Powell’s Bookstore

I’m in Portland for a wedding and it’s been pretty interesting to learn about the place. It’s definitely a hipster paradise, but it’s not obvious what that means and why it’s the case. It’s true, people do wear a lot of camping gear, and I think it does look ugly, and it’s definitely the provoking element for some insults hurled at the place and its people from people I’ve been out with. But I think the camping gear is probably explained by the abrupt changes in temperature and constant rain. It probably gets tiresome to carry an umbrella with one at all times and since there’s a huge forest right in the middle of the city, it probably makes sense to have some rain resistant tube pants.

But then there are the hipsters with mohawks, faux hawks, and black pants and all that get up. They’re interesting too and uniquely northwestern. Oregon “Ducks” shirts are allowed in certain circumstances. It all just reinforces my belief that though stereotypes are not true, they do have something true about them. I think stereotypes are a kind of crude way to capture the fact that there is something very different in what people from different places take to be right, fashionable, delicious, normal, rude, and on and on. These evaluative categories and their automatic triggering in daily life are very different from person to person and when the brain tries to agglomerate them or theorize them as one unit, the result is a stereotype. For instance, the stereotype that Oregon kids are pot smoking, sandal wearing, drunkards with a lot of body hair. It’s not true of course, but there’s something right about it. It’s very hard to pin this phenomenon down.

Anyway, back to Powells. It’s really great for many reasons. First, it’s really well kept up with nice signs and attendants. The people who run it also seem to care a lot about books. Hell, the people who GO THERE seem to care a lot about books. A father took his son passed me and said to the no more than 9 year old child that he needed to get a book in his section first before he could go with her to her section. He told her though that it would be quick to get the book since he was getting the next one in a series. He then explained about series and about his series. He just talked to her a lot about books.

Borders Books and Music recently went out of business and the cause to me is clearly their inability to fight the amazon  phenomenon (this is a nice book but now I know how to order it on Amazon). Barnes and Noble seems to be able to keep physical locations open largely by turning them into show rooms for the nook.

Gag me. Bookstores are awesome, but they’re going the way of comic book stores I guess. My solution though is simple. Bookstores should charge a very small cover, like 1 dollar (trouble is that the the transaction costs for this fee would be more onerous than the fee, no one wants to pay a dollar for walking into the store). The reason this is justified in my mind is that people want to go to a bookstore for the atmosphere. I go to hit on girls who like to read, and to read the recommendations from the staff (a lot of these at Powell’s–awesome), and to see the eclectic books that they sell (Powell’s has a place that has books organized and collected just because of their cool cover pages.).

Keeping an atmosphere of coffee aroma combined with the smell of turned over book pages and faded covers cost money. Many people feel at home in such environments and enjoy walking around in them and so, it seems, should be willing to pay for that privilege. This may result in a transition away from selling books to selling a place where reading is comfortable and enjoyable. Maybe bookstores would become more like for-profit libraries in which there are comfortable chairs and nice coffee (similar to how it already is).



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