Books, A Million.. But For Who?
Throughout the country there is a corporate bookstore known as Books A Million that has locations scattered across in common sense places such as large shopping centers like the Crossings, the Lehigh Valley Mall near where I live myself, in towns where they can be the college bookstore. But in our case, they’re inside a quiet and failing strip mall along a major highway for those who happen upon its presence by accident, or in some cases on purpose. Besides stumbling upon this bookstore within the twists and turns of the mall, along the highway provides some pretty decent entertainment as well, whether it large superstores like Walmart or several locations to stop and enjoy some quality food such as Applebee’s. Overall, there is a unique neighborhood both within and outside of the mall that contains Books A Million.
Once inside the mall, usually through an entrance of one of the major stores (the few that are left) such as Boscov’s, it will seem like the mall is filled with an unsettling silence and an eerie vibe that you can’t shake as you wonder through the almost desolate halls of the big brand stores. Eventually you find your way to the heart of the mall where a random selection of stores is strewn about the halls, those that are major players and those that will most likely only be around for a holiday or two. Towards the end of the major middle hallway, where the seasonal decorations are usually placed to attract anyone it can, Books A Million lies at the end, now the second to last store besides a new escape room attraction, one that nobody knows when it set up shop there. With the mall being an eerie quiet on a Wednesday afternoon, it makes you wonder how any of these stores stay afloat in the dark and murky waters of capitalism. The bookstore especially, as it relies entirely on those who like to read, and college students.
Even when faced against stacking odds, the bookstore manages to thrive. In my opinion, this is because of a few select events that occur every so often, ones that give the store an income boost they need to stay there, almost like an allowance. Being just outside a college town, the mall is an exciting place to spend your day when you’re a young and enthusiastic high school student who is taking a look at Susquehanna University as a possible college career. The second, for those who are already at college in the area, when parents weekend rolls around the mall is usually the traditional place to visit so you can get some new clothes or even a few books, courtesy of your parents.
In the borough of Selinsgrove the population mostly consists of people from the ages 20-24, that being about an entire fifth of the total population, according to the American Census Bureau. This is because the small town along a major road is now a small college town with select attractions for those who go here, or are simply passing by. So even though the major sense of place here is a small and somewhat thriving college town, the mall has an entirely different sense of place, one that can be kind of confusing to understand.
Within the mall by the bookstore are those other small but major players I mentioned earlier, ones like Gamestop, FYE, Spencer’s, etc. These are probably the stores that appeal most to the age demographic within this area, so of course they’ll do well and stay in the mall. But there are of course stores that appeal to older demographics as well, and I feel this in part because not only is it more opportunity for money, but simply because when the parents take their kids to the mall, they need something to catch their eye as well. Books A Million in this case, is a store that fits two different kinds of “place” at once, one that appeals to the college demographic, as well at those who are older, so it pulls off an extremely unique kind of “place”, one where it encompasses a much larger community than most “places” do. Based on Laura Miller’s study on book selling, BAM has simply found the right environment to sell books in (40), one that has both young and old readers, providing to the largest population possible despite the consistent emptiness of the mall and the bustling area outside of the mall.
google maps: Susquehanna Valley mall general surroundings
Susquehanna Valley Mall Directory, https://www.mallscenters.com/malls/pennsylvania/susquehanna-valley-mall
Age by Nativity, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/selinsgrove-pa/#demographics
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.