Brain Candy Sale

Michael Powell

In 1979, Michael Powell left his Chicago Bookstore to join his father in Portland, purchasing the store from him in 1981. Since that time, Powell's has grown into a "semantic superpower." Michael has been at the center of Portland's social, political and artistic growth over the last twenty years. "When we started bringing authors to town, you couldn't get a decent author to visit Portland. Portland's access to ideas, authors and books has grown because Powell's has grown. It's not cause and effect, but it's synergy."

In the early 1980s, Powell's was the first business to sponsor Portland Arts & Lectures, the city's first serious author lecture series. "We get people to come here because Powell's is here," says Julie Mancini, director of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series, adding, "if there's a new edition of the Bible, people expect God to be at Powell's to sign books."

Michael is adamant about the importance of free expression and is usually first on the scene for civil rights causes. "When you call Michael on a free-expression issue," says David Fidanque, head of the Oregon ACLU, "if he's not on it already, he'll be there soon." Portland author Sally Tisdale adds, "He's very generous. He doesn't look for credit and he's been very important in anticensorship efforts."

Michael and his staff have intentionally created a reader-centered bookstore: "With the wooden shelves, the cement floors, the tall aisles, we have a sense of space. People don't feel that the only function of the place is to sell them something. A place where the lights are a little too dim, a place that's a little dusty, doesn't exude the feeling of buy and get out."

Over the years, Michael's committed community interests have matched him with numerous civic organizations including the World Affairs Council, Port of Portland, Association for Portland Progress, Metropolitan Arts Commission, Multnomah County Library Board, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Board, American Booksellers Association Board, Portland Public Schools Foundation, Portland State University Library Advisory Committee and the SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) Program Advisory Committee, among others.

Michael's civic contributions have been recognized with awards including Willamette University's Glen L. Jackson Award for Civic Leadership, Lewis & Clark University's Watzek Award for Community Service, Oregon Black Resource Center's Business Leadership Award, the Women in Communication Thomas Lawson McCall Award, and the Portland Oregon Visitors Association Gene Leo Rose Award for significant contributions to Portland tourism, among others.

Read the Inc. interview with Michael Powell

Read the Yasushi Kaneko interview with Michael Powell spacer

  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at