Powell’s Books

Powell’s Entrance, 10th and Burnside

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.

 

Powell’s Entrance, 11th and Couch

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.

Powell’s Books, inside

 

For more history and information:

powells.com

Powell’s Books Wikipedia

The ONE Thing You Must Do in Every State by the Huffington Post

 

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.

 

Powell’s Books

 

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.

 

Powell’s Books, Rare Book Room

 

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.

 

Lewis and Clark Journals, priced at $25,000.

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.

Gorillas in the Mist, Autographed by Dian Fossey, priced at $2,500.

 

The Red Book by C.G. Jung, priced at $295.

 

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.

 

Glamorous even.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Powell’s Books, Coffee Room

 

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82 thoughts on “Powell’s Books

  1. With the name Powell appearing so often in this post, you definitely had my attention. πŸ™‚ This looks like a wonderful place to visit and even to spend a lot of time. Amazon is cheap, but can’t compare with the overall experience of visiting a bookstore like this one.

    • There are so many reasons bookstores are important in our culture, and yes, it is a wonderful place to visit. I smiled at the last name connection, Mike. Thanks very much for your visit and comment.

    • Wonderful that you’ve been to Powell’s, Marsi. Once you’ve been there, the world of books is different, more magical. If I lived closer I would go there all the time. Many thanks!

  2. That looks like the sort of place I will have to make sure my wife avoids. She will attempt to buy half of the store (well, nearly 0.01%)! We recently went to a book fair in our local book village (St Pierre de Clages) and spent around 200 dollars. They were beautiful books mind you, as well as some old postcards with pictures of our village before and after our chalet was built. She/we could spend days in that shop. 😊

  3. I spent some time browsing in Powell’s when I was in Portland a few years ago and was so impressed. A book lover could never forget a visit to Powell’s. Great post, Jet, and a nice reminder for me of an afternoon spent in smiling awe!

    • Really wonderful to receive your words, Anneli. It’s as you say, we don’t forget our moments in Powell’s, so extraordinary it is. I’m happy, too, that you’ve had the pleasure. Many thanks.

    • Really wonderful to receive your words, Anneli. It’s as you say, we don’t forget our moments in Powell’s, so extraordinary it is. I’m happy, too, that you’ve had the pleasure. Many thanks.

    • Yes, I was in heaven, Nan. When we arrived, it was after a day of airports and flights and we found our way there in the rental car, but were pretty exhausted; still had to drive out to the Gorge to our hotel. But I walked across that bookstore threshold and my second and third and fourth wind came to me. Energized me. I thought it was great that the Huffington Post said it was the one thing a person must do in Oregon. Thanks so very much, dear Nan.

  4. wow! thank you for introducing me to Powell’s, Jet. It is good to know that they exist given the rarity of bookstores today. i would love to see the rare books section! πŸ™‚

  5. I have never heard of Powell’s but so glad to hear it is thriving. Hear in Calgary book stores seem to be disappearing at a dizzying rate. I suppose with e-books it isn’t unexpected. I feel like i would need to stay clear of the rare book room for fear of sending some display crashing to the ground.

    • It is unfortunate that we are losing our precious bookstores, but I can highly recommend Powell’s if you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest, Sue. I laughed at your fear of sending some display crashing, and you’re not far off in thinking there’s a lot of valuable inventory everywhere you look in the Rare Book Room. So nice to “see” you visiting today, I plan to make a blog visit your way this weekend, see what you and Dave are up to. Thanks so much.

    • Oh yes, Craig, definitely the next time you’re in Portland, try to swing by the downtown store. With all the stories you are creating, writing, publicizing, and producing, I know you would find Powell’s a pure treat. Thanks very much for your visit today.

    • Yes, it doesn’t surprise me that you are a Powell’s lover, Brick. Your skill with words and your contemplative ways, I can easily see you spending hours and hours in this marvelous corner of the world. Thanks so much for letting me know.

    • Yes, I can imagine you would love the Jung book, Cindy, with your background. I paged through it, and marveled at the colors and script. It is written in German. You’d enjoy Powell’s and with your extensive travel, it is easy to see you swinging that way next time you’re in the PNW. Thanks so very much.

  6. Thank you for sharing this incredible bookstore with us. I had no idea that such a huge bookstore existed. It looks exciting from your photos and would be a fantastic place to visit.
    So Oregan is the State were Powell’s is. Will remember now.

    Miriam

    • Another writer who found Powell’s…so lucky to have this place in the world. It was busy and animated and popular when we were there last month, so I am hopeful it will remain open for a long time to come. Thank you, Jan, I really enjoyed knowing you’ve been there.

    • lol…yes, could be dangerous for a bibliophile. It is like another planet and you kind of wake up when you walk outside into the hustle and bustle, wondering, what just happened? You would enjoy it, Janet. Thanks so much, I always appreciate your comments.

    • With all the reading and history and writing that you do, MB, it is a place you would enjoy. I have the feeling you’ll be there someday, and when you do go, be sure to allow an entire day to be there. Cheers!

    • Thanks for your wonderful comment, Belinda. Athena and I were buzzing through there, taking photos, waiting for people to vacate an aisle so we could take more photos. It was great fun, and a joy to share it with you. Thank you.

  7. Reading this made my day! Your obvious delight in visiting this store shines through, and the photographs of bookshelves stretching away are wonderful. Inspiration as a setting for a mystery novel? What a place.
    I love my e-reader, as it is a solution for irritating vision issues, but nothing beats a real book, old or new. The heft, the smell, the thrill of physically turning a page to find out more, or the joy of sharing reading with learners isn’t matched in the digital world, convenient as it is. Places like Powell’s are increasingly rare, and I think we lose something each time a bookstore closes…
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!

    • Yes, I like my e-reader too, PC. I read mostly at night and really like the lit-up convenience, and it’s handy for traveling too. But you’re right, the real books are always a joy too, and there is so much for a reader to explore, books by favorite authors that you didn’t even know existed. I’m happy you enjoyed the post and if you and Mrs. PC are ever in Portland, please do find your way downtown to visit it. My warmest thanks for your visit. Best wishes for a pleasant and relaxing weekend to you both.

    • I never realized how big Powell’s was either, Eliza. When we got into the elevator I murmured, “We’re in an elevator in a bookstore!” Glad you are buying from them, and that I could show you their flagship store. Thanks so much for your visit, always appreciated.

  8. My late husband was a book collector. After all the number of times we had to move the crates upon crates upon crates of books when he died, it was up to me to unload them. You’ll never guess where I sold a number of them…. and for a good price, too! πŸ˜€

    • Then it’s very possible I was paging through a book or two that was originally your late husband’s, Gunta. Thanks so much for sharing this interesting and touching nugget. I thought of you many times when I was in OR, but with only three days and being nowhere near the coast, I could only give a salute. My warmest thanks, dear Gunta.

      • Chuckles… you would have had to have been paging through some old editions of books about the Pony Express and a series of original letters written by Covered Wagon women! I think that set had about a dozen volumes. We’re a very long way from Powell’s down here near the CA border. I suppose it’s one of the things we like so much that it isn’t easy to get here from any major urban areas. It’s keeping our coast reasonable peaceful except for those who decide to take the drive along the Pacific.

  9. Wow, really fascinating bookstore! The rare bookroom would also be an attraction for me, Jet. And it’s interesting to see the Red Book by Carl Jung there too! Great photos captured by Athena. Thanks for the opportunity to visit this bookstore “Powells” with you! πŸ˜€

  10. This is one spectacular bookshop with quite a bit of history, Jet. Over one million books in the flagship store is remarkable. These days so many prefer buying books online for the convenience of it – and it can also be cheaper buying online. Bookshops always have a certain charm about them. Nothing like leafing through a book to get a feel of it before you buy it.

    • I agree, Mabel, one million books in one store really is remarkable. And so unusual these days, when bookstores are sadly disappearing. I’m glad I could share the marvel of Powell’s with you. Thanks so much for your visit.

  11. Jet it is always wonderful to find book stores in this day and age when so many people read books online and order books online. This looks like a place we could spend hours and hours ~ what a treat! Next time we are in Portland (where Ben’s son lives) we will definitely stop by, so thanks so much for sharing.

    Those are some pretty pricey books haha. One could put down a deposit on a house, or buy a rare Lewis and Clark journal πŸ™‚

    Peta

    • I’m glad to hear Ben’s son lives in Portland, Peta, because there’s a good chance you’ll be able to visit Powell’s. If you do, be sure to allocate many hours. We had three hours and it was not enough. My goddaughter spent a whole day there, and that is more appropriate. Sending my warmest thanks and best wishes to you and Ben.

  12. Thank you, Jet, for taking us to this unique bookstore. I had no idea… the size of the book collection is bigger than some libraries. So many libraries are downsizing print books. Nothing like being surrounded by books.

  13. Agreed, Powell’s is AMAZING!
    But I also found it to be quite overwhelming. So many books, so little time. I was only in Portland for a weekend and had to fit in a lot of other things too.
    I’d already done most of the bookstores during a 3 week stay in San Francisco (visiting from our home in New Zealand) and my suitcase was already almost at crisis point as far as weight restrictions go. So a mini-haul of just 5 books was all that I could allow at Powell’s.
    Wonderful that such stores still exist in these “Amazon” times.
    We should all do what we can to support the true bricks and mortar book shops.

  14. Thanks for sharing this special place and it’s so wonderful to know someplace like this still exists as bookstores continue to disappear. I know exactly the first place I’m going to in Oregon and I’ll probably have to be dragged out of there.πŸ“–πŸ™‚

    • When you do get to Powell’s, ACI, be sure to allow several hours, if not a day, to the adventure. It’s really thrilling, and as you say, the bookstores are disappearing. Many thanks for your visit.

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