Portland, Oregon is home to Powell’s City of books. The largest ‘independent’ bookstore in the world. Whilst in the city it was of course a perfect opportunity to go take a look. The headquarters store is situated in downtown Portland in the Pearl District.. You can’t miss it.. it takes up a whole block!
By the entrance is a big engraved sandstone pillar of books. The main inscription carved into the front end of it is latin for ‘Buy the book, read the book, enjoy the book, sell the book’. A great tagline that fits perfectly with the fascinating history of how this bookstore started from very small beginnings, not too long ago really, into the famous big store we see today.
Back in 1970 a man named Michael Powell, a university graduate, borrowed $3000 to get a lease on a bookstore in Chicago. Within 3 months it was such a hit the debt was paid within 3 months! His father, Walter Powell, from Portland, came and helped for the Summer. He loved it so went back to Portland and opened his own. He went and bought every used book that he was given that he could then sell. It boomed! Michael came to join him and bought the bookstore in 1982 and following on, more branches followed. The growth was so big that by the early 90s, they made up over 30% of all book sales in the United States! They were also early into the internet market and put their books online as far back as 1993. They built their site well before Amazon.. 😉
The City of Books store in Portland has expanded and expanded and is still very much independent. The buying of used books continues as ever, they buy over 3,000 used books.. per day! Michael is still the independent owner with plans for it to pass to his daughter Emily.
Rows and rows of books, new and old, with rare gems known to be amongst them. Every floor was thronged with people, with quite a few of them getting lost in there I am quite sure. A bookshop that deserves its own day out on its own.. A fascinating place at the end of our Oregon Trail adventure.