I have Powell’s feelings.
Having lived in Portland for over five years and having hosted many friends and family from out of town, I often find that Powell’s is one of the first places I take them, one of the most Quintessentially Portlandy Things To Do. Taking up an entire city block, it claims to be the largest new and used bookstore in the world. It’s Unassuming on the outside, but you’re greeted with an almost overwhelming directory hanging from the ceiling once you walk in, all in a detailed color coded system. Just being surrounded by so many books in one place is a special feeling.
But here’s the thing: Powell’s is not my favorite bookstore.
There. I’ve finally admitted it. Just kick me out now, Oregon!
But I do feel it’s important to have a favorite bookstore. And when it comes to deciding on mine, my mind always meanders back to Brookline Booksmith, a cozy spot outside of Boston, the last city I lived in. Every time I think it, though, I just chalk it up to nostalgia, something I’m well-versed in.
But is it just nostalgia? Or are there actual reasons? What makes a bookstore stick in our psyche?
Let’s make some lists to help because lists are awesome.
– With SO MANY BOOKS, I almost always know I can find what I’m looking for there, no matter how obscure. And with their large selection of good quality used books, I can also normally find a cheap copy, hence reducing the need to use Amazon or any other variety of Places That Are Killing Bookstores. They also have a great online site which can serve as an alternative to Amazon for people around the globe.
– They have a section of all the Newbery Medal winners ever, and as a children’s lit geek I frequently go there and just stare at it and feel so happy!
– It makes me feel cool and Portlandy?
– I think that’s it.
BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH: PROS
– They have this kooky little gift portion of the store that sells cards and jewelry and weird toys and crap and none of it necessarily has anything to do with books, although a lot of the knick knacks are super nerdy, but I love it anyway.
– Lamps! Lamps are important!
– So many great sale books. And while Powell’s also has great sale books, a lot of the ones at Brookline Booksmith were books I had never heard of but which I found intriguing, while the Powell’s sale books are just overflow copies of Franzen. Either way, sales tables are always on the pro side, but I always really loved the Booksmith’s.
– I felt at home there.
– From what I can tell, the #1 Powell’s employee skill is the I’ve Read A Lot of Books And Am Real Pretentious About It skill, as opposed to the Actual Customer Service skill. I appreciate the former, but when I’m shopping, even for books, I actually want the latter. Such a big bookstore can be intimidating, and you need the customer service skill when you’re legitimately confused about something. This is not to say there aren’t nice people, because I’m sure there are, I just haven’t met a lot.
– It is often crowded and hectic. Even the coffeeshop inside of it is always crowded and hectic. There is a distinct lack of comfy chairs because of, you know, all the books.
BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH: CONS
– Right, that whole huge, varied selection of cheap books thing: not so much.
– That’s it.
– But I guess that’s kind of a big thing.
I know Powell’s also has the strongest economic power to survive as a bookstore for longer, which is important, because soon I won’t be able to compare awesome big stores and awesome small stores at all; it’ll just be, oh sweet lord, please, can we have any stores?
But after making those lists, I feel there’s actually only one item that matters. And that’s “I felt at home there.” When it comes to why bookstores actually are better than Amazon, it turns out I actually don’t really care that much about price or selection. I just want a place that makes me feel like my favorite books make me feel: at home.
What’s your favorite bookstore? Why?
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