think the main way they define themselves to “outsiders” is by trying to create a home away from home. This also lends to the uniqueness of this place. Corporate looking businesses tend to stick out in this area and they are generally reserved to more law and business based corporations (with the occasional art gallery). On the other hand, many other businesses like cafes, boutiques, hotels, and our very own Mondragon adopt homes as a place to sell their goods. Boutiques display their clothes like an in home workshop, the hotel adopts warm lighting and inviting exterior accents like a porch, and the alleyways provide seating and paths reminiscent of a slower Victorian lifestyle, where the exterior provides just as much a home as the interior.
The bookstore is commonly seen as a home, if not actually a home. Parnassus on Wheels exemplifies this sentiment of bookstores as homes. The traveling bookstore owner, Roger, has set up his store so that books cover the exterior and the interior is where he has made his home. Bookstores have commonly adopted this sentiment (rather than literally) by providing coffee to customers, carpeted floors and warm lighting for ambiance, and a generally welcoming demeanor from the owners/workers. Mondragon definitely involves all of this. With multiple rooms of books and a coffee bar, the store appears to be the embodiment of a living room.
This is what Lewisburg seems to be doing to their town. From the warm lights to retail selling goods out of homes, the interactions the town seems to want to happen are that of a home. I wanted to travel down one of the alleyways with a cup of coffee with some friends and sit and enjoy the beauty and care of the surrounding area. Unfortunately it was raining and the middle of winter. But, I can only imagine what it must be like in the spring when everything is in bloom.
Photos courtesy of Richard Berwind (me).
Cresswell, Tim. “Reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’.”Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.
Morley, Christopher. Parnassus on Wheels. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1917.