AE Monthly

Articles - October - 2004 Issue

Seven Years at Powell's Books

Rarebook

Powell's Rare Book Room. From Powell's website.


Just about the time that Americana got somewhat boring, however, the gal who did the Gardening Section quit. Well, now, I know gardening! I have gardened all my life. My grandma had me out pulling weeds and picking potatoes and tomatoes when I was just knee high to the proverbial grasshopper. So I applied for the Gardening section, and I got it. No raise this time, but I moved into the part of the store with the big windows. Additionally, they needed help in the Mystery Section, and since I love a good mystery, I did that part-time as well.

After about two years as a Section Head, maybe a bit longer, there was an advertisement in the store employee lounge, for a job as Administrative Assistant to the boss, Michael Powell. The job was just the standard secretarial type stuff, but apparently no one else in the place had the necessary experience or interest in being an office-type. I wasn't too thrilled about it, but the pay was double what I had been making in shipping. Oh boy, I could buy a few books! It was a policy in those days, to hire folks from within whenever possible. The fact that I had been an administrative assistant for a number of years before Portland, that I could type really, really fast, and the fact that I now had a minor idea of what the book business was all about, shooed me into the job.

During the two years that I was administrative assistant, I had a chance to instigate and edit the company newsletter, work on a committee that drafted the employee guidelines, and watch the company computerize. Many were the nerds and geeks that went nearly crazy trying to get the computer system set up to handle the book inventory that comes in over the counter at Powell's in any one day. But finally, the system was set up and the task began of putting the million or so books that were already on the shelves (these were called the lake) into the computer whilst also listing the thousands of books that were bought daily at the various stores (these were called the river.) It took a very long time - my recollection is that it took more than a year - to finish the lake and catch up with the river.

Powell's purchased an old Bookmobile and I volunteered to drive it in parades and to book shows and the like. It was too much fun, hailing from the late 1950s and being about 1 ton in size. The whole interior was beautifully finished wooden bookshelves. I think they let me drive because I grew up on a ranch and I was old enough and also mechanically inclined enough to keep it running. The battery cables would slip off and it would stall and I would have to lift a panel on the floor and tinker with the damn thing for twenty minutes to get it going again, but then it would spring into life and we'd go tootling off to the next show. About a year later, they decided it wasn't cost effective, so I lost my fabulous toy. It's probably moldering away in the truck graveyard somewhere.

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