... Powells Book Store in Portland ...
I visited Powell's City of Books about two years ago. If one buys books, one must surely have heard of it. Powell's advertises itself as the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. I nearly had a case of the vapors anticipating the experience and had cleared a good two hours out of a demanding day to revel in the stacks.
It was my greatest disappointment ever in book browsing. Yes, it has nearly an infinite number of books, but finding those that interested me and enjoying the browsing experience were issues. In most book stores there is a certain reverence for the volumes, the arrays of volumes, one's fellow bibliophiles, the smell of paper and ink of various vintages, the quiet shuffling of feet of the seekers -- of being with like minded people in a brotherhood of love for books.
Powells was more like a Texas liquor store a half hour before closing on Saturday night. It was packed with people. In some areas, elbow to elbow. There were kids running around, parents shouting for kids when not ramming baby carriages through clusters of customers, what appeared to be busloads of Japanese and European tourists wandering around and taking lots of photos with lots of flashes, people pushing around and through and into the browsers, some browsers sitting in the narrow aisles and completely blocking them and either refusing to move or moving with ample eye rolling and aggrieved sighing. It was thoroughly unpleasant.
In addition, for a first time visitor, it requires the navigational skills of a smart bomb to read the signs directing one to the area of one's interests. The signage is contradictory, confusing, and inaccurate at times. Combine that with the labyrinth of stairs and narrow passages and different floors and half floors of different levels that is the physical layout of Powells and one can waste a good part of one's two hours trying to find the military history and science fiction sections. In one case, I had to go from one part of the third floor (I think) to the ground floor and then find a way to get back up to the third floor to continue my time consuming search -- cause it was impossible to reach parts of the floor from other parts of the floor. Asking employees for help wasn't a solution as they were absent and, generally, uninterested.
I picked up 3-4 books and, upon reaching the checkout area, just put them down again. One look at the mayhem and the even surlier employees, and I decided not to pass through that Scylla and Charybdis to buy my books.
To be fair, I think I would have enjoyed Powells had I been there on a quiet day when its denizens were folks like me. People who came for the books and not the experience of being able to claim they had visited the store. I don't see how I could enjoy the employees, who almost universally seemed to think that interacting with customers was ruining whatever else they would rather be doing.
So, was my experience normal or an anomaly?