DJ Ernst: Place and People, Present
When you drive into Selinsgrove for the first time and see the almost Victorian style architecture, the quaint, locally-owned storefronts, and even the lamposts adorned with flowers, you can see the quintessential American small town. The town’s main strip, Market Street, cuts right down through and acts as the center of almost all activity and business. It is lined with a mix of local and corporate stores, such as Domino’s Pizza and Subway, as well as Pink Pinup, the local resale boutique, and finally, DJ Ernst, the only locally owned bookstore in town. There is even a market square of sorts, complete with arches and shrubbery, laid with red brick ground and its own small stage, all reserved for farmer’s markets and local events. Unmissable, however, are the orange and maroon banners hung from almost every other lampost on Market Street that proudly display name of the college attached to this small town: Susquehanna University.
With that in mind, the demographics for Selinsgrove begin to make more sense. According to the United States Census Bureau, the largest age demographic in Selinsgrove lies at 20.2% within 20-24 years old. Below that, 15.3% are 15-19 years old. Beyond that, 9.5%, 9.2%, and 7.3% of the town’s population are 35-44 years old, 44-54 years old, and 65-74 years old, respectively. Susquehanna University is the main source for young business in Selinsgrove, as well as the main source of diversity, the town being 92.5% white out of 5,875 people in total. Selinsgrove thrives from the business and exposure brought by the university, however, even then, you can still find empty storefronts and houses marked for sale along Market Street.
DJ Ernst, the only independently owned bookstore in town, lies somewhat hidden behind a large tree, next to an empty store, and down the street from the Kind Cafe, a popular coffee shop. DJ Ernst is relatively undecorated compared to a few of the other businesses, such as BJ’s, the stark blue building with awnings on awnings just down the street. With wide windows and an eye-catching sign jutting out into the view of any pedestrians, the bookstore still catches your attention when you walk by. Its aesthetic fits perfectly into the rest of the traditional neighborhood, as many of the other storefronts have the same style of architecture. In fact, many of the corporate businesses seem to be the ones out of place for the quaint feel of this small town.
DJ Ernst is unlike the traditional bookstores, instead, it deals in a wide array of used, antiquarian, and out-of-print books (“DJ Ernst Books”). This type of product fits in well with the overall appreciation of classic, quality, older aspects of life and history that Selinsgrove has. It also fits well with the University in town, seeing as how the college has a very popular creative writing program, as well as a publishing program, that brings students to this bookstore. This is essential to a successful bookstore; a sense of community and place. Seeing as how the prices are affordable for both citizens of the town and the university, quality is extremely appreciated. When quality is prioritized over quantity and profit, customers feel as though their interests are also being prioritized. When people walk in and see how different the ambiance of this bookstore is to others, with its small space dedicated to a large collection of diverse books of all aesthetics, they feel as if they have walked into a different experience, a different culture. A successful place of business is one that creates with its customers a connection and has sentimental value, one that sticks with the mind and makes it feel as though it is home. While DJ Ernst does not standardize its business in order and make itself look like every other bookstore, standardization is not always a good thing. Many times, when a bookstore as specific as DJ Ernst becomes the standard, it loses its identity as a place. Even still, DJ Ernst’s ability to reach out and distribute good reading seems to stop at the university and its connection to its students. With their own bookstore on campus and a strip mall just down the highway with a larger, wider array of popular books, the question that comes to mind is whether DJ Ernst’s specific sense of place and community is enough.
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- Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). “Your Geography Selections.” American FactFinder – Results, 5 Oct. 2010.
- Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. University of Chicago Press, 2014.