Powell’s is far more than just a bookstore; it’s an essential part of the Portland experience. In a market dominated by the big chains, Powell’s refuses to conform. Powell’s is independently owned and sells new and used books side by side. It offers a huge selection of books while retaining the personal feel of a smaller store.
Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside Portland, OR 97209) is the central location and trust me, the title is apt. The store is enormous – the largest independent bookstore in the world!
Powell’s occupies an entire city block and stands 4 stories high. Inside books are stacked to the ceilings. The store has a spacious coffee shop, and unlike other bookstores they don’t freak out if you like to munch snacks and peruse books simultaneously. On the top floor, you will also find an extensive collection of rare and collectible books. Powell’s also regularly features readings by prominent authors.
In 1970 undergraduate Michael Powell borrowed $3,000 and started his first bookstore in Chicago. He met with almost instant success. Within two months he had repaid the loan. But Michael needed a vacation.
Michael’s father, Walter Powell, came from Portland to help his son with the business. Walter enjoyed book-selling so much that when he returned to Portland a year later, he started his own store. In Portland the business exploded, and in 1979 Michael moved to Portland to join his father.
The business grew rapidly. In 1980 Walter and Michael moved the store to a larger location. A former used car dealership and car repair shop on 10th and Burnside became Powell’s City of Books.
Today Powell’s has seven locations, over a million titles and world-wide acclaim. It’s a favorite spot for Portlanders and a major attraction for those visiting the city [Editor’s Note: If I accidentally wound up locked in a Powell’s I could subsist for days on coffee and print.]
The Powell’s attitude is extremely laid-back. The store is filled with earthy and intellectual types. The employees wear whatever they want, grow any length of hair but all have one thing in common: a passion for books.
There’s almost an anti technology sentiment at Powell’s, and anyone who sneaks noisy cell phones or beepers onto the premises is likely to be tackled. It’s a friendly environment though – just don’t disturb the reading!
People come for the huge selection, but they also like the fact that Powell’s is locally and independently owned. Portlanders take pride in Powell’s because it is something of an anomaly in the industry: a monster bookstore that hasn’t lost that personal touch.
Besides the City of Books main location, Powell’s has six other locations in the Portland area.
Powell’s Technical Books
333 NW Park Avenue, Portland, OR 97209
Powell’s Books for Cooks and Gardeners
3747 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Portland, OR 97214
Powell’s Travel Store
701 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204
Full Service Stores
Powell’s Books at PDX
7000 NE Airport Way Suite 2250, Portland, OR 97218
Powell’s in Beaverton
8725 SW Cascade Avenue, Beaverton, OR 97008
Powell’s on Hawthorne
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Portland, OR 97214
You can also browse and shop online at www.powells.com.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.