June 17, 2016

Once spurned by Powell’s, Amazon will open a third brick-and-mortar store in Portland


Amazon Books

Amazon Books in Seattle.

After Seattle and San Diego, where will Amazon open its next brick-and-mortar bookstore? Where else but the second-most well-read city in the nation?

Last month, Amazon released its list of the nation’s twenty best-read cities, based on the retailer’s own sales data. Yesterday, Fortune’s Leena Rao reported that the second-highest-ranking city on the list (after Seattle) will become the newest location for Amazon’s unsettling experiment with the business model it originally set out to destroy.

That city is Portland, Oregon, of course, already home to over a dozen bookstores, including the iconic local chain, Powell’s Books.

Amazon confirmed the plan to Fortune, revealing that the store will be located in the Washington Square Mall on the outskirts of Portland, and that it is “currently hiring store managers and associates.” It is not yet clear when it will open.

The decision may be baffling to some: after all, as the parodies of a certain popular TV show have suggested, Portland is driven by an all-local ethos that seems downright antithetical to the Amazonian way. But for those of us of a more paranoid bent, the decision to edge in on Powell’s significant territory has an eerie ring to it. As Liam O’Brien reminded us on MobyLives in 2014, Amazon and Powell’s go way, way back—all the way to 1996, when Michael Powell, running Powell’s at the time, had a sit-down with Jeff Bezos to discuss the possibility of supplying used books to the then-fledgling online retailer. After some deliberation, Powell turned down the offer—with its estimated $200 million in revenue—because Bezos wouldn’t allow the Powell’s name to be used in the partnership.

As we noted, the implications of that deal, had it gone through, would have been the stuff of nightmares. And the message of this latest development couldn’t be clearer: Amazon means to compete directly with Powell’s. So get ready, Portland. Bezos is back with a vengeance.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.