There’s a place in Portland that, when mentioned, will light up even the most jaded person’s eyes. That place is Powell’s City of Books.
What I mean when I introduce it this way is that, a lot of times, you go somewhere and the locals roll their eyes at your plans as “so touristy.” Or, you come back from a trip and people ask what you did and your reply is either too niche (you receive a blank stare back) or too common (you get a condescending “how nice” or a list of things you should have done).
Everyone to whom I’ve mentioned Powell’s, however, responds with enthusiasm and reminisces about their recent visit.
The Joy of Physical Books
I’ve recently thrown off the shroud of shame as a book lover who reads on Kindle paperwhite. Getting library books on Kindle is easy and my house is less burdened by cheap impulse paperbacks sitting in piles 10 books high. However, there really is something about the smell of a new book, the smell of a used book, and the many benefits of reading the written word in the traditional way.
Personally, I have never made it out of Powell’s without at least five books. In college I bought a couple hard to find books for French Literature class. Now I pick up a few used titles and almost always a Tintin comic. It’s a tradition I would love to continue on each visit.
Powell’s has 5 locations (including a small outpost in PDX airport) but if you’re coming from out of town, you must visit the main attraction: Their Burnside location, occupying a whole city block, houses over one million books. Have you ever seen a million books in one place?
Powell’s City of Books
As it turns out, you can’t really see one million books in one place. You have to house them in a multi-level warehouse-retail-maze with helpful staff and maps of the store. Each room has a different color, organized by topic. New and used… bestsellers, literature, nonfiction, kids, rare books, cooking, you get the picture. The store remains cohesive thanks to the solid wood bookshelves that nobly hold any book you could have reason to want.
The staff must know about books to be hired, and their passion shines through due to notecards on almost every shelf highlighting a staff pick or “if you liked X, then you should try Y” recommendations.
Reading can take you to places a plane ticket can’t… like the past or a fantasy world. What is your favorite genre? Tell me about your favorite bookstore in the comments.
1005 W Burnside, Portland OR, 97209
All photos by Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.