Powell’s, Portland’s beloved indie bookstore, will lay off most workers

Just days after temporarily shutting its doors due to the coronavirus outbreak, Powell's Books will lay off most of its staff.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Portland, Ore.,’s beloved Powell’s Books is laying off most of its employees in the coming days.

The indie bookstore’s owner and CEO, Emily Powell, sent its workers a letter Tuesday night announcing the layoffs during “these unprecedented and grievous times.”

For the record:

9:08 a.m. March 19, 2020An earlier version of this article said Powell’s Books was closing its stores. The closures are temporary.

“When we closed our doors, we also closed off the vast majority of our business without any prospect of it returning soon,” she said in the letter. “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.”


The news comes just days after Powell’s announced it was temporarily closing its five locations through March 31 out of concern for the safety of its employees and the community. By midweek, major indie bookstores across the nation had collectively laid off more than 600 employees as a response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to Publishers Weekly.

“My heart breaks for all of us,” Powell continued. “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.”

Bookstores in L.A. are changing the way they sell amid coronavirus concerns. Most have closed but are offering curbside pickup and home delivery to customers.

March 18, 2020