It’s one of those places you cannot help to include in the list of what to see in Portland.
And not only because you find it in every guidebook: it’s indissolubly tied to the name of the city hosting it and it does look impressive saying to have been there, even if for only 5 minutes, right the time to take a photo.
The Powell’s City of Books is the greatest (and most famous) independent bookstore in the world and it embodies the soul, the thoughts – a sort of ideal interpretation of the city – and the most authentic spirit of Portland.
That spirit which allowed the whole local community to survive during the difficult times of crisis spreading the concept of the local purchase, encouraging people to purchase and so sustain – through meetings, events and alternative projects – the local commercial activities.
That spirit which gave the start to civil campaigns for the rights of each individual, which opened the doors to the “one who is different” making it almost always an integral part, which stimulated the free thought, the desire of knowledge and the unavoidably passion (almost a need that cannot be given up) for reading.
That spirit – like Walter Powell, the bookstores’ founder, wanted to specify – that makes the Powell’s Books:
“the world’s best destination for readers,
a place that fosters a culture of reading and connects people with the books they’ll love.”
What to see in Portland: history and anecdotes about the Powell’s City of Books
The Powell’s City of Books was born in Portland in 1971 by the mind and passion of a retired entrepreneur, Walter Powell.
The previous year his son, Michael Powell, a student at the Chicago University, opened his first bookstore of used books with a 3000$ student loan, then given back within two months thanks to the success got by Michael and his father Walter, who in the meantime had reached him in Chicago to help him in his new activity.
Walter came back to Portland so enthusiastic of his experience with his son that he decided to open in his city a one-of-a-kind and special bookstore: a place dedicated to the spread of culture, the experiences and sharing, where everyone – of any social class – could promote and tell about one’s own literary works or have the chance to gain access to the texts necessary to one’s formation and interest.
After have obtained every kind of used books he bought an old car dealer in Northwest Burnside and in a few years made it in a few years – also thanks to Michael’s help who came back definitively in Portland 4 years later – the Powell’s City of Books, the largest and most famous independent bookstore in America first and in the world then.
What to see in Portland: Powell’s City of Books, impressions, locations and tips for the tour
Today the Powell’s Book group purchases over 3000 used books a days, organizes 500 author events a year and an imprecise number of meetings for the book club, writing workshop, reunions with independent authors and events that very often go beyond the books themselves.
It counts over 5000 employees, 3500 sections related to the most various subjects and even 5 locations in the Portland area.
The Powell’s Books on Hawthorne at 3723 SE, Hawthorne Blvd; the Powell’s Books for Home and Garden at 3747 SE, Hawthorne Blvd; the store inside the Portland Int. Airport and the Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing at 3415 SW, Cedar Hills Blvd in Beaverton.
The first one, the former car dealer purchased by Walter in 1971 is the Powell’s City of Books – the original site widened over years, today occupying a space of about 6500square meters – is located at 1005, Burninside Street: it’s the place that more than all I feel to recommend among the many suggestions and cues to offer about what to see in Portland.
How to enter a world apart where to get lost among the bookshelves looking for the most local and unusual info about Portland and Oregon, combing through the favourite authors and their characters, browsing in the most unexpected and unusual sections, chatting about readings and interests with the very helpful employees, as fond as their customers.
Drinking – why not? – a hot and very good (first try and then trust) – espresso or American at the Espresso Book Machine, together with the most beautiful and exciting pages by Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Faulkner and really many other ones.
Because, as Emily Powell – Michael’s daughter, who runs proudly and with love the activity created by Walter – says:
“My grandfather taught me our job is to connect the writer’s voice with the reader’s ear and not let our egos get in between.
My father taught me not only the love of the book itself, but also how to love the business of bookselling.”