The name of this tip pretty much says it all: for some decades now, when you mention Portland, Oregon anywhere in the world, likely you will get the response "Oh, I just love Powell's Books". Not anything about our public art, or public transportation, or our climate. Only one particular independent bookstore.
At least that has been my experience.
So, what is Powell's?
They are quite simply a bookstore that puts most chain stores to shame, and shows just why bookstores are still useful. Many of their employees have a librarian's knowledge of their specialized subject matter. They can recommend books on the subject (whatever subject is their specialty) and usually guide you right to it.
While they have a lot of new books on their shelves, it should be noted that they also have a very extensive collection of used books in various conditions. This can be very helpful if you are looking for a deal on a book of some sort or other where the new edition costs a lot of money.
They also have special events, usually visiting authors. Their list of events is available in calendar form and list form. See
Where is Powell's?
The main store is at West Burnside and 10th Avenue - right by the Portland Streetcar line. Bus Route #20 also goes there, and it isn't too far from MAX Green and Yellow lines, plus all the bus routes on the transit mall through downtown Portland. In fact, it is about 4 blocks west of there.
However, there are number of Powell's stores scattered across the Portland area. This includes the Powell's on Hawthorne and the store next door to it, which is the Powell's Garden and Food specialty store. This store on Hawthorne is the TARDIS of book stores: it is a tiny storefront but when you go inside it becomes huge - not quite as large as the vast main store on East Burnside, but certainly far larger than its exterior would imply.
At one time there was a specialized Powell's Travel book store, but it has been moved into the main store at 9th and Burnside. This is also the case with the Powell's Technical Books, which formerly was two blocks east of the Burnside store but has since closed and been incorporated into the main store.
Other stores are scattered around, including a store in Beaverton and one at the Portland Airport.
It should also be noted that Powell's was a pioneer in the field of having a coffee shop / café inside their store.
Many, tips have already been written about this store, so you may wish to continue reading in a few other tips such as
Leaf McGowan's Powell's Tip at
In the photo he shows the 11th & Burnside corner of the building. The entrance at 10th and Burnside is the traditional (since 1971) entrance to the store, and shows the store's unrepentant old-school hippie years when it was a much poorer enterprise rather than the famous institution it is today.
The institutional entrance is shown in Yooperprof's Powell's Books tip:
What to buy: The main Powell's Bookstore has an entire city block, in some sections three floors high, dedicated to books.
What you are looking for depends on who you are.
However, the travel section is one good place to look, and especially the aisle dedicated to the Pacific Northwest and Oregon. Here you will find a number of books, maps, etc. that may help you in finding your way around the Portland, Oregon area and the rest of the northwest.
What to pay: It is surprising to see how fast people spend money here. A lot of people discover treasures and spend a lot more than they planned: be warned!
1005 W Burnside Portland, OR 97209 USA
One of the world's largest collections of new and used books in buildings that encompass a city block plus, this store holds over a million books. Nine color coded rooms house over 3,500 different sections, offering something for every interest, including an incredible selection of out-of-print and hard-to-find titles. Each month, the Basil Hallward Art Gallery (located upstairs in the Pearl Room) hosts a new exhibit, as well as dozens of author events featuring acclaimed writers, artists, and thinkers such as Roddy Doyle, Susan Sontag, Robert Olen Butler, Annie Leibovitz, and former President Jimmy Carter. The City's Rare Book Room gathers autographed first editions and other collectible volumes for readers in search of a one-of-a-kind treasure. This of course is my all time favorite bookstore. A must to visit anytime in Portland. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
Let's state the obvious- any bookstore that requires a map to navigate its selection is utterly awesome. A great mix of new and gently used . Frequent in-store events and a bustling cafe, too.
Budget at least 2-3 hours a decent walk-through.
What to buy: Books, of course.
****Make sure to pick up the Powells Downtown Portland map that they give out for free.****
They sometimes give a nice Powells book bag for free with a min. purchase.
What to pay: $5 on up...
This is a huge independent bookstore, supposedly the largest independent bookstore in the country. It has several branches in Portland, but the original, main, and largest is the downtown store - Powell's City of Books. This huge maze of books and books is truly impressive and large. It is easy to get lost and they provide free maps. It has not only sheer volume, but a truly impressive range of choices, with outstanding variety. For those who love books, it is easy to spend hours here. The children's section alone is amazing, as are the history sections and every other.
What to buy: Books, etc.
What to pay: Prices are reasonable and generally on the lower end.
Powell's City of Books truly lives up to it's name. And what more could you expect from somewhere that claims to be the largest new and used bookstore in the world? Not only does it occupy an entire city block, but the store is three stories tall, with nine color-coded rooms, and still they have separate stores simply for cooking & gardening and technical books! The store provides a free map, aptly titled "How to get lost in the city of books." Not only is it possible to get browsing, but to lose track of time as well! With such a large selection you're bound to find any book you're looking for, and likely a bunch you didn't even know you were looking for.
Check their website for a list of in-store events, book reviews, or take an online tour.
What to buy: Rare and collectible books, first editions, signed copies.
Powell's City of Books is heaven for bibliophiles. It is the largest independent bookstore in the world and is so huge -- it takes up an entire city block -- that you actually need a map to find your way around.
Each section in the maze-like interior is named after a color. In the Rose Room I found a lovely little paperback about a Thai girl's struggle to adjust to a new country, for only $2.98, and in the Purple Room I was astonished to see on display a used copy of my own out-of-print book.
If you're shopping with other people, keep your cell phones with you. It's very easy to lose track of each other.
It is said that "No stay in Portland is complete without a visit to Powells", well as an advid reader I would have to agree.
Powells is huge!! With over one million used, new and out of print books in stock, you will definitely find what you are looking for in one of their many rooms. The bookstore provides you with a map of the store so you can find your way around the 68,000 sq. ft. space and over 4,000 subjects spread out in nine large rooms. (Yes, you heard right).
The Washington Post referred to Powells as "one of the best bookstores in the English-Speaking world".
Open 365 days a year, 9 am-11 pm, there is even store tours available. There is also a "Powells Technical Books about two blocks.
What to buy: Why, books of course, but they also have a large selection of audios and videos as well and anything that is printed.
Portland has a bunch of thrift stores. There are many Goodwills and others. Off of 82nd and Holgate there is a Saint Vincent DePaul's bookstore that has softcovers for 1.00 and hard for 2.50. It's behind Walgreens. The goodwill on the SE side is best for books also. Parking is very limited and prices are high at the Goodwill on the SW side, near 18 street I believe. There's a Red White and Blue store in Oregon City, pretty close to the downtown area on the main road. If you hit that store at the right time you can get amazing deals on great items. And there are always tons of yard and estates sales around Portland. Best quality items tend to be in the Southwest. Boy I miss looking for bargains there! Fun fun!
Powell's is incredible. It is one of the largest book stores in the world. Just the number of categories of books it has is over 4700. If you like books, you could spend days if not weeks in here. New and used books, foreign language books, and antique books. You could also order from them on-line, but that's no fun.
What to pay: a couple of dollars to however much you want to
For a book-lover, it doesn't get any better than this. The selection of a box store and the character of an independent. The size of the store can be intimidating, and the layout is a bit confusing, but - hey - if you want the same old same old, go to one of those chain book barns out by the mall.
What to buy: 9 am - 11 pm Mon-Sat
9 a, - 9 pm Sunday
yes they do have a coffee shop
Powell’s. Oh god, it’s like you’ve died and gone to book-heaven. Stretching over an entire city block this mammoth bookstore has subject/genre areas the size of your average bookstore. If you love reading there is no way will be able to exit this store without having found at least a handful of things you want, have never found anywhere else or can’t really afford (but are going to buy).
As any literate Portlander will tell you, it’s absolutely essential that you visit Powell’s. Why? Because it’s the biggest single independent bookstore in the world. Because they have entire shelves dedicated to any obscure topic you could think up. Because their rooms are color-coded. Just go.
First, stop by Reading Frenzy. It's one of the first magazine stores that stocks 'zines (small magazines dealing with specialized subjects-from collecting Menudo dolls to starting a revolution-and printed in small presses or zeroxed) exclusively. Also, a wall of small press books that can't be found anywhere else. Upstairs is the IPRC, or Independant Publishing Resource Center, a not for profit resource center for making your own zine. This is where some serious creativity happens. They have all sorts of resources available. See their website under "other". Two doors down is another pulp shop called Counter Culture. This one sells all kinds of media, but specializes in erotica from the fifties.
What to pay: A few bucks
This place is huge and according to their website, spreads across a whole city block. New, used and out of print books. I wanted a book on trails on the Oregon coast and was able to find several.