P-town, as Portland is regularly referred to by the innumerable fearless hipsters riding their “fixies” haphazardly in and out of traffic is the home of the country’s most unique bookstore: Powell’s City of Books.
What makes it the City of Books unique is not only that it is one of the sole remaining independent bookstore chains in the United States but that it is, in fact, ACTUALLY the size of a city. At 68,000 square feet, it is one of the largest bookstores in the country and has been tremendously successful, including being one of the first bookstores in the country to sell books online (in 1993).
To understand Powell’s City of Books, you must understand Portland, which at its core is a locavore’s town – a town focused entirely on the local business, local food and independents. Sure, Portlanders love the occasional non-fat soy lattes from Starbucks, but that’s just so they can ironically mock their purchase later. These citizens pride themselves on their support of the small businessman (and businesswoman), as evidenced by the fact that they purportedly have more brew pubs than any other city in the country, many locally owned and operated.
The store sells both used and new books side by side, constantly buying new books to add to their collection – a great feature for the budget-minded looking for a discount, as well as the book lover looking for a novel in pristine condition. At home, we spend hours walking the aisles of our favorite bookstores, and we loved this aspect of Powell’s. Of course, Powell’s also has a large selection of rare books on sale, a source of pride for the founders – father and son team Michael and Walter – who each cut their teeth separately in the used and rare book game before joining forces in 1979.
There are so many color coded rooms with books spanning from floor to ceiling, that we had to ask for help several times but in each room there’s a nice, attentive (and appropriately Portlandia-clad) clerk there to guide you to the bathroom or to help find the book for which you’re searching.
When we first arrived, we immediately found the $1 shelves and perused the discounted books. Then Kimmer reviewed the travel titles while I checked out the biography section. Luckily maps are hung throughout the building to guide you to your next destination in the store. Once we had picked a few books, we grabbed a cup of coffee in their café and “previewed” our books, careful not to spill anything. After a few pages, we’d made our decision, restocked our books in the convenient restocking bin and headed to the cashier.
We appreciate my cousin Kate, reminding us of Powell’s, and now we have some great reading materials for the next couple of weeks. For more information, or to order books online, click here.