Powell’s Plan: Cultivating Citizen Consumers

Imagine walking down the bustling streets of Portland, Oregon on a restless Saturday afternoon and you happen to stumble upon Powell’s City of Books. Once you enter the doors of the establishment you are hit with the magnitude of the place: a building that takes up an entire city block that is four stories tall, filled wall-to-wall with books. Due to the grandeur of the store browsing becomes rather difficult, especially to the untrained newcomer. While this experience may seem initially jarring; you, Powell’s newest costumer, shouldn’t worry because there is an underlying method to the uniquely hectic atmosphere found within the doors of Portland’s own Powell’s City of Books.

            By this point you are most likely asking yourself what on earth Powell’s particular method could be.

The layout of a bookstore is never an accident; the owner develops a certain way of setting up their stores. The goal of this set up is to get the most mutually beneficial response in relation to the business and the costumers; Powell’s City of Books is no exception. Since the store is so large, the space has been broken into smaller categorized rooms, each room having a different selling point. Each room is given a cleverly intriguing name, associated with color, as well as a distinct place within the bookstore and a theme.

         To the right is a diagram of the entirety of Powell’s City of Books. As you can see, there are many separate rooms on each floor.

            Other than these vague titles, how does Powell’s attempt to get its customers to actually visit as many rooms as possible?

            In the final chapter of Laura Miller’s book, Reluctant Capitalists, we can find an answer to this pressing question. She introduces an idea by the name of the citizen consumer. In short this is the idea that all products across the globe have some effect on the rest of the world. The ideal citizen consumer makes a conscious effort to gain this knowledge; acquiring a sense of social responsibility along with it.

Yet the question remains how does the concept of the citizen consumer appear in bookstores?

One thing that makes this bookstore particularly unique is that their goal is to sell literally every book they can possibly get their hands on. Through selling all these books they give their customers a large amount of freedom in the literary choices they man. This distinct freedom fosters a sense of citizenship and social responsibility. Powell’s City of Books also demonstrates these concepts through their layout and products.

(The riveting history of Powell’s and its uncommon mission can be explored in my previous post)

            The space has been set up to draw people in a certain direction through the store. When they first enter they are greeted with coffee from the World Cup Roasters and the entertainment rooms in the store. These rooms, depicted below, are designed to grab the attention of the customer, like a great opening paragraph might.

As they continue their stroll through these entertainment based rooms they are led to rooms with larger social and educational appeal. Some examples of this appeal being the Blue and Orange rooms which must be passed in order for the customer to reach the only cash registers in the establishment.

The Blue Room, or the Literature room, is filled with classic novels and poetry.

The Orange Room is filled with books offering personal benefit, such as books on cooking, gardening, and humor, as well as many others in this general genre.

Powell’s City of Books is attempting to entice their customers immediately upon arrival with flashy entertainment centered works, followed by guidance towards the books that may assist them in beginning their journey towards becoming a socially responsible citizen consumer.

            While this guidance may seem to be targeting adult shoppers, Powell’s City of Books also works to develop these ideals in children as well.


The image above depicts the layout of Powell’s Rose Room. It becomes apparent that there is a designated route that children are enticed to take. Starting at the stairs they are systematically coached through the room by a chain of promotional items, best sellers, and toys. If the child follows proverbial bread crumb trail, they will eventually find themselves immersed in the children’s literature section.

Mary Shelley’s classic adapted for children.

            As mentioned before, Powell’s prides itself on having the largest variety of books possible, meaning these child sized shelves are filled as many riveting titles available. While they do hold more traditionally children’s literature, such as pop-up books and Doctor Seuss classics, they also hold more experimental and educational pieces; an example of this is the presence of “classic” literature. They offer a plethora of novels and works that are revered in the literary world; having been adapted to a young child’s reading ability. In this section there are also examples of financing and interracial communication which can be further explored in the children’s section of the website.

            Through their exposure to a variety of different pieces of literature as well as their freedom of choice in the Rose Room. Powell’s City of Books seems to be attempting to foster an educational atmosphere where children are able to begin their growth into little socially responsible citizen consumers.

Citizen Consumer Logo

Children, as well as adults, are put into a particular atmosphere in Portland’s own Powell’s City of Books, one that gently encourages and demands social responsibility to the surrounding world. Being a well-educated human being who takes the time to care about the world around them has never been considered a bad thing; this is seen in Laura J Miller’s book, Reluctant Capitalists.

Powell’s City of Books is taking full advantage of the progressive country and modern age humans currently occupy. They do this by attempting to elicit a subliminal sense of social responsibility through the products sold in the store, as well as, the general layout of the individual rooms. Through this is becomes apparent that Powell’s City of Books is arguing that people of all ages, big and small, should strive to be active citizen consumers.



Powell’s Website http://www.powells.com/

Citizen Consumer http://www.huffingtonpost.com/auren-kaplan/2011-year-of-the-citizen-_b_779606.html

World Cup Coffee http://www.worldcupcoffee.com/

My Previous Post http://unpackingthebookstore.susqu.edu/powells-books-betting-underdog/



Storefront http://www.bloomberg.com/ss/09/06/0619_best_independent_stores/image/016_powells.jpg

Store Layout Map http://www.powells.com/images/BURN-MAP-2014-01.jpg

World Cup Coffee http://dtc-wsuv.org/gnasca/nwguide/images/worldcup.jpg

Powell’s Gold Room http://f.tqn.com/y/gonw/1/S/Z/I/-/-/goldroomSF3.jpg

Glass Window http://explorethepearl.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/powells_logo.jpg

Blue Room http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_zKFo7OwbIp8/TTHj7qUoh2I/AAAAAAAAFEg/ZpPZFDRJfHI/s1600/powells%2Bblue%2Broom.jpg

Orange Room http://f.tqn.com/y/gonw/1/S/b/I/-/-/orangeroom.jpg

Adapted Frankenstein Cover http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/2c/84/7872c060ada0a521f0998110.L.jpg

Citizen Consumer Logo  http://www.dgdesignnetwork.com.au/dgdn/wp-content/images/DGmagazine129/eulda07_best_of-1.jpg


Images on ThingLink:

Powell’s Tour https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvDxKILa5s8

Child Care Book  http://www.gillmacmillan.ie/AcuCustom/Sitename/DAM/047/9780717156269-20121112121414_fullsize.jpgm

Board Games https://cmclquickpicks.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/stack-of-games.jpg

Axel’s Show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0kjCDI0xd0

Book Fiesta Image  http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61WMyVfFCQL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Shelves http://f.tqn.com/y/gonw/1/9/i/I/-/-/roseroom2.jpg

Kids Reading http://www.cascadiakids.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/PortlandDay6.jpg



Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print.

Cresswell, Tim. “Defining Place.” (n.d.): n. pag. Print.

Cresswell, Tim. A Global Sense of Place. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.