Chaparral Books – Portland, Oregon

I stood outside of an obviously closed Chaparral Books in Portland, Oregon, anxiously hoping to hear the turn of an internal lock and the swing of an opening door. They’re probably just running a little late this morning, I thought as I glanced at my watch, which put the time at ten minutes past the scheduled start-of-business hour. 

I hovered around the exterior of the shop, grabbed a drink at a neighboring convenience store, and was patiently waiting when I happened to glance the word “BOOKS” atop a storefront at the opposite end of the plaza. Hmmm…

It turns out, Chaparral Books maintains two storefronts, bookending the Portland Center Plaza. Once I’d finally found the right spot, I stepped into a quaint and organized yet a tad cluttered (in the best possible sense of the word) little store.

Chaparral was re-launched by John Thomas in 2015 in what had been a yarn store at the plaza. (I’m unsure about its history prior to that, but it had apparently been located in another part of town.) While a 40,000+ inventory covers all the usual genres, including several comic books, the shop specializes in regional, Native American, and Western Americana titles. Don’t pass up the well-stocked $1 carts outside, as well.

I inquired about the storefront on the other of the plaza and was told it’s an annex location currently holding overstock, as well as literature and poetry. “We would be glad to escort you over there if you’d like to see,” I was told by a friendly staff person. Literature and poetry are indeed among my favorite sections to peruse, but I was regrettably pressed for time and didn’t want to put them to the trouble. In hindsight, I should’ve made the time. Oh well! (There is consolation in the fact that I can browse inventory in their online store.)

In addition to its impressive and diverse collection and welcoming aura, what I’ll remember most about Chaparral Books are the gorgeous antique book presses resting on the counter. I’ve been searching for one to place in my recently redesigned basement, which I’ve converted into a literary-themed bar. “We were lucky to source them locally,” I was told when I remarked on the gorgeous pieces. “Shipping one of those would be like shipping an anvil.”

That’s exactly why I don’t have one yet!

Update: In 2021, Chaparral Books moved to a new location at 5210 S Corbett Avenue in Portland.

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