I have taught a few students from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. After a conversation with one of those students I came to the tentative conclusion that it must be a nice place to live. It sounded like a charming Victorian Pennsylvania town. And it was close to Penn State.
If my memory serves me correctly, I used to stop at a Holiday Inn off of Route 80 near Bellefonte during my seminary years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I usually pulled my 1981 Skylark into the motel when I was too sleepy to finish the drive from Deerfield, IL to Montville, NJ. I remember being frustrated because my room did not have a remote control for the television set.
If I wasn’t in such a hurry to get home to see my parents and siblings in New Jersey I might have taken the time to drive into downtown Bellefonte. After reading about Jonathan Eburne‘s failed attempt to open a bookstore in the town, I wish I had been more curious and adventuresome in those days.
Here is a taste of Eburne’s Los Angeles Review of Books essay on the struggle to cultivate intellectual community in Bellefonte. It’s a great piece about place:
I THOUGHT it would be a good idea to start a bookstore in my town. The print industry is dead, we’ve been told, from the publisher’s nose to the bookseller’s tail. But haven’t books always been at least a little dead? Coffined thoughts, in mummy cases, embalmed in spice of words. Perhaps a bookstore could marshal some of that spice toward happier ends, breeding lilacs out of the dead land. A community bookstore seemed like a small yet viable way to push back at the larger forces encroaching against so many elements of our towns and cities. Universities; museums; downtowns: sometimes everything feels under attack. A plague upon our houses! The attacks are fueled by all sorts of imperatives, a worldly sickness. Most of it, we cannot fathom how to fix. But I could imagine a bookstore, like a small bulwark against the tide. The goal was simple: to found a cooperative; to think small, to build gradually through a cohort of like-minded collaborators. That way, nobody would get hurt.
But something did get hurt. Nobody went bankrupt, mind you, and no money was lost. Yet my town and its cultural prospects are worse off than when we started. Instead of helping to build a new cultural institution, I’ve watched other institutions crumble down around me.
This is a story about that reversal of fortune.