Whistlestop Bookshop on High Street in Carlisle contains the self-help books, history tomes and paperback novels you might expect.
But you’ll also find works on anatomical stretching and biographies of famous dancers.
That’s because owner Jeff Wood knows his audience and, at least in the summer, a big part of his audience are ballerinas and their families.
More than 500 students are participating in the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s five-week summer program from June 22 to July 27, and 350 of them will stay in Dickinson College dorms. When they aren’t dancing, they can be seen throughout downtown Carlisle.
“They swarm the town, so to speak,” Wood said.
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is a classical ballet training school and non-profit organization that has existed for 64 years. The summer program has taken place for about 35 years. During the course of the students’ five-week stay, CPYB CEO Nicholas Ade estimates the students will inject $2.3 million into the local economy.
That amount isn’t specific to Carlisle. It includes events throughout central Pennsylvania, like field trips to Hersheypark and the Whitaker Center. It also factors in hotel stays, meals and local retail shopping.
Still, no matter how you slice the numbers, the program is a boost to Carlisle’s stores and hospitality industry, according to Downtown Carlisle Association Executive Director Glenn White.
“I do know we would notice a difference if (the) CPYB summer program was not here,” White said in an email.
White said all of Carlisle’s major assets, including CPYB, Dickinson College, Penn State Dickinson Law, Carlisle Events car shows and the U.S. Army War College, help to protect the town’s business economy from downturns.
The five-week program is open to students as young as 6, although students have to be 11 to stay in the dorms. There are students from 43 states and eight countries in 2019. The students pay $5,600, including room and board, to attend the program.
While the students have a demanding dance schedule from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. during weekdays, they frequent downtown shops and restaurants during lunch and dinner breaks, nights and weekends, Ade said. Parents also often visit their kids over the weekends and stay in local hotels.
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Wood said the business he receives from the summer program helps his bookstore “tremendously.” He has employed students to work at Whistlestop Bookshop.
Other businesses like Leo’s Homemade Ice Cream rely on such a high customer volume that the students don’t make a huge impact on the bottom line, according to owner Tom Leo. But even so, they are happy to have them.
“We love the ballerinas,” said Catlin Harral, front-of-house manager for Helena’s Chocolate Cafe & Creperie. “They are always really nice and they’re great to have in here.”
Student favorites at Helena’s include the crepes and macaroons, she said.
During meal times, it isn’t unusual for Grazery owner Maria Ntzanis to see families or groups of kids visit her restaurant. She posted a sign at the entrance welcoming CPYB students, and said they are helpful to her business.
“They go to a lot of places downtown here,” Ntzanis said.
Although the students help Carlisle’s downtown economy, the relationship works both ways. The region’s opportunities and “close-knit community” aid in recruiting students to attend the program, said Ade, who moved here with his family from Seattle in 2012.
“We feel more deeply rooted here in central Pennsylvania than we ever did in Seattle,” he said.
Recruiting students for the summer program is important to CPYB, since the program is the largest revenue generator in CPYB’s annual budget.
Carlisle also makes an impression on many of the families of students, Ade said. About 40 percent of their 300 academic-year students got their first taste of Carlisle in the summer program.
“They fall in love with the community,” he said.