The historic building is still standing and has kept its original function. Between Place Clairefontaine and Place Guillaume II, at the corner of rue du Fossé, the Ernster Bookshop welcomes, on five storeys, book lovers, literature buffs, adepts of fine written works. It was in this same place that nearly 130 years ago, in 1889, Peter Ernster, a former schoolteacher, decided to open a bookshop and stationers. He sold school books he designed himself, co-edited with Victor Buck and Edouard Nimax, but also hand-sewn notebooks made by family members from loose sheets.
In the early 1920s, Ferdinand, Peter’s son, succeeded him. With his wife Claire, he took over as head of this small family business whose offer was expanding gradually. When in 1939 Ferdinand died, it was naturally Claire who ran the shop and allowed her to somehow get through the turmoil of the Second World War.
The German occupiers forbade the sale of books in French and forced all shops to put the portrait of Hitler in the window. This was done, but not without a certain touch of irony: by posing a cactus at the foot of the photo and complementing the composition with a German edition of Dostoevsky’s ‘The idiot’…
In August 1944, a few weeks before the liberation of the country, Claire and her youngest son, Pierre, then 13, were deported to Wiesbaden, in retaliation for the desertion of her eldest son, Robert, who had refused to enlist by force in the German army. They did not leave until May 1945. The bookstore, however, did not close and continued to exist thanks to the older sister of Ferdinand, Anna, who died shortly after the end of the war.
With the return of better times the bookstore gradually rekindled the business thanks to Claire, who was well supported by her two employees, Maria Clees and Renee Kohn.
In 1953, “little” Pierre had grown up: at the age of 22, he joined the team and succeeded his mother at the head of the bookstore in 1957. He continued the development of the family business, expanding its activity to the sale of school and preschool supplies, then educational material such as overhead projectors and ‘language labs’, not forgetting thermo-copiers and overhead projectors.
After a forced move for two years to a small room (40 m2!) on the Avenue de la Porte-Neuve, in the early 70s, because of renovations, the bookstore resumed its activities at rue du Fossé. In 1982, feeling adventurous Pierre Ernster opened a creative hobbies shopin Howald, but the venture turned out to be unsuccessful.
In 1984, his son, Fernand (then 24), a recent graduate in law and economics, who had spent all his childhood and adolescence surrounded by books and shelves, honoured the promise made to his father and joined the family business, which at that time had about twenty employees.
Between Fernand and his father, things did not always go well, as each had sometimes opposing visions. But in the late 80s, Pierre gives his son free rein to open a brand new bookstore over a vast surface of 400 m2 at the Belle Etoile shopping centre. This was the beginning of a strong move towards geographic and commercial expansion.
From its first year, this second bookstore was profitable and exceeded all its objectives. In addition, its success mirrored the historic store which, also, saw its sales increase by 20%! Pierre Ernster (who would die in 2006), aware that his son’s choices were important, let him gradually take over the reins for the non-stop development of the family business until handing over the management of the business in 1989 to his son.
In 1997, Ernster became the first Luxembourg bookstore to launch e-commerce activities. At the same time, it createed and developed the concept “Erny”, dedicated to young people, installed just in front of its big sister at the Belle Étoile.
Two years later, a third site was opened in another shopping centre, the City Concorde. The network was completed with a small “Erny” opened in the town centre in 2009, a new bookstore in the Cactus in Bascharage in 2013 and an “English Book Store” also in town in 2015.
In June 2018, according to the first brand study made in Luxembourg by KPMG with more than a thousand consumers Ernster came out as the preferred brand of Luxembourgers.
Find more details and anecdotes on the history of the Ernster family in the book “Histoire de Familles“, published by Maison Moderne in collaboration with Banque de Luxembourg: a book that tells the saga of 10 families of entrepreneurs and, through it, paints an original portrait of Luxembourg .