Corporate Past Times: Enter Books-A-Million
When I had first walked into the Susquehanna Valley Mall, I couldn’t hide my surprise that a mall still had a bookstore. In Horseheads, New York, where I grew up, the only bookstore in the Arnot mall had been Waldenbooks, and it had closed in the early 2000’s. I’d believed that malls weren’t allowed to have nice things, and therefore would no longer have a bookstore. Yet, at that moment I had stood before a bright, clearly well-organized Books-A-Million in an almost vacant mall. How did such a large corporate chain store migrate into such a tight-knit, supportive area like Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania?
In 1917, a 14-year-old Clyde W. Anderson opened a newsstand in Florence, Alabama after he overheard the complaints of workers being unable to buy their hometown newspapers. Within a few years, Clyde W. had enough money to open his own bookshop. Fast forward over thirty-years later, his son, Charles C. Anderson, inherits the bookshop and expands it into a chain called Bookland. In the 1970’s, Bookland’s began to blossom in shopping mall throughout America. However, despite the Susquehanna Valley Mall opening in 1978, their paths would have to wait to cross until 1992, when Bookland opened a second superstore and gave it the name Books-A-Million. Over the next twenty-years, Books-A-Million (BAM!) would continue to expand until the bookstore finally crossed paths a second time with the Susquehanna Valley Mall.
In October of 2011, a few months after Waldenbooks had closed, Books-A-Million had taken over the location, or the place, of the fallen bookstore. On a corporate level, BAM’s expansion into the mall had been for capital reasons. Without the threat of another commercial chain bookstore, there wouldn’t be much competition for Books-A-Million on a corporate level. In ‘A Global Sense of Place’ by Tim Cresswell, Cresswell pointed out that a place that is only interested in making a profit can effect that area’s sense of self (58-59). While I may not have been raised in or around Selinsgrove, I have noticed that at the mention of “Waldenbooks”, those who lived in the area at that time became nostalgic and thought about the times when the mall had been full of life. The placement of Books-A-Million seemed to make the community more aware of what they had once valued. The community’s emotional attachment to Waldenbooks, this sense of familiarity for everyone (Cresswell 7-8), had created a place that is now built on nostalgic connections.
From an outside perspective, there appears to be a lack of emotional attachment to Books-A-Million within the community. With multiple locally owned and operated bookstores throughout the area, such as D.J. Ernst, there doesn’t seem to be a need nor care for the corporate store. The lack of connection may be an outcome of how the customer and bookseller relationship has changed throughout the years. An independent bookstore like D.J. Ernst’s has a much different atmosphere than Books-A-Million. While I’ve only been there once, from what I’ve heard from my classmates and professors, D.J. Ernst’s forms a connection with his customers through conversations and book recommendations, as well as a welcoming atmosphere of the home-like layout of
To contrast, Books-A-Million has an overall more corporate, yet unintimidating feel to the layout and employees that are more like sales clerks. In ‘Reluctant Capitalists’ by Laura Miller, chain bookstores don’t want their booksellers to interfere with the consumers joy, and they want employees that are more like sales clerks or cashier (61). From my limited experiences in Books-A-Million, and other chain bookstores, I agree with Miller that there is difference between a sales clerk and a didactic bookseller. However, everyone has their own preference about what booksellers should do. Some people prefer to be left alone to browse and shop, while others would like book recommendations or assistance while they browse around. Everyone has their own views.
The community’s indifference towards Books-A-Million could be looked at in an obvious way. Selinsgrove’s population consists of mainly white residence of 50 years or older and college students (18-25). At this point, everyone has at least seen one chain bookstore in their lifetime. The thing about chain bookstores is that they all roughly carry the same products. In the article ‘Bookstores, Communist and Capitalists’ by Jack Perry, Perry pointed out that corporate bookstores have a “sameness” about them such as the model, layout, and genres (110).
If you compared the image of Waldenbooks and Books-A-Million in this blog post, do you notice any similarities? A few similarities are both chains have book displays out front, and at first glance the insides look organized in the same manner (albeit, Books-A-Million took over the space from Waldenbooks).
Nevertheless, chain bookstores tend to follow and sell the new and anticipated releases, which are mainly those on the New York Times Bestseller list. Once you’ve seen on chain store, you’ve seen them all.
Despite the sameness, Books-A-Million remains one of the last few staples in the Susquehanna Valley Mall by means of community and accessibility. Books-A-Million does have their own website and Facebook page that alerts the community to any new events or deals that the store will host or take part in. There is no doubt that with a tight-knit, family-oriented area like Selinsgrove, that those in the community would happily take part in an event.
The question still remains: why did Books-A-Million expand into the Susquehanna Valley Mall? This Books-A-Million has resided in the mall for roughly eight years, yet there has been no huge event that has taken place. Yet the location of the mall is ideal: it’s across from a Walmart Supercenter, the neighborhood thrums with Selinsgrove residents, which also includes roughly Susquehanna University undergraduate students and any parents or relatives that may visit throughout the year. Add in the additional bonus of a highway that connects other neighborhoods included Sunbury, Lewisburg, and as far as Harrisburg. In a corporate perspective, the location is great.
But in terms of “place” as a community and for the people, I find it interesting that Books-A-Million hasn’t tried to do something in and for college town. It is no secret that the Susquehanna Valley Mall has been on a decline with multiple business closing (Sears, J.C. Penny, etc.) within the last few years. With Susquehanna University less than ten minutes away, there are plenty of opportunities for readings, club events, and book signings. These are just a few ways to try to help bring life into the fading mall.
Selinsgrove is full of hope. I’m not from Selinsgrove or any of the surrounding areas, but I come from a similar area where stores are closing, and community landmarks are being torn down or sold. Books-A-Million has the potential to be so much more; the light that brings people together. Bookstores are important parts of the culture. When music businesses started to disappear, so did the music stores. Personally, I’m not a fan of large corporate stores. However, I think it’s important to still have a physical bookstore for people to explore and learn in. Nowadays with everything online, we get so used to looking at a screen and ordering that we forget how to interact with our community. Books-A-Million, and other bookstores whether they are in a chain or independent, are vibrant parts of the culture that help us experience new things; to read, to educate ourselves and others, to form connections and to interact with others are examples of why a physical bookstore is important. Books-A-Million has lasted eight years in a declining mall. Yet the bookstore still stands. That fact alone holds enough hope that somehow, someway, the mall will continue to survive.
Books-A-Million, website. https://www.booksamillion.com/
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