Powell’s City of Books – The Where and the Who of Now


The Powell’s Books Logo on one of their buildings.

Powell’s Books is in the Pearl District of Portland Oregon. For a little perspective, the Pearl District is sort of like a downtown, girls-night-out type of place. In 2010, the population was 5,997. 34% of the people living there were between the ages of 20 and 34, which give you a brilliant picture of the sort of people roaming around these parts! Their demographics are what you would expect from a wealthy, sort of preppy part of the city as well.


Demographics in the Pearl District.

I took a look at the Pearl District website and observed a lot of things right off the bat. The first was all the verbs! Explore! Dine! Living! Shopping! The whole site seems to revolve around all the different things you can do there and not really about the people that are there. It’s all very well put together and it advertises a lot of material possessions and things you can buy. For example, the top of the site has options for all the things you can do. They have a map for every section highlighting the best places to go for art and theatre exhibits, food, and shopping. Their biggest option is shopping. They have plenty of active wear, clothing, and even pet apparel, but only one bookstore.

I also noticed their magazine, which conveniently had a media kit that is accessible to anyone on the web. It gives a little more insight into who is really active in the community by showing who buys their magazine and what sort of economy is in the residential area. In fact, it even reflects what the people of the Pearl District will be buying in the next few months! Yes. They put their science to work on who will buy jewelry over who will buy a health club membership.


On the map below I pointed out some of the most popular locations in the area. It is full of — you guessed it — shopping places and restaurants. There are a few theatres, but mostly the store is surrounded by nightclubs and eateries.

I didn’t even label all the restaurants because it was getting to the point of ridiculousness. There is a restaurant for you no matter what sort of food you like or what kind of money you’d like to spend. A small sampling of those within walking distance are Brick’s Tavern — a classic American Tavern serving American comfort foods; Deschutes Brewery and Public House — two blocks from Powell’s  this pub offers eighteen taps and a central Oregon flavour; Coppia — specializing in the food and wine of Piedmont, Italy, this place has unique Italian offerings. This is certainly the place to be at night, with plenty of places to dine and party, but then why is Oregon’s largest bookstore plopped right in the middle of it all?

I looked at the neighborhood and it doesn’t seem too much like what I expected from viewing their website. It’s a pretty typical looking city street. The store itself takes up an entire block, though it’s difficult to tell where because they were under construction during the time the photos were taken. Have a look around.

One side of the building is spectacular, with a large, vertical, glowing sign and a pillar that appears to be made of large, stone books in the entryway. This is the other side. As you look around the neighborhood, you see a typical city atmosphere. The surrounding bookstores all seem to be other branches of Powell’s, though this is the flagship. Powell’s website shows all the locations in relation to one another.

Powell’s is located in the heart of the pearl business district which is a thriving area due in no small part to the organization which promotes dining, living and other activities in the district. The website lists everything going on in the district under its events section. Here they advertise things such as large sales around town, do-it-yourself workshops for children, theatre performances, and more. For a wealthy neighborhood that focuses much on entertainment, Powell’s is a very eclectic business offering a wide range of pricing which is evidenced by their stocking of shelves. Powell’s has chosen to display used and new stock side by side, giving their clientele a wide ranges of choices of materials and price levels.


Powell’s City of Books

 Sophisticated is a word that could be used to describe the culture. The art galleries stay open late on first thursdays and the theatre is right next door. Not only are there a few theatres, The Gerding Theatre at the Armory is one of the most popular theatres in the city. Portland Center Stage is a professional theatre group that is one of the 20 largest companies in the country. Their home, The Gerding Theatre at the Armory, is adjacent to Powell’s Books in the Pearl District. The Armory was the first building on the National Register of Historic Places. All of this combined helps them attract 150,000 theatre goers every day. With the price of theatre tickets these days, it’s probably a given that some of these patrons of the arts are frequenting Powell’s as well.


A brew cycle, popular for people who like to party!

This neighborhood still has loading docks from its past warehouse district identity, but is a hip and chic nightclub area with many bars and newer converted living spaces including modern lofts and townhomes. Basically, it’s a really old area which is now hip and happening. Take a turn on the brew cycle! If you can pedal, and have fourteen friends, you can safely travel between pubs and breweries in the neighborhood.

Tim Cresswell says in his book, Place: A Short Introduction, that place is material. Even fictional places like Hogwarts are still there with detail and life enough to make the novel work. Each location in Pearl District is a meaningful location, part of the culture that makes the neighborhood tick. Powell’s is no exception. Being the only bookstore in the district, it holds a lot of responsibility in being a meaningful place for a lot of people. Had it had another bookstore to share the responsibility with, it might be easier to see what times of people find their way into Powell’s versus another shop, but here we see a store that is open to all sorts of people and in the perfect location to provide just the right material place for people to go.



Portland Center Stage 

Pearl District Activities

Portland Regions

Deschutes Brewery

Google Maps

Pearl District website

Media kit

Powell’s website

Creswell, Tim. “Defining Place.” Place: A Short Introduction. New York City: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. 1-14. Print.