AE Monthly

Articles - October - 2004 Issue

Seven Years at Powell's Books

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By then I was pretty sick of being in the office where I had not much chance to play with books and my dream of being a book dealer was fading away. I applied for a job as Assistant Manager of the Technical Book Store and got it. The only trouble was, there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians and after about a year-and-a-half at the Tech Store they decided to thin out the assistant managers. Long about then, we got the two waters dammed up, the lake and river. As if this chaos wasn? enough, the store went online and within no time at all, the store was selling thousands of books over the Net. Just then, a job came open as manager of the Cookbook Store, one of the satellite stores on Hawthorne Avenue in Southeast Portland. I applied and interviewed with about ten others for the job. Sadly, though I came in second in the race to managership; I did not get it. If I had I would probably still be there. By then, we had been in Portland for seven years and the rain was starting to get to us. We decided it was time to move on to warmer, dryer pastures and I bid Powell? a fond farewell. I left with warm, fuzzy feelings about the book business, and though opening my own store was a while away, I had amassed a nice collection of books to start with.

I've now owned my own bookstore in Nevada (warmer and dryer) for six years, and about every two or three years, I go back up to Powell's for a few days and trade books in for more books. There are many of the same guys and gals buying their books as were there when I was there. They buy fewer books now and they pay less for them than they used to. The shelves have a lot more new and remainder books than they previously had, and the feelings of camaraderie and "family" seem much less prevalent than they did when I was there. The store is unionized, which happened amidst much feuding, fussing and tussling right after I left. Perhaps that has something to do with the changes. The clerks are much more polite, but not as much fun as they were when Powell's was a much smaller, less corporate entity. The book buyers tell me that the incredible skills that used to make up their jobs are not nearly as necessary as they were before the computers arrived and that they miss the old days. Then again, don't we all miss the days before the Net?

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