From the cozy nooks of our own homes, books transport us to faraway worlds for a much-needed escape. A book town like Portland, though, lures bibliophiles to explore the literary treasures of the city outside of the mere words written on earmarked pages.
The independent bookstores of Portland are ongoing emblems of resilience, finding ways to creatively pivot and survive despite the obstacles from the likes of online giants like Amazon and a global pandemic keeping people from perusing the stacks. Luckily, readers of all kinds heard the rallying cry for support of Portland’s independent booksellers.
2021 marks Powell’s Books' 50th anniversary, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Its flagship store in Portland’s Pearl District takes up an entire city block, offering 68,000 square feet of used, new, rare, and out-of-print books. Powells.com offers the combined inventory of its three retail locations and five warehouses, with approximately three million books in all. To celebrate this milestone, Powell’s Books released its 50 Books for 50 Years. The collection is a self-reflective curation reminding all “to act as a mirror and a beacon.” The perpetual book recommendations at Powell’s Books, though, comes from the beloved “staff picks” cards seen throughout the aisles—each card is like a personal note from a Portlander. Welcome to our city and the books that we read here.
Third Eye Books is a Black-owned bookstore that opened its new brick-and-mortar location in June 2021. Owners Michelle Lewis and Charles Hannah are dedicated to being a resource for African-centered books and antiracist literature. They’ve done some exciting book signings this summer—such as with David Walker of The Black Panther Party graphic novel—as well as an Amplifying #Blackvoices Summer 2021 campaign.
Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry is a Hollywood neighborhood favorite that is currently undergoing an exciting transformation of its dining room into a culinary bookstore fit for cookbook signings, chef demonstrations, and cookbook-inspired classes. Their delectable treats aren’t going anywhere either. This perfect blend of Portland food and book culture is expected to launch by early November.
Additional bookstores of note:
Mother Foucault’s Bookshop lays on the whimsy with haphazardly laid vintage rugs, old and worn wood bookcases, green leather chairs, an old piano, and a space for literary salons.
Floating World Comics provides a home for underdog authors and little-known artists to sell their work.
Monograph Bookwerks off trendy Northeast Alberta Street specializes in art books and ephemera.
Each November, the South Park Blocks—including the Portland Art Museum and Portland 5 performance venues—become part of the immersive literary experience of the Portland Book Festival. Author lectures, book signings, an indie book fair, writing workshops, and pop-up readings all over the city offer a welcomed sense of community and creativity for bookworms and creatives of all types. For 2021, The Portland Book Festival will host virtual programming November 8-12, and a day of in-person events on November 13.
Offering classes on letterpress printing, bookbinding, screen printing, and graphic design, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is geared to lovers of books and creative expression. A mix of workshops, kids’ classes, and free events like Open Collage Night make this Southeast Division resource center a progressive space for literary crafters of all stripes.
Literary Watering Holes
Rose City Book Pub combines two of Portland’s trademark passions: beer and books. Owner Elise Schumock kept the layout of the previous tenant—a cozy Irish pub—and simply infused her own bookworm appeal into the space. The 18 taps of local beers are surrounded by rows of bookshelves. As Schumock’s father used to interview authors on the local radio station, KBOO, there are lots of author-signed copies amidst the stacks and the book bar carries on his literary legacy.
A love of books, coffee, and Portland’s Overlook neighborhood inspired owners Nathan and Mary to open The Stacks Coffeehouse. As a coffee shop and self-proclaimed community library, grab a book from the shelf to peruse while you sip brews from a local roaster. Anyone can sign up for a library card from the stacks, which runs on the honor system of patrons returning any books they borrow. The Stacks name comes from Mary’s childhood roaming the library stacks of her mother’s workplace at the University of Texas library.
The city’s Heathman Hotel has long been lauded as a literary hub. Its library spans over two stories with a regal bookcase stretching the full height of the room. The 2,700 volumes include signed editions from Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, and politicians. From highbrow to something slightly more smutty, The Heathman is also known for being a noted location in the 50 Shades of Grey series.
Steps away from Pioneer Square, The Nines hotel has a cozy library lounge with colorfully-bound books and brown leather chesterfield sofas to read them upon.
The Duniway is named after the writer, suffragette, and Oregon pioneer Abigail Scott. Each meeting room at the hotel is named after one of her books. The feminist celebration continues with women-authored books throughout the hotel that are curated by the team at Powell’s Books.