By McKenna Teigland
“Places like Barnes & Noble are so focused on turning a global profit, that their shelves have more toys and trinkets than real books, and the feeling is lost,” said Ben Kassman ’18. Kassman has worked at Powell’s bookstore (which claims to be the largest independently owned bookstore), here in our Portland backyard. I myself love Powell’s, and have become very good at making up excuses to head that way while downtown. It’s a standard tourist attraction, too, an establishment that Portlanders are proud to boast about.
There is a Barnes & Noble inside Lloyd Center downtown, but I have only ever been once, and as far as I can tell, it is the only major chain bookstore in all of downtown Portland (they have another location on SW Bridgeport Road). Are independent bookstores, like Powell’s and even smaller ones, thriving in Portland because it’s Portland or are they really that beloved by bookworms? I know that I personally adore Powell’s, but I’ll be honest: if it was “Barnes & Noble: City of Books,” I’d think that that was pretty cool, too. The only thing I’d miss would be the cheaper priced used books. And in my opinion, nothing beats a used bookstore.
The cheaper prices of independent bookstores is an attractive feature. While Tessa Thurman ’18 is actually self-described “pro-company,” she does not necessarily mind either establishment, independent or commercial, but does love the great discounts provided by independent stores. “It made my week when I went [to]. . . a local bookstore and got a $0.95 Star Trek: Next Generation novel. That would never happen in a commercial bookstore.”
Zander Nicholson ’18 also does not necessarily favor one type of bookstore establishment over the other, and mostly just believes in the accessibility of information and books as a whole. Although, he did recall that he purchased all of his “fun reading” books from a local independent bookstore up until high school, when such reading became increasingly difficult; it was through such a store that he was able to read every book in the Harry Potter series, near and dear to our generation’s collective book-loving heart.
I also like to see people reading and getting excited about stories, regardless of how they came to acquire them, but there is an undeniable atmosphere that independent bookstores have that large corporation ones do not. That is not to say, though, that I wasn’t devastated when Borders went out of business; I can still remember the way the setting summer sun would filter through the second-story windows in the young adult section at my local Borders. It is also not to say that the idea of Amazon opening their own bookstore doesn’t make me feel a little gross inside, because it kind of does.
It is to say that the survival of independent bookstores has heavily relied on this tight-knit community idea, because they would never be able to stay afloat on discounted prices for very long. “Being around books is always a happy place for me,” Kassman said, “and I feel like the only way that a real connection with the literature is established through independent bookstores.” They just have that little something extra.