You won’t find mention of an eastern Oregon location on Powell’s website. Most employees of the bookseller’s Portland area stores have never heard of such a thing.
But against all odds, 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 it true? Is it real?'” he said. “Yep. That’s us.”
The Powell’s outpost more than 150 miles from the famous City of Books can be found at the rear of the Condon Local, a retail store, coffee shop and cafe in the tiny downtown of Gilliam’s county seat.
But the name Condon Local is a recent change. For 34 years, the shop was known as Country Flowers and owned by Darla Seale.
Condon can thank her for the bookstore.
“The idea of being in Condon appealed to me,” Powell said, “but mainly it was Darla’s personality that made it happen.”
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In 1988, Seal and her husband purchased the 1905-built Reisacher Building in downtown Condon for her growing floral business. They bought it for $10,000, then spent another $50,000 restoring the original wood floors, opening up the 16-foot ceilings and “uncovering all of the hidden treasures of the building.”
Country Flowers soon expanded to sell an assortment of knickknacks, kitchenware, clothing and greeting cards. Seale also added a soda fountain and deli counter. Hers was the first cafe in the county to get an espresso machine.
“This was so long ago, nobody knew what espresso was,” Seale said. “I’m not kidding you, no one had heard of it. But it took off, and three espresso machines later, we’re still doing a lot of sales with that.”
Around the time of the first espresso machine, Powell discovered the store. He had purchased vacation property in the neighboring community of Spray and became one of Seale’s regular customers.
Between the two of them, the idea for a Powell’s Books location came up.
Seale says it was Powell’s suggestion. Powell gives all the credit to Seale.
“It just seemed like a good idea at the time,” Powell said. “I got to know Darla. It didn’t take her very long to say, ‘How would you feel about putting some kind of a book presence here?’”
Although he considered placing the books upstairs, the wood joists of the old building wouldn’t support it.
“We have a parking garage in the Burnside building, and we can’t put books where the cars are parked because books are heavier than cars,” Powell said. “Bizarre, but true.”
So, they chose a corner of the first floor. Powell installed two aisles of 12 bookshelves and filled them with new and used books.
“I was there the day we got the books up, and we were getting ready to see if anybody would buy any books,” Powell said. “People often said to me, ‘I bet you sell a lot of Louis L’Amour, ‘ because there’s a stereotype of who lives in eastern Oregon.” (L’Amour being a popular author of Westerns.)
“Well, actually, the first book we sold was by Toni Morrison, and the second one was a computer book,” he said. “I didn’t keep track after that.”
In the early years, Powell’s sent someone to restock the books. Later, Seale would bring a vanload back herself when she visited Portland.
“It was really a booming business,” Seale said. “The first six months, I think we did $1,000 (in sales) every week. I’m the only florist in three counties, so there was no other bookstore in those three counties either.”
A popular item was a Powell’s T-shirt listing its locations: “Portland, Chicago, Condon.”
“We got 10% of the sales, and we would send them a monthly report and send them a check,” Seale said. “We were happy just to have the books. Michael really likes everybody to have access to books and has been super generous and kind to us to allow this to happen. It was a gift.”
Both businesses have changed since 1993.
Michael Powell retired and his daughter, Emily Powell, is owner and president of the company. Powell’s has since closed its home goods store on Hawthorne and its kiosk location at Portland International Airport. But the tiny outpost in Condon continues.
Earlier this year, Seale, now 74, sold Country Flowers to a new owner. Jeremy Kirby managed the business alongside Seale for more than two years before purchasing it in April and renaming it the Condon Local.
Kirby ice a Condon local. His roots go back several generations in town. Kirby had a commercial photography business in New York and then Portland, but the family home he inherited in Condon pulled him back. He now serves on the Condon City Council and in 2021 helped found the Condon Arts Council.
“Maybe it’s 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 coffee, I like books. It was just a culmination of a lot of things that I’ve done over the last 18 years.”
In addition to maintaining the store and coffee shop, Kirby eventually hopes to renovate upstairs into a chic bed and breakfast with artist studios.
The Powell’s Books outlet remains a big draw, and he plans to move the books to a more prominent location at the front of the store.
“When people find it, they’re usually pleasantly surprised,” Kirby said. “They spend a bunch of time going through books. They get coffee and food and make a day out of it. And usually, they fall in love with Condon.”
If you go: The Condon Local, 201 S. Main St. in Condon, is open 8:30 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Saturday and 11 am to 4 pm Sunday.
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