PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The store with the faded sign at 336 SW 3rd Ave. has reached the end of the line. At least in its current location, according to current owner Crystal Zingsheim. The store will close Saturday April 24 at the end of the day, “but probably we’ll just be here as late as everyone wants us to be here,” Zingsheim told the Business Tribune on Friday.
She was fielding media interviews between in-person customer requests, most of which were for vintage magazines and commemorative issues as anniversary gifts: a Time magazine from 1950, or just for fun, a Ladies Home Journal from 1896.
Cameron’s Books stocks mainstream books, loosely arranged by category, but has a valuable archive of periodicals upstairs. With no written or computerized system, Zingsheim says she is the one who knows where everything is — and the only one who can access it. Now 37, she has worked at the store since she was 17. When people donate books, she’s usually the one to decide if they become inventory or recycling.
The back room, stairs and upstairs stacks are currently crowded with boxes of legacy media. Pile of magazines slide underfoot and Tupperware bins teeter. In one spot lies a box labeled “reading glasses,” in another the duct taped microwave oven is blocked by a perspex cube holding the contents of one room of a doll house. There’s a Hoarders vibe but Zingsheim put the mess down to the “mad scramble” to box everything up and leave.
One U-shaped storage gallery looks inaccessible, but as Zingsheim explains, “I’ve been climbing around this bookstore in the dark barefoot for 20 years.”
The upper archive where they keep thousands of pulp novels and magazines in plastic sleeves. It is better organized. This is where Zingsheim must run to fulfil requests.
On Friday she was trying to delegate customers and fill orders and delegate. She warned customers to stay six feet apart because of the coronavirus, but it was difficult in the cramped space of the store, where some shelves dead end in quiet reading nooks.
Friends helped field phone calls. At one point she shouted out her phone PIN so they could handle a digital payment, for which she has introduced the apps Venmo, CashApp and PayPal. “I have no privacy!” she says with a laugh.
She’s is shutting up shop because of several factors. The COVID-19 shutdown a year ago put them behind on their rent, and although they offered to make it up in October, she says the landlord refused the money.
The landlord, JDSY 3RD STREET, which also owns the Golden Dragon strip club on the second floor, wants the book store out as soon as possible. For a long time they had a “sweetheart deal” and paid rent at 1960s rates, $1,250 a month. Before COVID-19 the rent had risen to $2,500 a month, which is still a good deal for 5,000 square feet downtown.
Vandalism and homelessness have scared away customers from the block, even though Cameron’s windows have been untouched. The store has been robbed several times. Thieves sent unwitting staff to look for books then stole the cash from under the counter. Zingsheim says shoplifting is also on the increase.
The honeycomb of storage the previous owners built while being in the same spot for 60 years will make it hard to move.
“There are some fragile documents from the mid 19th century to the present, so every time you move them, you risk damaging them, if not destroying them.”
Zingsheim has dreams of digitizing the documents that are in the public domain, but that’s a big job. After Saturday she says they will have to rent a 52 foot container to store everything, and rely on friends for help.