The economic downturn has not been kind to local bookstores: Look no further than the recent closure of 23rd Avenue Books, or In Other Words' funding crisis last winter. Factor in dire prognostications about the publishing industry in general, and now might not seem like the best time to open a new bookstore—but after spending half an hour inside Green Bean Books, a just-opened children's bookstore on NE Alberta, it's hard to feel anything but optimistic about the shop's future. In fact, it's virtually impossible to overstate the charm of this little place: After visiting, I'm half inclined to start squirting out babies myself, just so I'll have an excuse to go back.
Former Portland Public School teacher Jennifer Green opened the store on July 9. In her decade as a schoolteacher, Green acquired not only the shelf-loads of books that provided Green Bean's "seed stock," but also an intuitive understanding of what appeals to children: The bookstore feels like a clubhouse, its kid-sized reading nooks packed with weird little treasures.
"I want it to be a living space," Green tells me. To that end, there's more on the shelves than just books: A vintage cigarette machine has been converted to sell handmade finger puppets; an old tampon machine dispenses homemade beards and moustaches; boxes made from wood reclaimed at the Rebuilding Center house tiny dioramas. Kids on a budget can buy a fuzz ball with googly eyes from a vending machine for 10 cents a pop.
The books themselves bear scrutiny as well, and the diversity of new and used titles is immediately impressive. Alongside the typical offerings for beginning and middle readers, there's a foreign language section that includes books in French, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, and Swahili; a graphic novel section; a shelf of resources for teachers; and a tiny but well-curated selection of adult titles (Junot Díaz and Aleksandar Hemon, anyone?).
"I like little, indie bookstores, and they seem like a dying breed," Green observes. "But I really think that if any city can support something like this, it's Portland."
Green Bean's official grand opening is Thursday, July 30. Green promises "books, balloons, and snow cones"—and a chance to explore the kind of bookstore that could convince even the most reluctant kid to take up reading.