In 1977, when Andrea Drinard opened her now iconic secondhand bookstore Paper Moon, she started with a paltry 200 books.
“I really wasn’t sure what I was doing back then. I just loved reading,” says Drinard. “I was selling books in my previous antique dealing business and through Books for Sale listings in periodicals. My success was encouraging. I started to live and dream books.
‘“In the 1970’s books were extremely popular and rents relatively cheap, so I acted on my instincts and opened a bookstore. Next thing I knew, people were taking books off the shelves and handing me money for them. It was the oddest thing. I couldn’t believe it. It really just kept growing from there.”
Today, Drinard is a highly-regarded well-established member of Portland’s book community, who in addition to dealing, conducts appraisal services for private citizens, estates, historical societies and other businesses. Paper Moon Bookstore, now located on SE 47th and Belmont, carries fiction, poetry, non-fiction, philosophy, children’s, art, politics, women’s studies, religion, and history.
Drinard has many options to fulfill her favorite pastime of reading as she is surrounded daily by literally thousands of titles.
Secondhand book dealers are part of a tight-knit community of Portland literary enthusiasts, who form a web of impressive book knowledge beyond the block-long, three-story tourist favorite, Powell’s City of Books. In addition to established storeowners like Drinard, other types of book dealers might bring their wares to flea markets, conduct their business from a mini-shop at an antique mall, or specialize in a subject and sell directly from their homes to a narrow clientele.
It’s a challenge for book dealers to maintain brick-and-mortar shops in Portland’s booming real estate market with its ever-rising rents and Drinard is no exception. The first Paper Moon opened in a transformed former United States Post Office on SE 35th and Hawthorne, and the store has occupied five other locations since: four in the Hawthorne/Belmont area, and one downtown, during a brief stint across from the public library.
In May, 2017, an unforeseen rent hike pushed Drinard out of an expansive space on Belmont and 47th and into a smaller, less ideal location directly across the street, and she began the herculean task of moving Paper Moon’s roughly 40,000 books.
Still adjusting to her new location, she faces an unusual new task: paring down her inventory. Even though she has less room and is already overstocked, it is difficult for her to stop buying books, and she encourages customers to bring in and sell.
“I always take a look because you never know what you’ll find. I buy books that are in good condition and most salable. It is hard to explain to the general public what I need in the store. Best-sellers have generally saturated the market. I stick to classics in literature and older books that are hard-to-find. I am also interested in scholarly subjects. I have to rely on spotting books instinctively which might not stick out to the uninformed eye.”
Drinard enjoys the luck-of-the-draw approach to acquiring inventory, the hunt for the diamond in the rough. “It keeps things exciting. Some of the best books on my shelves are brought in from someone’s grandmother’s collection.”
Although she has yet to put much signage up to attract customers, a sandwich board on the sidewalk brings in neighbors and passersby, who stop in to express relief that she is still in business. Drinard, unapologetically enjoying the clutter, stations herself in the front at an antique wooden desk that is covered with a disarray of books, postcards and papers.
Well-established customers, who have evolved into friends after years of patronage, stop in to say hi and chat. Some bring in fruits and vegetables from their gardens, others have books to sell. Quieter patrons walk in and are engrossed for long periods, slowly digesting all the options, then emerging with special finds at the front counter, cash in hand.
The copiously cluttered shelves of the Paper Moon are perused by local literary giants such as Chuck Palahniuk and Lidia Yuknavitch, by high profile Pacific Northwest celebrity artists like Dale Chihuly, and by local graphic designers who come in to gain vintage inspiration for their craft.
The most uttered phrase that one hears in Paper Moon is, “I love your store.”
It is clear that community members believe Paper Moon personifies the area’s grassroots, neighborhood spirit, and are comforted by its low-tech presence amongst newer, higher profile, businesses that have moved in on quickly gentrifying Belmont Street.
While modern devices like the Kindle may have created a “novel” approach to purchasing and storing our literature, they also serve to remind us that the calculated efficiency of an electronic device is no substitute for the tactile, visceral pleasure of the book object itself.
The public’s love of books and the need for connection and community will keep our favorite independent bookstores, like Paper Moon, alive in Portland.