I recently had the opportunity, and privilege, to visit Powell’s Books in downtown Portland, Oregon. It is a pleasure to share with you this Oregonian institution, the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world.
The main store, photographed throughout this post, is called “Powell’s City of Books.” Their flagship store, it has one million books for sale. In addition, there are several other smaller Powell’s bookstores in the Portland vicinity.
Originally founded by Walter Powell in 1971, it is now in its third generation of Powell owners.
For more history and information:
Their retail and online inventory combined: over four million books.
The City of Books takes up an entire city block, and covers 68,000 square feet (6,300 sq. meters). Four floors, two elevators. It is so big they offer a Store Map and color-code the different main rooms, for ease in navigation. Information booths and friendly staff abound.
It is easy to get lost in the seemingly endless catacombs of towering bookshelves…which, to a bibliophile, is the next best thing to heaven.
One of my favorite parts is the Rare Book Room. It was quiet, like a library; and filled with a fascinating collection from around the world.
The room is 1,000 square feet, and closed off from the rest of the store. It has 9,000 volumes of rare books atop elegant polished, wooden shelves. The most expensive books, rare collectibles, are behind glass; but most of the collection is open for perusing.
Powells’ most expensive book is priced at $350,000.00; it is off-premises in a safe. It is the first public description of the journals of Lewis and Clark on their 1804-06 U.S. Expedition. The two-volume set is in its original binding and includes a map. Enticing photos of the book are displayed for interested buyers.
The most expensive book in the Rare Book Room is a two-volume set of the Lewis and Clark journals, published in 1814. It sells for $25,000.00, and is locked behind glass.
Their oldest book was printed in Venice 525 years ago: The Works of Decimus Magnus Ausonius. Sells for $6,000.00.
More books from the Rare Book Room.
In addition to Powells’ new, used, and antiquarian books, there is a wide selection of book bags, tee shirts, greeting cards, and other sundries. There is also a coffee shop.
For years I have heard about the marvel of Powell’s Books; there is no other bookstore like it in the world. It was far more organized and elaborate than I had ever imagined.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.