Quality Over Quantity the motto of DJ Ernst Books

 Ernst at DJ Ernst Books, 2013

While the number of independent bookstores is on the decline, one that still remains today on Market Street is DJ Ernst Books. The bookstore was first established on February 1st, 1975. Ernst’s father has always had a passion for literature as he enjoyed collecting and reselling books out of his house. This enjoyment to which he passed down to his son as they began to bond over literature in the 60’s. As their passion grew, Ernst’s father decided to open the very store that still stands today and is now owned by his son, Homer Ernst. In the text ‘ A Global Sense of Place’, Tim Cresswell reiterates Massey’s definition of place as, “ place as site of multiple identities and histories” (72). From what was previously a women’s shoe store, to what is now known as DJ Ernst Books it is safe to say this particular building has been filled with multiple identities as well as histories. Not to forget to mention that along with the store, Ernst was also left with an antique cash register that is still there today. The look of the store hasn’t changed, the exterior and interior remain the same as always. He has always stocked books that he believed to be the most important. DJ Ernst Books truly captures the informative bookseller image that Laura J. Miller writes about in her book Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. “Some consumers simply want a bookstore owner to be a sales clerk, while other consumers want to engage in conversation” (Miller 62). Ernst always made an effort to pay attention to topics that people were interested in and treats every customer a special individual. He also stresses quality over quantity due to the limited space within the store. When the store first opened, Ernst used to check on rare books at local estates for collections that he could add to his shelves. He described them as “gleaming and glittering” bookshelves. He also explained how he used to attend auctions, which are no longer popular.

Ernst reminisced on the bookstore’s profitable time period from when it first opened, as well as the 30 years or so after. With the Bicentennial that took place on July 4th, 1975, local history books and American history books brought in many sales. Many of his older customers were interested in genealogy books for researching their family’s heritage. People used to spend 200-300$ (even 3000$ sometimes) and stack them right up on the counter next to the antique cash register. Other books that were popular in the 70’s were 1700’s medical books. One thing that I found interesting was how back then, if a bookseller did not stock a certain book they would use a book magazine to find a store that specializes in that certain book to help redirect a customer. If you are not familiar with what a book magazine is, it is a form of connection or communication that booksellers used before technology came into place.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s Ernst recalls many illustrators that came in and out of the spotlight during this time. The most popular selections that he remembers were Harrison Fisher and Arthur Rackham. Both of which I had never heard of before until i looked them up. After doing so I learned that they were known for their detailed artwork, but had different styles. Rackham is well known for many of the strorybook characters we all know and love even to this day such as Cheshire Cat and Peter Pan. Other illustrations he is famous for are Petruchio and Ophelia. Fisher on the other hand was more into realism and was famous for his dramatic feminine portraits. His most iconic portrait was “Fisher Girl” or also known as “Gibson Girl”. During the 80’s these collections of Fisher’s work were booming and people would go crazy for these.

One of  Ernst’s many interests are rare books. Throughout the years he has managed to find a signed copy of a Robert Frost book, as well as a signed Walt Whitman  Leaves of Grass. Most of these finds were spotted in the least expected places you’d think of. When asking him where he found these rare books, he said The Leaves of Grass he found at a yard sale. He also mentioned one of the hardest books he had sought out to find was ‘An American first edition of Winnie the Pooh’. Because the illustrator changed after the first printing, it made finding a first edition of the book incredibly hard to find. But none the less, if you don’t have the chance to check them out in person, Ernst’s website has a catalog of his book collection.

With his website he has also become accustom the generational change. He now also works off of a Facebook page he has created, posting and re-posting  books that he finds might sell. He also updates his customers with what he has in stock. Some of what he stocks in current day are used paperback classics, such as the works of Fitzgerald, Twain, Tolstoy, Hurston, and Christie. As I am in agreement, Ernst says he stocks these because they are the books that he believes everyone should read at least once in their life. He also not only stocks American literature, but also includes a whole variety of other literatures. One type of book he mentioned that was a big seller back in the day were Molly Maguire books. Relating back to the booming historical period, the Molly Maguires were an Irish 19th-century secret society active in Ireland, Liverpool and parts of the Eastern United States, and were best known for their activism among Irish-American and Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania. Therefore, their local significance brought in business to DJ Ernst Books.

Today the most frequent visitors brought into DJ Ernst Books are students from Susquehanna University. The start of the writing programs at the university are what begun students venturing into the downtown area where the store is held. But not only do the writing majors visit the store, but also other students of all kinds of majors. The stores affordable prices and classic selections make it a great place for students to buy their books. And being a Susquehanna alum himself, he proudly displays books written by professors of the university at the front desk. As People come and go throughout the town one thing that stands still in time is DJ Ernst Books and the collections that are stocked. It is a place where everyone can feel welcomed and can have the freedom to roam and find what interests them and continuing to share a love for literature and helping to educate others with the great classics to read.





“HARRISON FISHER.” National Museum of American Illustration, americanillustration.org/project/harrison-fisher/




Cresswell, Tim. “Place: A Short Introduction” A Global Sense of Place. Off Our Backs: Pg 58-72. Print

Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.


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