Photo of Powell’s Bookstore’s downtown location as you first walk through the doors. Powell’s is the perfect destination for all book lovers. Photo by Ella Pulscak 

Portland, Oregon is the proud home of America’s largest independent bookstore. Sitting at 68,000 square feet and taking up a whole city block, Powell’s bookstore is the perfect destination for getting lost in the shelves, both literally and figuratively. 

 Before Powell’s came to Portland, it originated in Chicago, Illinois in 1970. When the owner of Powell’s, Michael Powell, moved to Portland in 1971, so did the store. The bookstore we now know started off as a small family-run operation owned by Powell, with the help of his dad Walter. At the beginning, they were located up the street from their main downtown Portland location, on Burnside St. in a much smaller building. As time went on and they started to grow, they needed more help and space, which ultimately resulted in moving to a bigger building. Emily Powell, Michael’s daughter, is the new face behind Powell’s Bookstore. 

Powell’s Books is one of Portland’s biggest tourist destinations. People from all over the world come to Portland hoping to get a better understanding of why this bookstore is so unique. Of course the size is a big selling point; as Powell’s downtown location manager Byanne Hoeg states, “​​people really felt like [they] could get lost here, that they could spend all day here.”  It wasn’t until the late 1990s when Powell’s started getting recognized: “we started to become nationally known […] because of how big we had grown because of all that passion,” Hoeg shares. Another big idea that put them above the rest was putting both used and new titles together on one shelf. “It was just a really fantastic way to set ourselves apart. […] Sometimes people only buy used books. Sometimes it really just depends on the title and that gives them the option in one place,” says Hoeg. In the 1970s and ‘80s, when Powell’s had just opened, it was a novelty to have both new and used books on the same shelf. By the store taking action and being one of, if not the first, bookstores to do so, it opened the eyes of many customers. Powell’s also beat Amazon to the online bookselling game by a couple months. This means that they’ve also been online for longer than most other bookstores as well, setting them apart once again. 

Although these unique traits didn’t hurt Powell’s growing such a big community, we can’t forget how much of a literary city Portland is. Because of this, Powell’s has had the chance to work with lots of authors, writers, and customers, getting a better understanding of what the community was looking for. The support they have given over the years has been returned by many. 

Powell’s is the perfect place to get lost. Whether you interpret that as lost in time as you find yourself walking down endless aisles with infinite titles, or just … lost. Because of Powell’s massive size you wouldn’t be the first person to sound the alarm and panic due to not being able to find your way out. Thankfully they have put a system in place that seems to work wonders. The downtown Powell’s location consists of three floors divided into nine rooms with each room represented by a different color. For example, if you were looking for fiction, you would venture off to the blue room. Although the colors don’t have any significant meaning, they help customers orient with a map, which employees recommend all new customers grab on their way in. 

Over the years, as Powell’s has expanded, new locations have popped up around the city. There are currently two other store fronts, other than the notorious downtown store, located on Hawthorne Blvd. and 122nd Ave. “Even though the downtown store is really special and a tourist destination, those other two stores are wonderful, fantastic destinations as well,” Hoeg explains. Although the downtown location never disappoints, the other locations hold just as much charm and are the perfect stop for book lovers. 

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