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Once upon a time in the West.

Here are four great bookstores worth the trip to their cities

DENVER RESIDENTS show visitors the Rockies. Then they show them The Tattered Cover. Seattleites boast about Puget Sound. Then they brag about Elliott Bay--the bookstore, not the nearby body of water.

Bookstore as tourist mecca? Sure, when the bookstore is truly great. And what makes a great bookstore? Well, we have our idiosyncratic criteria. A great bookstore should be independent. It should bear the stamp of its region. And, to echo Walt Whitman, it should be large and contain multitudes--of book readings, book signings, and, most of all, books.

Among the West's many fine bookstores, we think the four below are the creme de la literary creme--so outstanding that it's almost a crime to spend time in their cities without paying a visit.


"This isn't a place for racing in and racing out," says owner Michael Powell.

That's putting it mildly. With 750,000 new and used volumes packed into 43,000 square feet, Powell's Bookstore invites days of reading and exploration.

Powell's, founded in 1971, now operates six bookstores elsewhere in Portland, but the rambling structure on W. Burnside Street remains the empire's heart. Browsing tips? With its color-coded rooms (purple for travel, orange for art and architecture), Powell's is well organized, but maps of the store help. Ask to see the rare-book room, with its good selection of Northwestern Americana. Also, be sure to check out the window display just left of the main entrance, where Powell's features such not-for-sale gems as God Drives a Flying Saucer and Mystery of the Ductless Glands.


It's a story better suited to a Hollywood screenplay than to the book world. It's 1974: a young woman, Joyce Meskis, buys a 950-square-foot bookstore in Denver's Cherry Creek neighborhood. Dissolve to 1993: the bookstore has moved twice and grown to be one of the biggest in the nation, and Meskis has just completed a term as president of the American Booksellers Association.

These days, The Tattered Cover is downright soigne, occupying a tasteful four-story building near Neiman Marcus. But it retains the affection generated by its humble roots. "People in Denver feel we're part of their life," says Meskis. "When we moved from our old location we had hundreds of volunteers helping."

Community goodwill is maintained by a large and book-savvy staff, such events as Saturday morning children's reading hours, and a touch of whimsy: browsers in the cookbook section can salivate over recipes at an old diner table, while in the religion section, you can seek enlightenment in a pew. As for the selection, with 200,000 titles on hand, chances are good that whatever you're looking for, it's here.


You don't have to be young, hip, and dressed in black to appreciate this Pioneer Square landmark, though it doesn't hurt. True, the bookstore's basement cafe is the perfect place to linger over a strong cup of coffee while reading the latest post-Mia deconstructivist treatise on the films of Woody Allen, but caffeine consumption, let alone an interest in film theory, is not obligatory.

Founded in 1973 by former college administrator Walter Carr, Elliott Bay rambles attractively through two turn-of-the-century buildings, and its stock of new books numbers 150,000 titles. There's also a large space devoted to public readings.


The San Francisco Bay Area is rife with good bookstores--City Lights, Kepler's, Black Oak, and Printers Inc. all come to mind. But the most archetypally Bay Area store remains Cody's in Berkeley.

The store was founded in 1956 by Pat and Fred Cody, and for decades seemed to stand at or near the forefront of every political and social movement to hit this university town. Current owner Andy Ross has expanded the operation--the 100,000 titles include strong computer and children's sections, and more hardbacks than the original Cody's carried--but the store's spirit of intellectual engagement remains intact.

By the way, anybody interested in Cody's history--and in Berkeley history in general--may want to peruse Pat and Fred Cody's new memoir, Cody's Books (Chronicle Books, 1992, $24.95 hardback, $11.95 paper). It's available, of course, at the bookstore.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:bookstores in the West Coast
Author:Fish, Peter
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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