The other day when Grandpa Nelson and I were wandering around downtown, we walked past Cameron’s Used Books. It looked interesting, but we were on a mission for French fries, so the shop had to wait. Today, I went back by myself and explored a little.
Cameron’s has been in Portland since 1938. That’s eighteen years longer than I have been alive! That’s a long time. It has been at its current location at the corner of SE 3rd and Harvey Milk Street (formerly Stark) since 1960.
It was started by Robert Cameron, who opened it after realizing he couldn’t make a living in stamp collecting. Robert ran it, sometimes working nights at other jobs, until 1976. His friend Fred Goetz had been planning on buying a different bookshop and it fell through…so Robert sold Fred HIS shop instead.
Sometime back then, the shop’s owner came up with a novel gift idea: Giving a friend or loved one a magazine published on their actual birthday, in their actual birth year! Many of his magazines go quite a ways back, so I could even get one!
In 1982, Fred hired Jeff Frase, who admits he inflated his bookshop experience to get hired. Jeff fell in love with the place and, when Fred wanted to retire in 1989, bought the place rather than work for someone else.
I met Jeff (who didn’t want his picture taken) at the shop, sitting behind his desk. A small, quiet man, he was nearly invisible among the shelves of books and stacks of magazines. This Portland landmark has been the subject of articles in the local newspapers for years, including this one from The Portland Reporter in 1962.
Hand-lettered signs reading “Cell Phone use tenuously tolerated” and “No Cell Phone Cacophony allowed” were posted. Not wanting to irritate the man keeping this chapel of books alive, I turned off my ringer and only took pictures when I was around a corner.
There is good organization in the shop, but the shelves are so full it took me a while to see it. I enjoyed seeing the large collection of plays, though Guare’s House of Blue Leaves was not among them. One or two John Varley science fiction collections, but not Blue Champagne or The Barbie Murders. What DID come home with me was a sequel to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Catwings which will be a gift to Cousin Kestrel.
I enjoyed my hour or so in Cameron’s Used Books, and may stop in again sometime.