In the spring of 2007, Microcosm Publishing shut the doors of their North Portland store, attributing the closure to the difficulty of finding an affordable space in an increasingly gentrified city. Since then the business has been mail order only, selling progressive books, zines, pamphlets, stickers, buttons, and more out of their warehouse in Bloomington, Indiana. (Titles include the Powell's bestseller The Zinester's Guide to Portland, as well as hundreds of zines and remainders from other publishing houses—more on that in a minute.) Despite last year's move, plans for a local store never went off the table: "There was no period of time we didn't want to be in Portland," founder Joe Biel tells me. "The intention was never to pull out completely."
And now, over a year later, Microcosm's opened a new Portland outpost, taking up residence in Southeast's ActivSpace building. The storefront is tiny, but Biel says they eventually hope to move into larger digs, and for now the space is a good fit. The building also houses Yeti magazine and the Black Sheep Bakery, and it's on a bike route—all befitting a progressive business that made the move into their new home via bicycle, courtesy of the friendly bike-movers at SHIFT (shift2bikes.org). After trundling shelves from the basement in which they've been stored for the past year, the tiny bookstore is ready to celebrate its grand opening this weekend.
And, after a year-plus doing just fine without them, what does Microcosm have to offer Portland?
"One thing that makes this store different from other bookstores in Portland is that the majority of the books that we sell are technically damaged copies and remainders, books that are traditionally unsellable through commercial means because they have slight damage, which means you can get them for half price or less," Biel says. "We buy them from our distributor, who basically has a mountain of them in a pile in a warehouse.
"But the funny thing is the books look new, they don't look used, so a lot of times people are confused as to why the book is so cheap. It's kind of a weird thing, to have nobody else in Portland doing that. It's pretty common in other cities."