For Love of Bookstores | Powell’s Books

Posted By Austyn | 2 comments

You have probably heard of Powell’s bookstore, because it’s huge and famous. Well Powell’s actually has 5 locations: the City of Books in downtown Portland, Powell’s Books and Powell’s Books for Home and Garden both on Hawthorne (which will be getting integrated into one store later this year), Powell’s Books at PDX out at the Portland Airport, and Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing. I have not had the pleasure of touring the Hawthorne locations and I am normally at the airport too early to function or shop, but I can give my experiences at the City of Books and at Cedar Hills Crossing.

Powell’s knows what book aficionados want, and I feel very lucky to live near enough to shop there!

All the bookstores of my youth were put to shame when I went to Powell’s City of Books in Portland. The behemoth bookstore takes up an entire city block, making it necessary to use a map to navigate. No, seriously, it has its own map! There are huge rooms devoted to different genres of books: fiction, sci-fi, history- you name it. There’s a café inside and gifts for all kinds of literary lovers.

And there are books EVERYWHERE.

It is insane and overwhelming and fantastic.

This place is a must-visit for book lovers young and old. Seeing Powell’s continue to persevere even through the economic depression is a testament to the necessity of books. Just walking in the doors you feel like you are showing books that you really care! The Powell’s staff is really helpful and willing to help you track down the last copy of that book you so desperately need.

Also, I love people watching, and watching strangers read books is very intimate and kind of wonderful. You not only get book recommendations without them knowing it, but you see them laugh or look worried, tear up or shake their head in frustration. You get to see how books affect people! And seeing kids, teenagers and adults alike all sitting on the floor reading books just makes me so happy.

It’s like they couldn’t even wait to get home to read, it was that good!

A few years back I ventured into my partner’s favorite room, the Rare Books Room, for the first time.

It is the only Powell’s “room” that is actually a room, so I had been too intimidated to go inside previously. The Rare Books Room contains and displays all sorts of books. Some are incredibly old books, some signed by very famous authors, and some are handmade art books- a crazy assemblage of rarities.

Once there was a HUGE photography book behind a velvet rope and another time there was an oversize comic collection. I felt like I shouldn’t touch anything, but I asked the staff member in the room and she said I could. Turning the pages of a really old book was terrifying and exhilarating. To think of the history that book had lived through! So cool! This room has that very distinct old book smell, which is the main reason my partner loves it. The volumes they have there are very impressive, and I HIGHLY recommend venturing upstairs to the Rare Books Room on your next trek to Powell’s.

My only problem with going to Powell’s main (and biggest) location myself is that I can get lost for hours in there (in fact, we did lose my dad for quite a bit of time), and spend money I shouldn’t before I realize what I’m doing. The store is so large (again, it is an actual city block) that I seem to find books in every area, and before I know it my book pile is taller than I am and costs more than I had budgeted. It’s a real problem. Also finding the time to drive or MAX out there can be hard, but when I do make it there it is always worth it.

My partner and I love Powell’s so much that we actually reached out to them and they let us do our engagement photos at the City of Books, provided we didn’t include any of their patrons in our pictures. Since our wedding was book-themed, it was the perfect place for our photography session. Powell’s was really accommodating and recommended times of day to come when it wouldn’t be excessively crowded. Now when I visit that location I have great memories of our photo sesh.

For people living in the suburbs outside of Portland (hello! I live out there too!), there’s a Powell’s located in Cedar Hills Crossing.

The inside of this mall has been struggling for a while, but I think it’s going to pull through. There’s an awesome skate shop, Substunce, and the best FroYo around at Peach Wave, plus Bricks and MiniFigs, a rad store full of legos!

Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing, while MUCH smaller than the City of Books (duh), still has more than enough books to browse through. In fact, I tend to prefer it to the City of Books because I don’t get so overwhelmed, and it is nowhere near as busy. Also, as I mentioned, there is FroYo located very conveniently nearby, and they let you walk around Powell’s eating FroYo. Basically the best day ever, right there, FroYo and books!

Powell’s is loved not only in Portland but around the world because they offer an amazing selection of books: rare, mass produced, and small press. They have tons of literary-themed gifts, like tote bags, art prints, and mugs. At the City of Books they often have art displays, and they have author readings/signings at several Powell’s locations. You can sell your used books at Powell’s and either get cash or in store credit to use. And of course they are one of the most well known independent bookstores in the world.

Powell’s has soldiered on since 1971, giving hope to other indie bookstores.

You should go to their website and check out their About Us page. They have a mission statement and core values, and they operate as a third-generation family-owned business. They share a great quote from Emily Powell: “My grandfather taught me that 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.” Doesn’t that make you want to buy books from them??

Exploring Powell’s made me realize how many other cool bookstores I have probably passed by in my life. Recently my partner and I headed back to my homeland, and we stopped in the Dalles specifically to visit Klindt’s Booksellers, the oldest bookstore in Oregon. It was very cool (and I will blog about it later)! Are there other bookstores you recommend I check out? Big or small, independent or chain, I want to know so I can try to visit there. Location is not necessarily an issue- eventually my credit card balance will be low enough to go on more trips with it! Because I am totally fiscally responsible. Yep. Totally. So if you know of a bookstore I should travel to, let me know!

Also, my fellow bookstore lovers, do you have any amazing storage techniques for all the books you inevitably hoard? We are all in this together!

And I don’t want to die if a stack of books falls on me when I’m home alone.


  1. I do have an amazing storage solution for my many books and my serious book problem that I have. It is that my dad found someone who was getting rid of a whole bunch of eight-foot-wide solid wood bookshelves. I have two of them. They are not full. When they are full, I will get rid of more furniture and use the new space for new bookshelves. #lifehacks


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    • Books>furniture! I love it. I’ve been trying to buy less books and force myself to read all the books I already have that I’ve been neglecting. We also have strategic book stackery that happens in every room, haha!

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