Shoe Store Cash Register- DJ ERNST


Dividing the true difference between space and place is a concept that has many variations of ideas. Tim Cresswell in his “Defining Place” text states that, “Space is a more abstract concept than place… Spaces have areas of volumes. Places have space between them. Yi-Fu Tuan has likened space to movement and place to pauses- stops along the way” (8). Before 1975, Selinsgrove, PA had a place sitting within a space at the end of the Market Street strip that stood tall, with red bricks that covered half of the building. Back then this “space” was taken by a women’s shoe store that held an antique cash register, which has stayed in the same exact space. 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). This cash register has experienced two different versions of “place”, different time and people who came into this space making connections with each place. The other place is one we can personally experience today, DJ Ernst’s bookstore where that cash register is still in active use.

Ernst and his antique cash register that is located with the green arrow.

DJ Ernst’s bookstore journey to get to this “place”, had started in 1960 when Ernst’s father found enjoyment in collecting and reselling books out of his house. As their interests grew, this hobby shared between father and son turned from a side gig into a business. With no prior knowledge or experience his father managed to open his own bookstore in 1975, where those red bricks still stand.

The beginning life of the business was booming for the Ernst family in the 1970-80’s, between anxious booksellers and collectors, to individuals with various interests. Booksellers looking to complete collections and re sell them bought 50% of the profits that Ernst had received in this time. In 1985 Ernst helped a lot of these eager collectors fulfill their collections with either research techniques or already having the book for them. Every moment to Ernst was ordering something and it would already be “out the back door, just as fast”. These were also times that book enthusiasts had no issues stacking their hardcovers up in front of that “shoe store” cash register and buying over $300 of books. Ernst experimented with different selling techniques during the 80’s when he took large quantities of various collections to Lancaster and sold them at book fairs. His father and wife would assist him on these journeys and when they arrived they would sell a good chunk of the things they brought.

Interior of the book magazine. Listed names of different booksellers are displayed at the top of the pages.

Ernst always made an effort to pay attention to topics people were interested in, whether it was  the generational change or it was an individual customer he was looking to share another title with. He is a ‘reactionary’ bookseller, one that will always help, even if it does not profit him directly. Ernst spoke of times in the 70’s where collectors would want to know where a specific 1700’s medical book was, and if he didn’t have it he would look in his book magazine to find a store that specializes in medical books to redirect this collector. Book magazines were used as a form of connection between booksellers before technology came into place; Ernst used this method for about 15 years. Current day one of his loyal customers grew an interest in hunting, so Ernst has researched things that he thinks this customer would be interested in. His traditional habits have not changed, but he strives to become accustom to the fast past generational change. He works off of Facebook, posting and re-posting various books that he finds might sell, and will snail mail to customers that stretch all the way to L.A.

Book Magazine

Ernst had adapted to the quick changes in interest especially when he first started his business. One of the major topics that grew quickly in the 80’s was Pennsylvania history. This was a huge hit for the bookstore, and Ernst found himself specializing in PA history out of self-interest, but to also gain a better understanding on what he was looking for. He found that through the PA

history, customers were coming in and it transformed into this search for genealogy books, people wanted to know more about where they came from. So Ernst followed the path of what customers wanted the most and used his research abilities to give the best genealogy books he could find.

This generational change has created a large indent on the different selling techniques that Ernst used. Those Lancaster book fairs would make him lose money now a days because of the lack of knowledge in the collectables and authors he cherishes, learning about this change in generation I couldn’t get these words out of my head that he said multiple times, “people just don’t know these authors anymore”. It was hard for him to advertise the things that were popular in today’s society. And Ernst is right, Harrison Fisher was a popular book illustrator that collectors went nuts over, I truly had no clue who this artist was even when I looked him up. This time difference really made it harder on Ernst and what he truly wanted to sell. When visiting, he said he made about 50 cents that entire day on one book; this really displays the lack of interest that Ernst had mentioned before.

This image is from 1874-1900’s of what is now known as Kind Cafe. You can see that the town has physically not changed, but generational influence has changed.

Ernst luckily found local connection in the 2000’s through the Writing Institute at Susquehanna University, where he went to school. He vividly remembers Tom Bailey who was a former Susquehanna professor purchasing one of Ernst’s books to re-gift to him. Ernst found this humorous, but that was the true start of the formation between the Writers Institute and his shop. Tom Bailey had left Susquehanna and professors still acknowledge the store, but it’s not the same as it used to be. Ernst had mentioned, “ it’s great when these students come in, but some of them just aren’t interested. Their professors bring them in and they’re on their phones the whole time. Then when class is over they go straight to The Kind Café for caffeine, I mean we do need that too”. Historical images of Ernst’s store are hard to trace, but I was lucky to find what is now the Kind Cafe pictured on the left.

Information is hard to track online of Ernst’s store, but I though this video was an interesting take on the relationship between technology and independent bookstores. Ernst had trouble with this generation change, yet other private independent bookstores used technology to their advantage in helping their stores profit. This video displays that bookstores are more than just a place where people sell books, it’s a place where people can come and bond between various talks and other events, a social place. Ernst’s store is not large enough for these events, yet he finds other ways to attract customers.

The business really started to decline in 2005 due to the growth of technology and the lack of interest in, as Ernst claims, “ideas”. The generational difference between the 70’s to now is quite evident, there was a profitable time for the store which is now depleting since sites like Amazon have came around. In the text ‘ A Global Sense of Place’, Tim Cresswell reiterates Harvey’s definition of place as “The geographical configuration of places must be then be reshaped around new transport and communication systems and physical infrastructures, new centers and styles of production and consumption, new agglomerations of labor power, and modified social infrastructures… old places… have to be devalued, destroyed, and redeveloped while new places are created” (58). This is relatable to the generational time change that Ernst is facing, and learning how to revamp his business style. This is all because people in this time and age know exactly what they want, and they want it fast. Ernst realized these generational changes and decided fill the bookstore with things that he wanted to learn about. The store current day is simply for Ernst and those around him that want to enjoy a good book. He learned to pick up small hobbies within bookselling to make more profit, like binding and pricing antique books. Friends will ask him to price their books, and Ernst will pick up things that he must have even if he knows he wont sell it.

Visiting Ernst today there’s never a moment where you aren’t engaged in his various stories through his involvement and relationship to the store. Ernst has seen almost everything in his life as an experienced bookseller. He exclaimed that when he first started he had no knowledge of this practice; and when those around him asked about what it is like he would look to other sellers for the answers. Today he talks about locals who always come in and keep him company by sitting in the chair in front of his check out counter. They could go from talking about war to what happened at the bar last week, and more then half the time they walk out empty handed. But this doesn’t bother Ernst as he enjoys the company and making friends with the locals. It is interesting to hear the rollercoaster ride that Ernst has experienced through this journey, he has learned a lot and loves to surround the store and himself with things that he wants to share with anyone who is truly interested.




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