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Feature: Bookstores in the Portland Marketplace-Wallace Books

Art and Flowers
Art and Flowers
Catherine Al-Meten

A regular feature of this column will be Featured Bookstores in the Portland Marketplace. This month's featured bookstore, is Wallace Books, owned and operated by Julie Wallace.

On August 16, 1997, a young woman who had been working at Powell’s Books in Portland, took a big risk. At a time when mega-book stores like Borders seemed to have most of the growing book market, Julie Wallace opened a bookstore in the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood. In an old, wooden yellow and lavender house with a maze of rooms and tilting floors, Julie Wallace filled the shelves with new and used books, and took a chance on making her dream come true.

Wallace Books is a mainstay in the independent bookstore community in Portland, Oregon. Located at 7241 SE Milwaukee Ave. in Portland, Oregon, about midway between Sellwood and the West Moreland shopping area.

Highlights of Wallace Books:

There is much to mention when talking about the highlights of Wallace Books. Recently, the Mercury News featured Wallace Books non-fiction section and ‘weird’ surprises in an article on cutting dependence on Amazon. Wallace Books does have a large selection of non-fiction books, new and used, classic and contemporary. Here, I mention just some of my favorite aspects of Wallace Books.

Children's Literature. Wallace Books also has an outstanding Children’s Room where you can find one of the best collections of children’s literature around. With both used and new selections, the Children’s Room at Wallace Books is always on my places to shop when getting books for my grandchild and other children on my shopping list. You might find a nice selection of James Marshall’s George and Martha books, or the Ant and the Bee books by Angela Banner. Julie has been known to throw a big party when the latest children’s hits are published.

Mystery and Crime Fiction Room: The mystery and crime fiction room is stacked floor to ceiling with mystery books and crime novels. Arranged in alphabetical order, mystery books are arranged so you can find your favorite author and whatever books they’ve written in a particular series. Julie Wallace, either has an amazing memory or a great system, but any time I have ever asked her about an author, she seemed to be able to take me right to the book. Wallace maintains a huge inventory for such a small space (compared to a mammoth bookstore). For mystery buffs, Wallace Books allows you to feed your addiction without going broke. Used copies of some of the top mystery writers including Kerr, Finch, French, Peace, and Cleeves are all available.

Cook Books and Diet. The section of cookbooks and diet plan books is excellent. Again, with both new and used books, you can find just about anything in the way of cookbooks. If you can’t find it at Wallace Books, Julie Wallace will hunt it down for you.

New Books, Local Authors, and Staff Recommendations. One of my favorite parts of Wallace Books is the Local Authors section. Featuring well known and new authors, the Local Authors section is right up front near the entrance, and is always full of good selections from all types of local authors.

Wallace Books keeps a steady supply of new and used copies of the latest fiction and non-fiction books. Friday Reads, a regular feature of the Wallace Books Blog, includes recommendations of specific authors, including Louise Erdrich poet and novelist and fantasy fiction author, Terry Pratchett.
The small bookstore staff maintains a few shelves for their book recommendations. In a recent blog post, Wallace posted first lines from some of the staff’s favorite book recommendations:

"Papa is in his easy chair, reading the Sunday sports page."
-- The Brothers K by David James Duncan

"How is it possible to bring order out of memory?"
-- West with the Night by Beryl Markham

"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reached out to touch the child sleeping beside him."
-- The Road by Cormac McCarthy

"In the town there were two mutes and they were always together."
-- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Julie Wallace, who has a young daughter, has a special devotion to fostering reading among young and old alike. This past summer Wallace Books participated in the Chocolate Book Challenge. Julie Wallace helps local book clubs with suggestions for books and by supplying books for book club members. She keeps books in stock for local schools and university reading lists. When I was teaching Comparative Religions and Theology in Portland, Wallace made sure to have a number of books that were on my reading list…and students reported loving to go to her shop and discovering reasonably priced books, a great selection of books, and a very personable and welcoming bookstore owner and staff. Currently, I noticed she has books for LaSalle High School, and she stocks her shelves with some school supplies and organizing materials. She donates books and time to local elementary schools as well.

On your way to the Children's Room, stop in the middle back room and check out the wide array of classic books on philosophy, religion, history, as well as classical literature. This is a real treasure chest of good literature.

Blog and Outreach. Wallace Books is actively involved in the community, helping out with environmental activities (paper drives, recycling, book fairs). Wallace Books Blog is another great place to keep up with what is going on at Wallace Books. Wallace Books used to be right down the street from my house. Now I have to travel into Portland to visit, so the blog keeps me up-to-date on what Wallace Books is carrying and what activities are on the calendar.

Individual Attention: One of the key ingredients to the success of Wallace Books has been Julie Wallace and her personal involvement and dedication to making Wallace Books an experience for readers and writers alike. To understand how special this bookstore is, and to discover the special, hidden treasures awaiting you, visit Wallace Books in the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood some time soon. School is back in session now, and dare I say it, the holidays are ahead. Now is not too soon to head out to the bookstore to pick out some favorite reads for Autumn, to find a book on that book list for class, or to get some gift books for upcoming events. I have so many friends with birthdays in September, a trip to Wallace Books is on my list of things to do. Make it one of your stops as you head out this week.

This year marks the 17th anniversary of Wallace Books, and Julie Wallace tells me "We will be having a anniversary party to celebrate on Saturday, Sept. 20th. Cake, lemonade and 25% off all USED books!" All the more reason to stop by and search for some hidden treasure waiting for you on the shelves at Wallace Books.

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