Owner trying ‘to keep Powell’s alive’ during pandemic


Emily Powell posted letter on their company website

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For generations, Powell’s Books and Portland have been synonymous. But the coronavirus pandemic took its toll. Thursday, owner Emily Powell posted a somber note on their website.

Here is the note in its entirety:

Message From Emily Powell
On Tuesday, March 17, Powell’s Books Owner and CEO Emily Powell shared the following letter with employees.

Dear Powell’s,

These are unprecedented and grievous times. Only a few days ago we had reason to hope that we could continue with our meaningful work of bookselling and maintain some small semblance of normalcy. Now we see the path ahead more clearly: it is dark and scary.

I have always described Powell’s as resilient: lumbering sometimes, full of quirks and personality, but always resilient. We are having that resilience tested as never before. As you all know, we made the decision, with only a small amount of time to act, to close all of our stores over the weekend. We felt we could not wait a moment longer for the sake of the health of our community. We had hoped to find some way to consider this a short-term closure. Today, only one more day out from that decision, we now understand what we all must face: an extended, difficult period of significant measures to protect public health. We don’t expect we will be able to open our doors for at least 8 weeks, and very likely longer. When we do open our stores again, we expect the landscape of Oregon, and all of our abilities to spend money on books and gifts, will have changed dramatically. I wish we could have planned more and prepared you more; the situation simply moved too quickly and our responsibility to act quickly to protect public health felt too dire.

When we closed our doors, we also closed off the vast majority of our business without any prospect of it returning soon. As a result, we have been forced to make the unthinkable decision to lay off the vast majority of you in the coming few days. Many people have spoken publicly demanding we pay our employees and extend health insurance for the duration. No one can possibly know how much I wish I could make that happen. We are simply not that kind of business – we run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis, every day trading funds from one pocket to patch the hole in another. We have worked hard over the years to pay the best possible wages, health care and benefits, to make contributions to our community, to support other non-profits. Unfortunately, none of those choices leave extra money on hand when the doors close. And when the doors close, every possible cost must stop as well.

I am doing everything within my power to keep Powell’s alive for the next generation of readers and writers, for the next generation of Portland and Oregon. And yet Powell’s is also where I grew up and have spent most of my life, and I cannot imagine attempting to move forward without so many of you, colleagues who feel like family. Please know none of our choices were made lightly, and our slow communication has masked our desperate efforts to find a different possible path.

My heart breaks for all of us. Our stores are meant to be full, our city bustling, our minds at ease. And for a time, none of those will be true. I know for many of you, your lives will be forever altered by our decision to close our stores and you will never think of Powell’s the same. For all of that and more, I am deeply sorry. I can only hope we might find a way to come back together on the other side of these terrible times.


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Powell’s Books remains open and active online.

Other iconic businesses hurting

On Tuesday, another iconic Portland business, McMenamins, announced they were closing all but one of their 20+ locations and laid off nearly 3000 employees in an effort to save their business for when the pandemic is over.

Oregon schools are closed through April 28 and virtually every facet of daily life is on hold.

KOIN – Complete Coverage of Coronavirus

KOIN 6 News will have more information later in the day.

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