Sunday, August 10, 2014

Powell’s Bookstore Made A Trip To Portland Worthwhile

At age 47 I made it to Portland, Oregon for my first and possibly last time, attending the Willamette Writers Conference. I presented a workshop on book publicity for self-published authors. I say it could be my last time just simply because I would rather go to a city I’ve never been to than return to the same one, with a few exceptions—LA, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Ft. Lauderdale, SF, Chicago, and Atlanta. But I found Portland to be an enigma.

On the one hand, it seemed to have a sense of place for the residents, but for tourists, I found few things to do once you got beyond the food and booze culture that lines the city streets. They are big into microbreweries, wineries, and coffee. It seems food was everywhere, from their food trucks to local institution, Voodoo Doughnuts. I expected people to be obese, but I didn’t come across too many large people.

I did enjoy visiting the Japanese Garden which is adjacent to the beautiful Rose Garden. I also liked walking through the vibrant street fair by the river, where scores of street vendors peddled jewelry, art, crafts, handmade wallets and hats, food, and miscellaneous oddities.

But I asked probably 10 locals, including people at my hotel, what I shouldn’t miss in my stay at Portland—and no one had something to point to other than walking around the city or going to something like the local zoo. A city should have landmarks, a sense of history, and a story to tell. Portland’s story isn’t clear to me.

The city is growing, as it is the 29th largest city in America, with over a half-million residents. It doesn’t feel crowded. It’s an easy to get around city, whether by foot, light rail, or car.

Portland calls itself the city of roses, but it certainly is not the city of sports. It lacks a pro team in three or four major sports, leaving only the NBA’s Trail Blazers. It also has an Arena Football Team, The Thunder. In the last decade or two it lost teams, including a WNBA team, another AFL team, and a minor league hockey team.

One problem with Portland is it lacks a daily newspaper. The Oregonian publishes several times a week. I can’t imagine being in a city without a daily newspaper.

Portland has its share of wandering homeless, loitering teens, and people looking hardened by life. The city offers an architecture that varies between modern tall buildings and two- to six-story brick buildings with old-fashioned store fronts that look to be 50-80 years old. 

I hopped on and off the local train system, an above-ground series of lines, for just $5. The all-day pass is a good buy, though I noticed no one ever asked to see my ticket. It clearly survives on the honor system.

Perhaps my trip’s highlight was visiting Powell’s, one of the best bookstores in the entire country. In fact, the only one that I have experienced to be superior to it is Strand’s in New York City.

Powell’s is exactly what stores used to be—and should be.  It offers informed help by people who seem passionate and caring. The store is enormous—I think I counted four floors of well-stocked shelves, some of which climbed 10 feet tall. 

The wooden bookcases wrapped around new and used books, as well as magazines, newspapers, cards, blank journals, and a few games/toys. It has a café and an Espresso Book Machine, where within eight minutes a book from can be printed. 

Powell’s also sells something called Vintage Reprints—copies of book no longer in print except for Powell’s ability to resell them. So Jack London’s 1907 The Road and GK Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils from 1922 are alive and kicking.
Unfortunately, Powell’s is the exception and not the rule. Few are like it and many are far removed from the quality and quantity offered at Powell’s. The independent store, around since 1971, is a hero to book lovers, authors, publishers, and consumers.

Portland may just be an average city, but Powell’s is a blazing standout that smells sweet in the city of roses.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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