Photos courtesy of the Moose Exchange
Bowling and the pinsetting machines
An event in the Grille Room

Moose Exchange

November, 2012

Each month our e-newsletter features a local or regional business that calls the Susquehanna home. Learn more about how they are helping to reinvest in our river towns, encourage revitalization, and further local economic development.

Video production in the ballroom, arts on the grand staircase, movies in the bar, and bowling the basement – The Moose Exchange in downtown Bloomsburg is a bustling hub for community activities on any given day. The Exchange is just two years old but took a decade in the making. The unique name is descriptive of the building’s history, as well as its give-and-take vision that involved many people, ideas, and the foresight of one local intent on saving and restoring a unique old building.

The big brick building opened in 1950 as the original home to the Bloomsburg Lodge of the Loyal Order of Moose, and was truly designed for gathering and entertaining. A ballroom with soring ceilings, a Grille Room with an almost endless solid wooden bar right out of an Art Deco handbook, and bowling alleys featuring American Machine and Foundry pinsetting machines and manual scoring in the basement.  Without a doubt, a step into the Moose Exchange is even better than an episode of “Mad Men” for those looking for a vintage experience. 

When the Moose vacated in 1999, the building was purchased by concerned resident Drue Magee. Drue is the granddaughter of Harry L. Magee, the original owner of the local Magee Carpet Company. “She certainly inherited a love of history from her grandfather who operated two local museums until Hurricane Agnes caused them to close,” says Oren Helbock, Executive Director of the Moose Exchange.

Drue held onto the building for ten years with no certain future for it until 2009 when the town lost the Bloomsburg Mills business. This closure signaled to Drue that a community space was sorely needed and inspired her to recruit local volunteers interested in a similar vision for the old Lodge. “The building itself was such an exciting, and unique space, but we wondered what to do wtih it", explains Helbock. "One idea was to rip out the bowling alley and rent the basement as office space to finance whatever art or community activities would happen upstairs,” says Helbock. “But those old alleys and the pinsetting machines were a direct connection to the history of Bloomsburg and the residents who had played there, and in the end they were saved.”  

The building opened to the public when it hosted the 2010 ArtWalkIn, an event featuring the work of local artists. “We had over 800 people walk through and the energy for the project was huge that night,” says Helbock. “We had opened our doors, but it wasn’t clear to what.  We were still wondering how this space could function for the community.”  The situation began to mollify itself, as impressed artists and locals approached Helbock that evening to book studio, office, and creative space.

“Our foot traffic has grown every year, along with our tenants and programs,” reports Helbock. The Moose Exchange now hosts drawing, painting, and other public art studios, a record and hat store, a comic shop, and the private studios of many artists. The second floor ballroom is home classes in filmmaking, as well as offices including the delicious Columbia County Bread & Granola Company. The grand staircase has been named the Stairwell Gallery and hosts an ever-changing arrangement of art. You can often catch a movie or fundraising banquet in the Grille Room, and yes, there is public bowling in the basement for just $5. 

“We’re operating in the black, we have full studios, we have a successful farmers market, and we’ve even hosted five weddings, some in the bowling alley,” exclaims Helbock. The Exchange is always striving to be a better resource for and reflection of the community. This was never more apparent than after Tropical Storm Irene caused extensive flooding in Bloomsburg in 2011. “We donated the Grille Room space to the community relief group AGAPE and they staged it as a space for toddler and children’s emergency supplies. The room was packed with supplies and for six weeks it was visited by over 200 families. It was important for us to donate that space to a community cause because we want to be a good resource,” states Helbock.  “I hope we never again have to do that, but if the situation arises we certainly will.”

For a calendar of events, and to learn more about the Moose Exchange, visit their website at www.mooseexchange.org.

Visit the Moose Exchange at 203 West Main Street in Bloomsburg.