Rearview Memories of BAM
When I have the chance to walk into the Susquehanna Valley Mall, I can’t help but to stop and take a moment to think. During this moment in time I see my past self walk through a crowded mall. I see countless people flooding in and out of bright and exciting stores. As I come back to reality and compare my own historical memories to the reality I am faced with now, I see the opposite. Now I stand almost alone in a mall that feels gloomy and filled with vacant space. Now people walk through as if there is a rush to get into the mall and get back out, because nobody wants to stick around in a place that feels so empty. In reading ‘Defining Place’ by Tim Cresswell, he states, “The museum is an attempt to produce a “place of memory…”(4-5) . In this reading Cresswell further explains what he means by the word place meaning a a mere memory. I can relate to this as the I feel as though the history of this Books-A-Million is my own “place of memory”. Both now and in this distant memory I find myself standing in front of a bookstore. The difference is, as a child I stand in front of a Walden books. Today I stand in front of Books-A-Million asking myself how it all came to be.
Books-A-Million better known as BAM is a corporate chain bookstore that was founded in 1917 by fourteen year old Clyde Anderson. BAM originally made its first appearance in Florence Alabama. The bookstore has grown exponentially as a company in the past one hundred plus years. Today Books-A-Million is a store that many are familiar with and have had the chance to visit. This does not come as a surprise seeing as though the bookstore chain has 260 locations within thirty two states. Because of the amount of stores BAM has, it is the second largest bookstore chain in the United States. When I think about how large of a chain Books-A-Million has grown to be, I cannot help but to think about how hard it is to imagine that one of these 260 stores is located in a small cozy town of Selinsgrove. As I think back to the memories I have of the space BAM now occupies in the Susquehanna Valley Mall, I wonder how such a large chain has stayed in place in a small town mall that seems to be on the downslide.
The Susquehanna Valley mall, the current home of the Selinsgrove Books-A-Million opened during the year of 1978. Though Books-A-Million was not one of the original stores that was in this mall, it serves as a window into the past of how Books-A-Million found its home here in 2011. When BAM had taken over the bookstore that preceded it, was not a takeover of stores that came as shocking to consumers. The Books-A-Million chain was beginning to take over many bookstores that were closing during this time. It was also a change that was physically easy seeing as the store that BAM bookstore was taking over was also previously a bookstore. It was almost as if this space within the Susquehanna Valley mall was created to remain a bookstore.
Walking through the Susquehanna Valley mall today I find BAM in the place where I used
to find Waldenbooks. A smaller branch of larger corporate store Borders. I think about how the space has changed. I urge myself to spot differences. But, as my memories become blurry, I fail to spot the differences between a space that was and is home to the two bookstores. To me, Waldenbooks seemed to be a bit more low-key. Though it was also a chain bookstore as opposed to an independent bookstore, I felt there was more of a traditional bookstore feel. You could walk in and see books and feel as though you were in the right place if you were in search for a new read. Though my memories of this store could be changing over time, I feel I could remember the lighting being a little less fluorescent. I also can remember walking into the bookstore and finding primarily an assortment of books. Today you can find that more than half of the bookstore is trinkets and toys. My memory and the history of how BAM came to be, causes me to long for the time where this bookstore was focused on selling books. My memories lead to Waldenbooks because for as long as I can remember, Waldenbooks was seated in a corner spot of our small mall. In 2011 Boarders announced they would be closing their smaller mall chain stores, and later that year in October, Books-A-Million replaced Waldenbooks in the Susquehanna Valley Mall. It has been there ever since despite the closings of countless stores surrounding it. I can’t help but to wonder how it still stands strong among stores that seem to be on the downfall.
In the past it seemed that the mall bookstore was the place to buy books. From the opening of the mall in 1978 until the year of 2011, book buyers were able to come to the same spot in the Selinsgrove mall to buy books. Later in 2011, The bookstore name was changed but its identity of a bookstore remained stable. Luckily this move was not one that would leave a long lasting open space as in the future business closings in the mall. In ‘A Global Sense of Place’, by Tim Cresswell, Cresswell states, “The ‘permanence’ of place is a form of investment and fixity”. (58) I feel that this route from the reading really emphasizes the history of where BAM came from when entering the Susquehanna Valley mall. in other terms, BAM was a good investment when entering the mall because of its “fixity”. The store was previously a bookstore before BAM, it was not a surprise it became a seemingly permanent fixture. There are many reasons this also holds true. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the Susquehanna Valley mall was a meeting point that drew crowds in from each surrounding town. People from towns such as Lewisburg, Danville, Middleburg, and many more could be found at the very mall where the former Waldenbooks and the current Books-A-Million bookstore can be found.
Because of the small nature of our mall and the lack of consumers that visit the Susquehanna mall today, there are not a plethora of chances for our mall to host things such as books signings, guest visits, or other events in its past that make the small store stand out. Books-A-Million as a company puts together many different crowd drawing events that increase sales and consumers. These events are held in Books-A-Million stores that are in more populated areas. So, in the history of our Selinsgrove Area Books-A-Million we have had very few guest author visits and book signings. Growing up and visiting this mall often, I can not recall any personal experiences with Books-A-Million and book signings.
Overall my past experiences with this mall lead to a memory of a bookstore that many may overlook. However, my distant memories are flooded with wonder about how such a thriving corporate bookstore can continue to stay standing in a mall that is withering away store by store year by year. The history of Books-A-Million is one that exudes hope for the future as a company. But as for the BAM store I know and love, I prefer to think about it in my rearview memory: The full and thriving store that people from all surrounding towns come to visit and find the literature they love.
N.d. Time Graphics. Web. 26 Feb. 2019. <https://time.graphics/line/233654>
Cresswell, Tim. Reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.