As I walk through the doors, I smell heaven in the form of book glue and musty pages. I have just returned to Powell’s Books main store, located on the corner of 10th and Burnside in Portland, Oregon. I have always said that all I needed was a bed and I would be content spending the rest of my days here. (And oddly, though it’s not my style, I always picture that bed to be an antique wrought iron style.)
They even have coffee! I’d be set!
Powell’s City of Books indeed feels like a literary metropolis. Though they now have multiple locations, and you are guaranteed to find good books at any of them, it is the downtown flagship store that I talk about when I say I’m entering heaven. This place is quintessential Portland, before the city became hipster and trendy. It occupied the Pearl before the Pearl was a hip and happening place. It’s a place of quiet browsing for standard or oddball titles, where used books and new books commingle. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the selection of over a million new and used books, the staff has recommendations handwritten on cardstock hanging from the shelves. They even highlight local authors! I’ve been happily surprised by many new titles that I may not have ever known about thanks to these shelf tags.
Wandering around the store, you will find staggered floors reminiscent of something out of Harry Potter, color coded to subject matter. You may get dizzyingly lost, but there are color coded signs hanging from the ceilings as well
to point you in the right direction. Need a rare book? Powell’s might have it in their rare book room, an enclosed space that is open on the weekends or by appointment, but be sure to leave food and drink outside. Personally, I have never entered the rare book room, but I love that it’s there. Maybe on my next trip I will peruse its shelves.
My family hates to go to Powell’s with me. Don’t get me wrong, they like the store, but they are not all readers, and even the most avid bibliophile among them doesn’t love books the way I love books. They enter with a bit of excitement mixed with groans. They know they will find things to interest them, (Powells boasts an interesting display of gift items in addition to the books) but they know once we enter the doors, I will get lost in the shelves for hours. I usually don’t have to worry about the meter, though. Validated parking is always free because I never leave the store empty-handed (though I prefer to take my tiny Soul into the closet of a parking garage).
Powell’s ranks number one on Tripadvisor for shopping in Portland, above the Portland Farmer’s Market and Saturday Market, both of which are iconic local experiences. I guess that means I’m not alone in my love of this place. And for you authors out there looking to self-publish, head on up to the Espresso Book Machine. I might have to make use of this someday.
If you love books and are ever in Portland, check this place out. I frequent book stores, and I’ve never seen anything that comes close to Powell’s. Have you?