Local bookshop builds neighborhood culture

Photograph Courtesy of Annie Bloom's Books

Less than three miles northwest of Lewis & Clark, Annie Bloom’s Books has been serving the Multnomah Village community since 1978. With its bottle green awning and charming window displays, Annie Bloom’s is a cozy, family-oriented alternative to Amazon. 

Annie Bloom’s book buyer Will Peters is confident that the store has a distinct connection to Southwest Portland as well as LC. 

“We’re really rooted in a neighborhood and community that supports us,” Peters said. “During the COVID year, we actually hired three recent LC graduates who were looking for jobs and a safe place to work.” 

After just five minutes browsing Annie Bloom’s, it becomes apparent that the store’s community-centered approach is not a marketing gimmick. It is the real deal. Parents try to corral their kids down the aisles as they race toward Caldecott Award Winners and children’s classics starting at $7.99; one child even implores his mother to buy him a nonfiction book on veganism. Meanwhile, Molly Bloom, a black cat who serves as the store’s only live-in employee, curls up in a wicker basket below the magazines. 

Additionally, Annie Bloom’s has made an effort to serve the local unhoused population through a partnership with bicycle-powered mobile library Street Books. 

“Customers can buy books, and Street Books comes and distributes them to unhoused people in the community,” Peters said. 

Those who buy a book from the official Annie Bloom’s wish list for Street Books donations receive a 10% discount. 

Although Annie Bloom’s does not sell used books, its bargain section is always well-stocked. Sumptuous art- and cookbooks, which would cost an arm and a leg at Barnes & Noble, have sticker prices of less than ten dollars at Annie Bloom’s. 

The bookstore also hosts extensive Judaica, poetry and Pacific Northwest collections. You can pick up Folkmanis puppets and imaginative greeting cards, as well as a quirky brand of journals that allow you to write between the lines of your favorite author. 

With Literary Arts’ Portland Book Festival on the horizon, November promises to be an eventful month for Annie Bloom’s. The hybrid, week-long event will culminate with an in-person celebration on Saturday, Nov. 13 at the Portland Art Museum. 

“We will be at the Portland Book Festival selling books for authors who are up on the stage, and we’re excited about that,” Peters said. 

Annie Bloom’s participation in the Portland Book Festival reveals more of their LC connections. On Wednesday, Nov. 10, the bookstore hosted a virtual event featuring Associate Professor of English Mary Szybist.

Szybist interviewed Rita Dove, the first African American poet appointed as United States Poet Laureate, about Dove’s upcoming book of poems, “Playlist for the Apocalypse.” 

“I was wildly lucky to have Rita Dove as my teacher when I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia,” Szybist said via email. “She brought me into poetry, and I’m grateful to still be in this life-long conversation with her.” 

Annie Bloom’s seeks to foster these life-long conversations, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose challenges for the independent bookstore. 

“We started out doing a lot of deliveries all around town, and we wanted to keep everybody employed who worked here already,” Peters said. 

He credits the eclectic staff, who range in age from the aforementioned recent graduates to eighty-somethings, as part of Annie Bloom’s welcoming atmosphere. 

During lockdown, Annie Bloom’s became a source of levity and joy for locals in Multnomah Village.  “Everybody during the pandemic, before we were open again, wanted to know how Molly was,” Peters said. “They would call and ask.” 

Annie Bloom’s has since reopened its doors, with curbside pick-up available to support the immunocompromised. Their website also supports local deliveries and USPS shipping. 

“We’ve tried a number of different things throughout it and reinvented ourselves a couple times over, while keeping the core philosophy of what we do,” Peters said. 

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