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We are grounded by our company’s core values, which have guided us through the ups and downs of the bookselling industry. Each and every employee’s love of books drives us forward.
We look forward to a future filled with many new opportunities, new innovations, and, of course, new books!
Our mission is to be the world’s best destination for readers, a place that fosters a culture of reading and connects people with the books they’ll love.
- We love everything about books. As entertainment, as tools of discovery, and as timeless works of art, we believe books have the unique ability to transport us and transform our world view.
- We’re conversation starters. We’re an eclectic team of readers with broad interests and strong feelings about the books on our shelves. And we’re committed to sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm with our customers every day.
- We’re nothing without our customers. Powell’s would not be the destination it is now without its loyal customers.
- We recognize that every reader is different. We know readers are as unique and complex as the books we sell. We, in turn, make every effort to engage with our customers, respond to their needs, and learn from their feedback.
- We’re creative and resourceful. We built our name on innovative bookselling, and we continue to evolve by remaining curious and inventive.
- We support readers and writers. Through literary events, original content, and a vibrant online community, we’re dedicated to promoting great authors and their books, literacy, and freedom of expression.
- We exchange ideas. We all play a role in Powell’s success, and it’s the sharing of our unique perspectives that generates exceptional ideas.
The History of Powell’s Books
Powell’s roots began in Chicago, where Michael Powell, as a University of Chicago graduate student, opened his first bookstore in 1970. Encouraged by friends and professors, including novelist Saul Bellow, Michael borrowed $3,000 to assume a lease on a bookstore. The venture proved so successful that he managed to repay the loan within two months.
Michael’s dad, Walter Powell, a retired painting contractor, worked one summer with Michael in the Chicago store. He so enjoyed his experience that upon returning to Portland he opened his own used bookstore.
Walter swamped his original location by buying every marketable used book that came through the door, finally pushing the whole operation into a former car dealership on Northwest Burnside. The building has undergone many transformations, but if you look closely, you can still see evidence of its automotive past.
In 1979, Michael joined Walter in Portland, creating a bookstore with a unique recipe that, though viewed as unorthodox, worked: used and new, hardcover and paperback, all on the same shelf; open 365 days a year; and staffed by knowledgeable and dedicated booklovers.
Four decades later, Powell’s Books is a cornerstone of the community and continues to operate as a third-generation family-owned business with Emily Powell at the helm.
Says Emily: “My grandfather taught me that our job is to connect the writer’s voice with the reader’s ear and not let our egos get in between. My father taught me not only the love of the book itself but also how to love the business of bookselling.”