Two Portland Bookstores, One Room

Passages Bookshop and Division Leap join forces to create Portland's "highest"—and rarest—of literary havens.

By Mary Stutzman January 23, 2015

Outside “the highest bookstore in Portland,” six lanes of cars zoom across the Burnside Bridge. But inside this fifth floor studio in the industrial eastside's Towne Storage building, the muffled sounds of traffic are soothing, almost meditative.

Suite #502 opened for business last Saturday, its airy, shelf-lined walls filled with the combined inventories of two of Portland’s most eclectic, rare-title bookstores.

“We’re starting a revolution,” laughs David Abel, proprietor of the decades-old Passages Bookshop, “a very quiet one.”

With the Towne Storage space, he and his new collaborator, Adam Davis of Division Leap, have relocated their notoriously hard-to-find stores (over the past decade, Division Leap alone has jumped across multiple city quadrants) in a shared space that looks like a library but feels like an art museum.

"After years of pointing our customers to each other, now we just have to point across the room," says Davis.

Abel and Davis first met five years ago when Davis reopened Division Leap after moving back from a stint in New York. These days, their connection is so tight they finish each other’s sentences.

“Five different people got in touch with me and said ‘You have to get in touch with David Abel, he’s the first person you need to look up,’” says Davis. “It was the eeriest thing—”

“—I walked into [Davis’] first shop, the first time I walked through the door I looked around and thought ‘Am I at home?'—okay, I get this,” continues Abel.

In the Towne Storage space, Passages and Division Leap will continue to operate separately in terms of sales and publishing projects. But as far as institutional memory, collectors of literary obscura will receive two encyclopedic minds for the price of one.

From anarchism to local zines, both booksellers specialize in secret histories: little-known people and movements from across time and place.

“A lot of our job is working with archives, finding ways to get tangible history in readers’ hands again,” says Davis.

By way of example, he plucks from a shelf a 1930 volume of Sitten Geschichte des Weltkrieges ("Sexual History of the World War").

Before Alfred Kinsey, he explains, there was Magnus Hirschfeld— a German physician, nicknamed the “Einstein of Sex,” who was one of the first advocates for homosexual and transsexual rights.

Meanwhile, Abel pulls out a photo series by Eugene photographer Terri Warpinski and Portland poet Laura Winter. Surface Tension was showcased by galleries across the country last year; Warpinski’s haunting desert prints from the debris-littered Mexican-American border juxtapose Winter’s poetry in an artistic exploration of the political tension between the two countries.

“This project is about poetry and art from the practitioner's point of view,” says Abel. "Something different, something you're not going to find online or at Powell’s." 

Division Leap and Passages Bookshop
Open Saturdays from 10 am–4 pm
weekdays by appointment and “by chance”

17 SE 3rd Ave, Suite #502
Portland, Oregon 97214
(503) 206-7291 

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