Rioters in Portland, OR over the weekend set fire to a Justice Center. After peaceful protest, they erupted into vandalism, looting, and setting fires. The Mayor, Ted Wheeler, declared a state of emergency and established a curfew. Rioters smashed windows in a downtown Target, stole shoes, and set fires; but they did not, to my knowledge, do any damage to the nearby closed Powell’s Bookstore that takes up an entire city block. Why?
Portland rioters seriously damaged the Apple Store at Pioneer Square. This relatively new anchor, a very successful operation in a city that has lost a lot of downtown retail business, is known for its wraparound windows, and they were smashed to shards. I have also learned that Apple Stores in Minneapolis, Scottsdale, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Phoenix were damaged and looted. Why is Apple a target of anger?
There was a very interesting “Corner Office” piece in the Sunday New York Times. In it David Gelles interviewed Emily Powell, the 3rd generation CEO of an unlikely multi-story bookstore in downtown Portland, that is not only a modern anachronism but also a major tourist attraction. Ruth and I have been waiting for it to reopen. Last March without warning Emily closed it when the virus struck. One day it was opened and the next day it was closed. When asked when she planned to reopen this institution, Emily said, “The real honest answer is, I don’t know.”
I have taken visiting friends and family to Powells for years without learning much about its operation. I didn’t know, for example, that Emily’s grandfather started the practice of putting new and used books together on shelves and that Powell’s was selling books on-line before Amazon existed. I didn’t know that Powell’s employed 500 people and that it has re-hired 200 of them to fill on-line orders, the business that has kept Powell’s going since March. Emily says that re-opening “…depends on what happens in the coming months.” She goes on to say that her business will need to create a safe environment for people to touch books that they will put back on shelves while lingering.
Emily knows that books are not essential purchases like food. When asked what readers are buying, she says classic literature, science fiction, mysteries, and children’s books “…definitely a different pattern.” I would call this nostalgia and escapism.