BAM!: Businesses Come and Go, Bookstores Stay and Fight
Established in 1978, the Susquehanna Valley Mall, located in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, offers over 50 stores and services to areas within a 45-mile radius. Located on along the side of the North Susquehanna Trail, and across from a Walmart Supercenter, the mall is in a prime spot for business. The neighborhood thrums with nearly 5,500 Selinsgrove residents, which also includes roughly 2,266 Susquehanna University undergraduate students and any parents or relatives that may visit throughout the year. With the additional bonus of a highway location, other possible neighborhoods included Sunbury, Lewisburg, and as far as Harrisburg.
If you walk around the mall today, you’d probably note the dim lighting, sales that offer between 45-80% off, and empty store lots. You might even wish someone would put the poor place out of its misery. However, like a beacon of sunlight, nestled on the far-left side of the mall, I stood before a vibrant, enthusiastic Books-A-Million.
Above: a map of Selinsgrove’s main attractions. The mall is located behind several restaurants and is across from a Community Aid and Walmart Supercenter. Selinsgrove itself is located ten minutes south of the area.
Even with the advantages of all these locations, I still found myself in an almost empty mall, in front of a BAM! that only had two customers inside: two middle-aged looking men, one with a receding hairline and the other that looked lost. However, after living in Selinsgrove part-time for the past three years, I wasn’t surprised. According to the Population Demographics for Selinsgrove Borough, Pennsylvania in 2019, 2018, the Selinsgrove population consisted of mainly white residence of 50 years or older and college students (18-25).
Despite Miller’s views on bookstores being more convenient and accessible in malls (90), BAM!and many of the other stores continued to lack costumers. An occasional speed walker would pass by without even a glance at the deals or clearance signs. I thought of Cresswell’s fundamentals aspects of “place,” (Defining Place 7). The mall was the perfect location for a bookstore. In fact, BAM! seemed to be the only store that thrived as the culture continued to change. With the display of romance and politics by the windows, BAM! seemed to keep up with the holidays and cultural shifts.
The locale felt out of the way compared to the close-knit houses and red-brick sidewalks of Selinsgrove. Surrounded by food chains and retail, the social atmosphere held strong possibilities of success. So why is the mall so vacant?
I can’t help but wonder about how the culture is affect by the constant flow and change of college students, how the sense of place may fluctuate. According to Cresswell, a sense of place refers to the “emotional attachment” we have to a place and the sense of pride and culture that comes with it (7-8). Could the mall, BAM!, be affected by new people who aren’t used to the connective quilt of Selinsgrove? Even as time goes on the BAM! seems to be the last colorful leg the mall has to stand on.
With multiple locally owned and operated bookstores throughout the area, BAM! has survived since being placed in the mall in 2011. Book lovers continue to browse through the vast array of neatly organized novels, magazines, and comic books. BAM! isn’t just the place for people who like to read. The use of popular cultural icons like Harry Potter products (strategically place by the window), along with YA romance novels and stuffed animals linked to Valentine’s Day, brings a sense of belonging and it’s own culture to a rather diminishing building.
Despite the lackluster of the mall, Books-A-Million continues to keep up with popular cultural trends for young adults, the exact target range for college students, and popular genres for middle-age families. (The main genre looked to be fiction. However, even some of those shelves were bare.)
What’s the future for the mall and BAM! in Selinsgrove? According to the Daily Item, a Women’s Health Care Center is rumored to take the former Sears building. As Books-A-Million began to fade behind me, and more stores crumble, I left wondering if this was the last time I’d be able to call this building a mall.
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