Powell’s City of Books – Past: Place and People

Powell’s Bookstores have been popping up all around the area known as Portland Oregon. Today, there are now five locations across the city. Their original, as known as their Flagship location, can be found in the Pearl District in the city. This particular bookstore goes by the name: Powell’s City of Books.

The Pearl District is known for having people with a higher socio-economic standing an example of this would be the apartment buildings which appear near the bookstore. These apartment buildings advertise “luxury” accommodations, and when they say “luxury”, they mean it. Each apartment complex has something different to offer, but they all contain some common qualities: large pane windows gazing over the city, high ceilings and fully furnished kitchens. Surrounding these apartment buildings are cultural places, such as The Art Institute of Portland and the Gerding Theater At The Armory. These establishments offer features which are associated with famous artists.

In the map bellow, you will be able to see the layout of the Pearl District; including some of the apartment buildings and establishments previously mentioned.

While Powell’s City of Books is found in the Pearl District its location is also overlapped by the Brewery Blocks, which is a series of five different blocks; each blocking having its own assets to offer. The goal of the Brewery Blocks is to offer a smooth transition between the Portland Business District and the River District. Here, within the blocks can be found a variety of different shops as well as restaurants. Portland, Oregon is notoriously known for its local stores and green mentality; the Brewery Blocks strive to embody these. Many people in Portland, Oregon strive for a cleaner, greener environment; even in the busy city center. The area surrounding Powell’s City of Books is no exception to this, which is why the Brewery Blocks have attempted to create environmentally minded objectives for the city.

The bookstore itself, Powell’s City of Books, seems to be fighting against this elitist mentality presented by the surrounding neighborhood. While the physical store does occupy the entirety of a city block, the store is designed to have a similar layout like that of one’s local library. Due to the stores massive size, however, when a costumer enters the establishment they are given a map, which can been seen bellow:


Powell’s City of Books is considered a “chain bookstore” but there is one particular aspect that they lack, they do not have a standardized layout. The floors are lined with light wooden bookshelves filled sporadically with every book you could imagine. Powell’s City of Books actually sells: new books, old books, rare books and out-of-print books. Powell’s City of Books seems to be establishing a community center like relationship with the area as well as the people around their stores.  Their book choices allows them to reach a larger audience pool. Throughout this area of Portland there are many people who pride themselves in being considered “hip”.

The Pearl District is also known for the cohesive blending of international capital as well as local capital. As you can see in the images below, the city streets are lined with stores as big as a Whole Foods Market as well as small locally owned enterprises, like Mcmenamin’s Bar.

The Whole Foods Market is a national chain which offers healthier, less processed food options. A possible explanation for the success of a Whole Foods Market in the area relates back to the “green” mentality associated with people dwelling in these areas.

There is also a sense of loyalty associated with small local enterprises throughout this area of Portland. Even Powell’s City of Books itself is no exception to this concept. Within this particular bookstore there is a coffee shop. While coffee shops are often placed in bookstores to extend their audience, Powell’s City of Books put their own spin on it. World Cup Coffee and Tea House is the name found within the Powell’s City of Books. This particular kind of café only has two locations around Portland, including the one in this very bookstore.

Powell’s City of Books has been positioned in an area of the city that is associated with the wealthy and opinionated. Due to this fact Powell’s City of Books is attempted to combat the stereotype that bookstores are for the elite. They are reaching out to the largest possible audience while still staying loyal to those Portland Oregon ideals surrounding them in the neighborhood.