Portland’s iconic Powell’s City of Books, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest new and used bookstore,” has always offered plenty of room to spread out — the sprawling building occupies an entire city block with three floors and 3,500 separate sections holding 1.5 million books. But entering the old Green Room, which acted as the main entrance on West Burnside Street at N.W. 10th Avenue, wasn’t always so easy.
“Since we moved in 1980, the amount of foot traffic going into the Green Room has grown exponentially,” says Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books, of the roughly 7,000 daily guests. “It got to the point where we had to take more things physically out in order to accommodate the number of people who wanted to congregate and pass through the room.”
No more: In August 2014, after an 8-month remodel, Powell’s unveiled a sleek new storefront filled with more sunlight, more space and, of course, more books. Broad skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows are both energy efficient and reader-friendly, bathing the latest bestsellers and carefully curated collections in soft, natural light.
The building’s exterior also earned upgrades, including a new paint job and a more accessible porch-style storefront. Workers even uprooted two car parking spaces in favor of — you guessed it — bicycles. Up to 18 riders can now lock up outside.
Yet homey touches remain, with Powell’s staff tagging shelves with intriguing labels like “Ye Olde Favs,” “Short Cuts” and “25 to Read Before You Die.” (For the more tech-inclined, the store’s free phone app has also been updated, guiding readers with turn-by-turn directions to any sought-after tome.) Even the iconic marquee was carefully restored. But don’t worry, longtime Powell’s fans, it looks just as you remember it, if a tad cleaner.
Disoriented by the new look? Trust your nose. Prominently displayed above the checkout counter, a (faux) dictionary entry on the wall reads, “smell-bound adj: held as if under a spell by the scent of books.”
Indeed, visitors to new Powell’s are still likely to be spellbound and smellbound by this shining temple of the printed word.