The History of Market Street’s Beloved Bookstore: DJ Ernst
In my previous post “DJ Ernst: A Bookstore in Space” I discussed that Selinsgrove is a town that is space to the majority of people because of the bypass for 11/15. The flow of traffic that occurs on Market Street can be contributed to the college or locals returning from 11/15 or 522. Walmart and the numerous malls have made Market Street less of a market unless someone is looking for a small restaurant or specialty service like a haircut. Selinsgrove was not always space. The highway used to run through the town before the bypass was built. This bypass shaped the history of Market Street and developed DJ Ernst into the bookstore we see today.
The 11/15 Selinsgrove bypass was finished in the 1970s diverting traffic away from town into Shamokin Dam. This strip became a booming area for business and even forced residents out of the area. The boom was a zero-sum game, as it took the consumer traffic away from Market Street (Malawskey, 2016). Prior to the bypass there were 2 pharmacies on Market Street, a hardware store, and gift shops according to Homer (personal communication, February 23, 2019). These stores were forced to close down and new ones to open up. Walking down the street there is not much variety in the new shops. They are mainly restaurants, alcohol stores, or barbershops.
Market Street still does not see the traffic it used to on the sidewalks. My friend and I walked down to DJ Ernst Saturday afternoon and we were the only people out and about. It was not a cold day either, only in the low 40’s with no wind. As long as you were not majorly hungover, you should be up and ready to start the day. There was hardly any traffic and we were able to cross the street without having to push the button to stop the lights. If you are to continue North you would hit heavy traffic on 11/15 at this time. I walked into DJ Ernst and I was the only person in the store at the time.
DJ Ernst opened in 1975, taking the place of a woman’s shoe store that was previously here (Ernst, personal communication, February 23, 2019). Walking into the store, the books lined wall to wall are not what catch your attention. It might be Homer bent over the counter but definitely the bright red cash register next to him. The cash register is part of the bookstore’s aesthetic however it is not a prop or show piece. The cash register is there to be used for all purchases in the store. With most people no longer using cash to buy products, the cash register prevents Homer from taking orders from people who have a credit/debit card. Part of this is “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” ideology. Homer said that he kept the cash register there because it came with the store.
The cash register is also a symbol of Selinsgrove resisting change as time progresses. Selinsgrove contains older buildings that are unchanged from when they were first built such as the Selin’s Grove Brew Pub. While others are renovated and look modern such as the shop across the street from DJ Ernst. Homer pointed to and described how the building used to be colonial until they put up gray siding on it. This is like a point made in “Reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’” where the building represents not only the place, but a point in time for the place (62). This point in time would be when Market Street was hustling and bustling with traffic. Susquehanna University has a charm because of the old buildings such as Selinsgrove Hall and Seibert Hall but is ruined by the new odd looking white washed Admissions House that is adjacent to them. I have only lived in Selinsgrove for 3 years and I found myself resisting change. My resistance to change was motivated by the fact I had no clue why we needed a big new ugly Admissions House. The locals are more likely resistant to change because of the bypass that took away their successful small businesses that gave the town its charm.
DJ Ernst having started during the construction of the bypass, was facing a challenge of not having enough foot traffic passing his store. Malls were being developed that attracted shoppers to the bigger stores. Homer did not have much business from the locals or Susquehanna University until the establishment of the Writer’s Institute and creative writing program at Susquehanna University in 1993 and 1996 respectively (Susquehanna University , 2015). This program brought a wave of students and an appreciation for literature. Professors would recommend authors to students who would then come to DJ Ernst in search of their work. Homer recognized Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke as two professors who would send their students to his store. Since these professors are no longer at Susquehanna University, and new professors have come, Homer does not see as many students come in anymore (personal communication, February 23, 2019). I am not a writing major, but I felt guilty for not coming here more often in the past 3 years.
While in the store an older couple came in to browse through the books. From what I could over hear, they were shopping for historical novels. They were pleased to have found the books as well as chatting with Homer about them. Shortly after they left, another Susquehanna student walked in to hang a poster advertising a campus event. This is interesting because that student believed that there would be people walk by to see it. Homer hung it in the window with the other one even though he admitted that hardly anybody walks on Market Street anymore. With a name like Market Street you would assume it be the hub for business, but now it is more ironic.
To combat the lack of traffic to advertise to book collectors far and wide, Homer began advertising his collection online. On March 7, 2001 Homer joined AbeBooks.com and on February 25th, 2006 he joined Biblio. This provided a chance to advertise these books to collectors all over the country, and a way to accept credit card. This proved successful as he was able to sell rare expensive books more frequently and quicker. DJ Ernst joining online bookstores allowed him to stay competitive as well spread literature to more people. Anybody around the world can now “walk” into DJ Ernst.
The contents of the bookstore reflect Homers personal tastes. Sections of the bookshelf are filled with local history books and pictures of old Selinsgrove. DJ Ernst is Homer’s own bookstore. It will not become homogenized because Homer is like no one else (Perry, 111). There is not an agenda or cause that he is passionate about other than selling quality literature. If he were to have an agenda, it would be to turn back time to revitalize Market Street. Homer is resistant to change and his age. We all had a laugh as he admitted that last night he had too much drink and was paying the price. Homer also makes the bookstore his own by purchasing rare books. Sometimes the books are so rare that it is hard to find a buyer for them (Ernst, personal communication, February 23, 2019). These rare novels are a part of history and fit the mission of his bookstore. I appreciated that he was preserving a history that was forgotten. I learned to appreciate Selinsgrove even though it has been forgotten by the 11/15 bypass.
Walking back to campus I thought about how I have reached the end of my timeline at Susquehanna University. It made me feel old but then I realized that DJ Ernst is almost as old as my parents. The store is also approaching the end of its timeline. It would be neat to see a local writer take over the store to continue what Homer started as well as make it into their personal bookstore.
Selinsgrove Projects Inc. DJ Ernst Books https://selinsgrove.net/directory/listing/d-j-ernst-books
Selinsgrove Projects Inc. DJ Ernst Books https://selinsgrove.net/4274/selinsgrove-santa-fest-for-kids-images-dec-5th-2015/dj-ernst-books-2/
Time Graphics. (n.d.). DJ Ernst Time Line. Retrieved from Time Graphics: https://time.graphics/line/234421
Cresswell, T. (2004, June 7). Place: A Short Introduction. Reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’. Blackwell Publishing.
Malawskey, N. (2016, May 31). In ‘Hibernation’ for 40 Years, the Route 15 Bypass Project is Finally Unearthed. Retrieved from Penn Live: https://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/05/forty_years_later_road_to_nowh.html
Perry, J. (2001). Bookstores, Communist and Capitalist. Bibliophilia.
Susquehanna University. (2015). A Mission, A Market and A Dream: 35 Years With Gary Fincke. Retrieved from Susquehanna University: https://www.susqu.edu/about-su/newsroom/university-publications-and-media/susquehanna-currents-spring-2015/features/a-mission-a-market-and-a-dream-35-years-with-gary-fincke?page=1