Saving Grace: Books-A-Million as a New Anchor for the Susquehanna Valley Mall
The life and culture that Books-A-Million provides appears uncharacteristic for the mall in which it resides. While other vendors in the Susquehanna Valley Mall of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania seem to host few enthusiastic customers or sit vacant all together, this Books-A-Million stands out with its huge displays of literature and merchandise. Older folks wander its aisles and take a liking to the more classical selections it houses, while teens and young adults peruse the lines of comic book, movie, and novella merchandise in hopes of finding some sort of memorabilia for their favorite stories. People of all ages, backgrounds, and interests are drawn into the Books-A-Million because of all it has to offer to ordinary mall patrons and book fanatics alike: giving the slowly declining Susquehanna Valley Mall a hopeful light… but has it always been this way? How did this Books-A-Million become a sort of saving grace for this Central Pennsylvania shopping mall?
In order to see the true importance of this Books-A-Million, we must first understand the nature of the place in which it resides. The Susquehanna Valley Mall was opened in 1978, anchored by a Boscov’s that still operates in the establishment today. The Boscov’s bustled with business, giving perfect leverage for a shopping mall to enter the same area. The mall attracted business with two main anchors, Boscov’s and Bon-Ton, and 400,000 square-feet of retail vendors and food destinations. 20 years later, the mall expanded to include J.C. Penney’s and Sears as two more anchors and other stores full of commercial diversity. This mall was the biggest commercial success the Susquehanna Valley had ever seen, and thrived as such for almost another 15 years after this expansion (Revolvy).
A place for booklovers in the Susquehanna Valley Mall didn’t come about until the mall’s expansion, however; a Borders opened its doors around the early 2000’s. The mall’s expansion allowed more of a diverse selection of vendors, making a perfect destination for a chain bookstore such as Borders to plant its roots (Purscell). Borders, a national bookstore chain that expanded from Waldenbooks in the early 1970’s, moved into the Susquehanna Valley Mall around 1998-2000 and operated in exactly the same spot that the Books-A-Million sits today. Borders, due to its similar structure to the Books-A-Million chain, served almost the same purpose of providing a diverse source of entertainment and literature for the greater Susqueha-
nna Valley area. Although there is little information I can find about the success of this particular Borders chain in the Susquehanna Valley Mall, it is quite obvious that its ending did not come about in as positive of a light as its beginnings.
The Borders of the Susquehanna Valley Mall, and all other Borders chains in the United States, closed their doors due to bankruptcy in early 2011, leaving readers with no home in this quaint shopping mall. Unfortunately, the entirety of the Susquehanna Valley Mall was heading in the same direction just a short time after. By 2015, the Susquehanna Valley Mall had hit an economic downturn it had never experienced before. The major anchors of the mall, such as Sears and Bon-Ton, closed their doors and took with them much of the mall’s business. Not only that, but smaller retailers failed to keep their doors open due to a lessened influx of customers, leaving a large amount of vacancy in the heart of the mall. To this day, the mall still suffers and holds about 25 vacant spaces unable to be filled by promising retailers.
Considering the economic turmoil of this quaint shopping mall, its hard to imagine having such a successful book retailer operating behind its doors. While over half of the vendors sit untouched by consumers and others slowly lose stability, Books-A-Million continues to provide for the greater Susquehanna Valley’s literary community. To me, it seems as if the deterioration of its neighbors aided in its own success.
The Books-A-Million in the Susquehanna Valley Mall opened on October 28th, 2011, just a few short months after the Borders closed its doors. The announcement of a new book and entertainment hub in the mall excited loyal customers, for the vacancy of the Borders was a painful jab to an already vulnerable commercial area; customers who had begun to lose hope by the emptying of valuable businesses in the mall now had a worthwhile reason to return (Book Store Opens). Although there is little allusion as to why this Books-A-Million was chosen to replace the Borders that came before it, the fact that it did alone has brought a positive light to this dying shopping mall.
I do have to admit that when visiting this Books-A-Million in the middle of a Friday afternoon, I saw few unique factors that would have made the store shine the way it does. Having grown up outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which offers hundreds of similar chain retailers to those that are offered in the greater Susquehanna Valley, I walked into this Books-A-Million and saw an identical store to the Books-A-Million I went to back home. It’s eye-catching displays, wide selection of novels, and aesthetically pleasing stationary were all things I had seen before, and I dismissed them from being unique or worthy of my attention immediately. It wasn’t until I did a bit of online snooping that the significance of this little chain became clear to me.
This Books-A-Million is not just your ordinary bookstore; it’s a beating heart of culture and literary engagement in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Not only does this Books-A-Million provide classic and popular literature for its patrons, but it also hosts engaging activities for young readers, features worthwhile items that it wants its customers to investigate, hosts family-friendly events, and even has had a few authors come in to talk about their work. Books-A-Million runs a Facebook page that advertises these exciting opportunities for literary exploration, so that booklovers are informed and can communicate with one another about different aspects of the store. It was through this social media platform that I was finally able to observe the kind of cultural landmark this Books-A-Million creates for the greater Susquehanna Valley. Not only is this Books-A-Million a place for the reader, but it’s a place for family and community.
Books-A-Million is not just a simple bookstore that mall patrons pass by on their way to their favorite clothing retailer or the Cinnabon down the hall: it is a locale for every type of booklover. Tim Cresswell, human geographer and scholar, says that place is not just a simple location on a map, but a “way of seeing, knowing, and understanding the world,” (Place: A Short). Books-A-Million is a place for every type of reader, regardless of background or identity, to fall in love with literature and understand its importance. It opens its doors to the greater Susquehanna Valley in ways that promote community, exploration, entertainment, and creativity for all people. Although you may enter this Books-A-Million and see it as just a place to pick up the book you’ve been dying to read, or even just another ordinary vendor in a shabby shopping mall, it has the potential to be so much more and has proven itself as such so far. Books-A-Million is that not-so-conventional bookstore that communities such as the greater Susquehanna Valley need in order to keep literature alive.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction.
Books-A-Million. Books-A-Million Storefront. Facebook, www.facebook.com/Books-A-Million-386640151734113/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
News Radio 1070 WKOK. Susquehanna Valley Mall. 6 Feb. 2019. News Radio 1070, www.wkok.com/susquehanna-valley-mall-not-being-sold/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
WNEP News Station. Anchors Away. Digital file.
Web sites, e-sources
Book Store Opens Friday. The Daily Item, 26 Oct. 2011, www.dailyitem.com/b-briefs/article_f80cf1c9-116d-5a41-8e77-566c52e5c0ef.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
Purscell, Tricia. “Susquehanna Valley Mall: Under One Roof for 30 Years.” The Daily Item, 22 Nov. 2008, archive.fo/20140204020957/http://www.dailyitem.com/0100_news/x691306146/Susquehanna-Valley-Mall-Under-one-roof-for-30-years. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
Revolvy. “Susquehanna Valley Mall.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Susquehanna-Valley-Mall?stype=folders. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.
WNEP News Station. “Shoppers Concerned as Anchor Stores Close in Local Malls.” WNEP The News Station, wnep.com/2017/01/05/shoppers-concerned-as-anchor-stores-close-in-local-malls/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.