Last month I flew out to Portland to visit some relatives, and I have a confession to make: I didn’t know what Powell’s was until a friend dropped us off on the sidewalk in front of the store.
If you don’t know, Powell’s is a 3 story haven for book lovers, nestled in the heart of downtown Portland, OR. Stocking everything from board books to rare books and manuscripts, it is the largest new and used bookstore in the country.
I can’t even begin to describe it. I wish I’d taken pictures of the glory that Powell’s, if only to remember it by. It was an overwhelming experience–I didn’t even explore half the departments just because my brain fizzled out and could no longer process the concept of “there are more books in the next room.”
Over the course of two days, we made no less than 5 trips to the store. Yes, five. No, I did not purchase something every time, though I did walk away with a tidy haul.
The store itself is large enough to require a map, which can be found at the many information/customer service desks, as well as in the large elevators. The map is also a poster, so at least I had one free-of-charge souvenir of my visit.
Each room is identified by a color to make navigation easier, and there are many signs to help tourists find their way.
Most of my time was spent wandering through young adult and reading in the cafe. They had a massive selection of young adult novels and graphic novels, and I saw so many books I’d never even heard of. Considering how much time I spend on booktube and chatting with indie authors on Twitter, this is a pretty solid achievement. I did make time to explore the adult fiction, nonfiction, romance, mystery, fantasy, and periodical departments.
If you are a romance reader, you are probably one of the few people who will be disappointed. Powell’s dedicated only a single aisle to the genre (there were 2.5 for YA, which brings in a lot less in terms of sales than romance novels). I suspect this is because romance books dominate most other bookstores, and Powell’s seems dedicated to the hard-to-find.
However, if you are shopping for a reader under 18, then you will certainly have plenty to choose from. I have never seen so many kid’s books in my life. I saw everything from new releases I didn’t realize were out yet to picture books my dad grew up with.
The mystery and horror sections were equally tempting, but I had to walk away as I’d already spent my budget on YA and chai lattes.
Speaking of, while I thought the quality of the cafe drinks was good, the prices were high for the amount served–but that seems pretty typical for Portland. We did not try any of their food. I will say that on Saturday we met a friend and brought Voodoo donuts with us. No one said boo about the outside food and drink. Maybe because we’d spent so much time there the day before, or possibly because we also did buy warm drinks once we sat down (it was about 50 degrees that day, much colder than initially predicted).
The only drawback to Powell’s is that because it is a tourist destination, it is often loud and very crowded, especially on Saturday afternoons. If you plan a trip, I advise going during the week. This isn’t the type of bookstore where you can really camp out with a latte and work or read for a long period of time, just because there are so many people. Also, the cafe chairs are not super comfortable, and while there are nice big benches scattered liberally through the store, they aren’t upholstered or really the type of place that invites you to sit down and read the 1500 page epic you just purchased.
While the lines were long, there were lots of employees all over the store, willing to help with anything, and the checkout did move quickly. My only complaint is that there’s only one bathroom in the entire building, so there was always a line outside the ladies’ (I can’t speak for the men’s).
If you’re planning a trip to the west coast, you should definitely add Powell’s to your itinerary.