Wednesday, March 7, 2012

City of Books

Good morning friends, & a warm welcome to Rose City Wednesday.

One of my errands today (Wednesday when this is being written) was a trip to the local branch of the Portland Library to pick up a book I’d placed on hold. But this isn’t in fact, a story about the Portland Library system—no, tho I thought I’d begin by explaining why I felt it was so crucial for me to get a library card when I moved here—it was in fact one of the first things I did!  The biggest reason for that—Powell’s Bookstore, or the City of Books.

Now don’t get me wrong: as will become clear in reading this post, I think Powell’s is wonderful. But I moved here with a shoestring budget & not a lot of books; the library card continues to be an insurance against any sort of splurge!

Because Powell’s is really a book lover’s & book buyer’s paradise. Occupying a full city block bordered by W Burnside, NW 11th, NW Couch (pronounced so as to rhyme with “hooch,” not with “ouch”) & NW 10th, the main city of books is located in the westside’s toney Pearl District, & also bordered by the officially designated Downtown area to the west, across Burnside. In the three story building (with a mezzanine level between the first & second floors, you can find over 1,000,000—yes, folks, that million there—books ranging from archeology to zines, both used & new, with a literature section that is almost overwhelming in its inclusiveness.  The store map (which you can view as a pdf here) shows 47 separate sections. As far as used books go: the Burnside Powell’s store purchases 3,000 per day, so there’s a great selection of used as well as new.  There’s also a coffee & tea room on the first floor.

Now that all sounds rather overwhelming, but I've always felt at home in Powell's, whether looking for obscure writers or poets or browsing a generous selection of music literature. However, all those impressive stats are not the end of the Powell’s story, because there are a total of six Powell’s locations in the greater Portland area, including a technical bookstore now located on the corner of NW Couch & 10th, across from the main City of Books.

The other locations that I know well are on Hawthorne Street; Powell’s Books on
Hawthorne is a great bookstore in its own right, large by most standards, & again with a great selection in practically any category you could choose; & there's a coffee shop here too. Two doors down from the bookstore, there’s also a Powell’s Home & Garden shop that sells everything from cookbooks to home décor, & is a lot of fun. It’s where I purchased my Christmas cards this year.  This is not to mention other outlets—which I’ve yet to visitat Cedar Hills Crossing in the western suburb of Beaverton or at Portland Airport.

Powell’s was founded in 1971 by one Walter Powell, who was soon joined in the store by his son, Michael, who is the current owner (tho plans are being made for ownership to pass to Michael’s daughter Emily.) Powell’s City of Books has been at its current location since 1979, & actually at that time, this was rather an edgy neighborhood. As the business grew, it expanded not only to other parts of the city, but also online as well—in fact, Powell’s website  actually pre-dates Amazon! The store was also a charter member of Google’s eBooks service.

Now I’ll admit: Christmas cards are not the only thing I’ve bought at Powell’s since I moved here—after all, I’ve been going to Powell’s since the first time I visited Portland, which I believe was in 1999. Yes, the odd book or three (OK, maybe a half dozen) have entered my small library—all used tho! But I’m also happy to say that my library card has gotten a lot of use.

If you visit Portland, Powell’s City of Books is an absolute must on your itinerary.

The photographs weren't taken not by meguess I've always been too intent on books to bring along a camera on a Powell's visit!  The photos link to their sources, but I've also provided user info from Wiki Commons:

The Portland Streetcar in front of Powell's Books. [NW Couch & 11th] by Wiki Commons user
Cacophony & licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon. [W Burnside & 10th] same user info, same license.
Powell's on Hawthorne: links to the Powell's website


  1. Great post. I've looked at the Powell's bookstore website before and enjoyed it. Your post prompted me to visit it again, and I see that they have a sale on some short story collections. I can understand why you'd get a library card ASAP with so much temptation before you.

    1. Hi HKatz: Thanks! It really was something I did within the first few days of moving! & fortunately Multnomah County Library is a very good system. But yes, Powell's is major temptation indeed!


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