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Powell’s Bookshop Rehires 100 Employees as Online Book Orders Surge

By Tim Chester

Mar 30, 2020

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Powell’s City of Books in Portland had to let go almost all of its employees. Now, 100 have been rehired.

Photo by Michael Gordon / Shutterstock

Powell’s City of Books in Portland had to let go almost all of its employees. Now, 100 have been rehired.

Readers are escaping into fiction during the coronavirus pandemic.

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As the global coronavirus pandemic enters its—what, 18th?—month, quarantined people worldwide have discovered all manner of ways to pass the time: board games; Zoom happy hours; TV binges; home workouts; travel scrapbooks; home schooling; subscription snack boxes. And books. In my case especially, lots and lots of transporting, escapist fiction. (Favorite right now: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.)

All this reading has provided a glimmer of good news for one major bookshop: Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, which just announced it’s rehiring 100 of its staff to cope with a surge in online orders while its five brick-and-mortar locations are closed. (Earlier in March, Powell’s cited “unprecedented and grevious times” in a decision to lay off the majority of its staff).

As a direct result of the new book sales, the 100 employees are all back working full time with benefits, Powell’s owner and CEO Emily Powell said in a note Friday, with efforts in place to ensure their health and safety. “We’ve made an internal commitment to only pay for expenses that keep folks employed, and the lights on, for the time being,” she added.

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“We can’t do that forever—we love our vendors and business partners, and want to support them as well. Right now, our focus is on keeping Powell’s moving, keeping our community healthy, taking care of our wonderful customers, and having as many folks working with health insurance as our sales can support. We don’t know what the future holds. . . . We’re going to keep the doors to Powells.com open as long as we can.”

The site has a huge selection of books, including many travel-related choices, and shipping is free for orders over $25. The shop says that Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light are selling particularly well. To help booksellers struggling right now, Emily Powell also suggests a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

Want to read more with us? Join fellow literature lovers online at AFAReads, our digital book club.

>> Next: A Travel Lover’s Guide to Staying Sane When You’re Stuck at Home

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