PPH Passing Strange

Powell’s Books: The next chapter?

As online orders keep the great gathering spot going, a look back on its glory days and hope for their return.

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Editor’s note: Powell’s Books, and in particular its flagship store off West Burnside Street, Powell’s City of Books, is Portland’s best-known and probably most-loved cultural institution, a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. Everybody goes to Powell’s. Or did, until the coronavirus crisis forced the company to shut down its brick-and-mortar stores and lay off its staff. Fears rose that the economic hit would make it impossible for the stores to reopen. But a surge in online business has brought 100 workers back, with hopes for more once the crisis abates. Photographer and writer K.B. Dixon takes a look at the city’s quintessential cultural destination in its glory days.


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This small collection of photographs is excerpted from a larger project completed three years ago. It is a simple homage to the act of reading in general and to one of Portland’s defining institutions in particular—Powell’s City of Books. The largest independent bookstore in the country, it is a vital part of this city’s cultural and intellectual life. It is not “a” bookstore—it is “the” bookstore. It has been “my” bookstore for more than thirty years.

Right now, with all five Portland-area stores shuttered in response to the COVID-19 menace, it is community support that is keeping Powell’s alive. A surge in online book sales at Powells.com has allowed the company to rehire more than 100 laid-off workers.

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  • Also see K.B. Dixon’s images of Powell’s from the Oct. 15, 2017, ArtsWatch story Portland’s Grand Central Station, published in collaboration with Dixon’s exhibition “Bookstore” at the Basil Hallward Gallery in the Pearl Room of Powell’s City of Books, and the publication of his photography book on Powell’s, also titled “Bookstore.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

K.B. Dixon’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and journals. His most recent collection of stories, Artifacts: Irregular Stories (Small, Medium, and Large), was published in Summer 2022. The recipient of an OAC Individual Artist Fellowship Award, he is the winner of both the Next Generation Indie Book Award and the Eric Hoffer Book Award. He is the author of seven novels: The Sum of His SyndromesAndrew (A to Z)A Painter’s LifeThe Ingram InterviewThe Photo AlbumNovel Ideas, and Notes as well as the essay collection Too True, Essays on Photography, and the short story collection, My Desk and I. Examples of his photographic work may be found in private collections, juried exhibitions, online galleries, and at K.B. Dixon Images.

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