You won’t find any mention of a location in eastern Oregon on Powell’s website. Most of the Bookseller’s Portland area store employees have never heard of such a thing.
But unexpectedly, Condon – population 760 – is home to a little-known outpost of Powell’s Books.
The Gilliam County location was founded in 1993 by Michael Powell, then owner of the Portland-based bookstore.
“People do a double take and then they come back and say, ‘Is that true? Is it real? “, He said. “Yeah. It’s us.”
But the name of Condon Local is a recent change. For 34 years the shop was known as Country Flowers and was owned by Darla Seale.
Condon can thank her for the bookstore.
“The idea of being in Condon appealed to me,” Powell said, “but it was mainly Darla’s personality that made it possible.”
In 1988, Seal and her husband purchased the 1905-built Reisacher Building in downtown Condon for her growing flower business. They bought it for $10,000, then spent another $50,000 restoring the original wood floors, opening the 16-foot ceilings, and “uncovering all of the building’s hidden treasures.”
Country Flowers quickly grew to sell an assortment of trinkets, kitchen utensils, clothing and greeting cards. Seale also added a soda fountain and a deli counter. His was the first cafe in the county to have an espresso machine.
“It was so long ago, nobody knew what espresso was,” Seale said. “I’m not kidding, no one had heard of it. But it took off, and three espresso machines later, we’re still doing a lot of sales with it.
Around the time of the first espresso machine, Powell discovered the store. He had purchased vacation property in the nearby community of Spray and became one of Seale’s regular customers.
In between, the idea of a Powell’s Books store was born.
Seale says it was Powell’s suggestion. Powell gives all the credit to Seale.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Powell said. “I got to know Darla. It didn’t take very long for him to say, “How would you like to put some sort of book presence here?” » »
Although he considered putting the books upstairs, the wooden joists of the old building wouldn’t support it.
“We have parking in the Burnside building, and we can’t put books where cars are parked because books are heavier than cars,” Powell said. “Weird, but true.”
So they chose a corner of the first floor. Powell set up two 12-shelf aisles and filled them with new and used books.
“I was there the day we released the books, and we were getting ready to see if anyone would buy any books,” Powell said. “People used to say to me, ‘I bet you sell a lot of Louis L’Amour,’ because there’s a stereotype about who lives in eastern Oregon.” (Love being a popular Western writer.)
“Well, actually the first book we sold was by Toni Morrison, and the second was a computer book,” he said. “I didn’t follow after that.”
In the early years, Powell sent someone to restock the books. Later, Seale would drive a van herself when she visited Portland.
“It really was a booming business,” Seale said. “The first six months, I think we made $1,000 (in sales) every week. I’m the only florist in three counties, so there were no other bookstores in those three counties either.
A popular item was a Powell t-shirt stating his locations: “Portland, Chicago, Condon.”
“We got 10% of the sales, and we were sending them a monthly report and sending them a check,” Seale said. “We were happy to have the books. Michael really likes everyone having access to the books and has been super generous and kind to us in allowing that to happen. It was a gift.”
Both companies have changed since 1993.
Michael Powell is retired and his daughter, Emily Powell, is the owner and president of the company. Powell’s has since closed its housewares store in Hawthorne and its kiosk at Portland International Airport. But Condon’s small outpost continues.
Earlier this year Seale, now 74, sold Country Flowers to a new owner. Jeremy Kirby ran the business alongside Seale for more than two years before buying it in April and renaming it Condon Local.
Kirby is a resident of Condon. Its roots go back several generations in the city. Kirby had a commercial photography business in New York and then Portland, but the family home he inherited in Condon set him back. He now sits on City council of Condon and in 2021 helped find the Condon Arts Council.
“Maybe this is my version of a midlife crisis,” Kirby said. “I missed Oregon, and I was just trying to get back to my roots, I think. I fell in love with the building, I love the coffee, I love the books. It was just the culmination of many things I’ve done over the past 18 years.
In addition to maintaining the store and cafe, Kirby hopes to eventually renovate the upstairs into a posh guesthouse with artists’ studios.
The Powell’s Books outlet remains a big draw and plans to move the books to a more visible location at the front of the store.
“When people find it, they’re usually pleasantly surprised,” Kirby said. “They spend a lot of time going through books. They get coffee and food and make a day of it. And usually they fall in love with Condon.
If you are going to: The Condon Local, 201 S. Main St. in Condon, is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.