Passages Bookshop Opens Its Doors . . . Again!

After basement beginnings and a recent eviction, Portland's beloved purveyor of rare books is back.

By Fiona McCann January 28, 2016

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Passages Bookstore: open for business.

Image: David Abel

It started its Portland life in a basement on North Albina. A move to the Towne Storage building’s fourth floor followed. Then, when Passages Bookshop joined forces with Division Leap on the fifth floor of the same building less than a year ago, it looked like this rare-title book trove had finally found its home.

Except. Towne Storage was sold, all the tenants evicted, and David Abel’s bookish business was on the street again. Now, after months of searching, he’s found a space to call his own, just blocks from the Convention Center in the Lloyd district. And the official “Grand Reopening” of Passages takes place this Saturday, January 30.

The new space, with a gleaming storefront on MLK, is 1,200 square feet of bookcases, display cases, hoard-hiding drawers, and seated space for close perusal of the wares.

“It’s a beginning,” says Abel. “Even though I’m very close to where I was, it feels closer and easier, so I’ve had people stop in on their way home from work, who didn’t do that at Towne.”

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Image: Julia Peattie

The MLK location was in many ways a surprise move, even for Abel. “I wasn’t really looking at storefronts, because for the most part they were out of my reach, but this one was a good deal and the landlord was willing to work with me,” he says. “It seemed like there was no lateral move possible. I either went backwards—to a basement or something—or I paid a lot more for a spiffy loft space or a storefront space. And I decided to step up rather than back.”

Already, Abel’s literary treasures are finding homes in the seven-foot shelves and cabinets that line the walls of his new store. Here’s a signed collection of Allen Ginsberg poems, there an early edition from Sylvia Plath. Out back, where Abel now has space for storage and shipping, resides the store’s most expensive acquisition: a poetry journal with a silkscreen cover by Andy Warhol, signed by Frank O’Hara, Edwin Denby, Ted Berrigan, John Wieners, and Warhol, priced at $20,000. But those on tighter budgets will find plenty in the shelves of poetry, literature, art books, and broadsides to suit their literary leanings, with the added bonus of Abel on hand to guide them through this happy hunting ground.

For Abel, much rests on the success of Passages’ new iteration. “When I moved into Towne, the idea was to build the business gradually and see whether there was enough local interest to warrant a store like this,” he says. “I didn’t get the liberty of testing it out gradually, I had to just plunge ahead and see whether it was viable. That’s what this is—an experiment.”

 Passages' "Grand (Re)Opening Celebration" takes place from noon to 5 pm on Saturday, Jan 30, with wine tasting by Carlton Cellars.

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