21st Sep 2011
Battle of the Bookshops: Powell’s in Portland
If you’re a crafty gal like me, then Portland in Oregon is the place to go; ditto if you love live music; ditto if you love doughnuts (Voodoo Doughnut is the famous purveyor of sticky-sweet creations day or night).
But the one place everyone said “you have to go” is Powell’s City of Books.
This mega independent bookshop in the north west is a city block long – and boasts over a million books, spread over 68,000 square feet.
When you enter, you can pick up a map (if you’re like me, you’ll breeze past thinking you won’t need it, and then spend an hour or so wandering aimlessly) and the different sections are laid out in colour-coded blocks.
What I liked most about Powell’s (apart from the weird thrill of seeing new English-published books in there with American covers) was that second-hand and new are all jumbled up together, hardbacks and paperbacks are cheek-by-jowl, and writers’ biographies are mixed up with their fiction.
I picked up a bargainous 1980s copy of Claire Tomalin‘s biography of Katherine Mansfield, but there were eight or so I could have chosen.
The fiction section is massive (with a compendious sci fi section too) and although I only had a quick scoot around some of the non-fiction bits, everywhere is beautifully organised, with eye-catching displays and staff recommendation cards.
The main Powell’s store has a great cafe too, where customers are allowed to browse their prospective purchases over a hot chocolate (it’s a top place for hipster-spotting too, especially as there is a thrift store directly over the way).
Powell’s has several spin-off stores too: one at the airport, plus a technical books specialist round the corner from the City of Books, and an out of town one at Cedar Hills Crossing.
If you head on over to the super-trendy Burnside area there’s a mini Powell’s (also with a little cafe) and the very addictive homes and gardens specialist store.
Portlanders are very proud of Powell’s, and for good reason – it shows you can do indie on a big scale without losing the heart.