Our History: From Diapers to the Digital Revolution
The Portland State Bookstore had humble beginnings, as a co-op organized by students at the Vanport Extension Center. Founded in 1946, the college provided education to servicemen and women returning from World War II. ”The first store, organized as a co-op by students, operated out of an apartment closet in Vanport. Reflecting the needs of the young school’s student families, the store stocked as many diapers as it did books”.
After the 1948 flood that wiped out Vanport City, the “college that wouldn’t die” eventually relocated to the Lincoln High School building on the Park Blocks in downtown Portland, and the co-op moved with it. By this time, the co-op was run by a Board of Directors comprised of students and faculty.
Between 1952 and 1965 the Bookstore relocated and expanded as needed to support the College. During these years the Bookstore resided in Old Main (now known as Lincoln Hall), in the College Center (renamed Smith Center in 1969), and in the space now housing the Fifth Avenue Cinema.
The State Board of Education limited the expansion of the College east of SW Broadway. Private investors built the Ondine residence hall and the University Services Building, leasing space to businesses that supported the College. In 1969, the Portland State Bookstore moved into a two story, half city block of space in the University Services Building, the first space truly designed to serve as a bookstore.
During the 1970's the Bookstore, decorated with bright ‘70's graphics, featured a black-light poster cave, a sound shop that carried LP’s and cassette tapes in addition to turntables and speakers and a “Saturday Market” selection of hand-made ceramics and jewelry. During this period almost everyone on campus was reading the very popular self-help books like “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”, and the societal revolution books like “Steal This Book”. The books “Future Shock”, “Silent Spring”, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” seemed to be on everyone’s bookshelves.
In 1974, at the beginning of the digital revolution, the Bookstore brought in a supply of HP’s first hand-held calculator. The line to purchase them stretched down the block.
The Tide Turns:
Until the mid 1980s the majority of college students actually purchased textbooks for their courses from the campus Bookstore, as well as the required art materials and school supplies.
The economic downturn in the 1980's and the advent of the internet in the 1990's had a serious impact on bookstores in general and University bookstores in particular. While the Portland State Bookstore continued to function, the halcyon days of the 1970's were gone. Anticipating reduced demand, the Bookstore downsized to one floor but suffered within the restricted space.
In 2000 the Urban Center Building was completed, and the Bookstore became the primary retail anchor of the new building. The co-op hoped this location would successfully serve them well into the new millennium. Following 9/11 and the resulting economic downturn, and the resulting drop in enrollment of International students the Portland State Bookstore, like many other businesses, struggled to remain profitable. The upsurge of Amazon.com and other internet based bookstores and increased competition from businesses in the University and downtown districts also had a negative impact on the Bookstore’s bottom line. In 2005, the Bookstore filed with the State of Oregon to move the Bookstore’s status from a co-op to a not-for-profit, allowing more financial flexibility. With this freed revenue the Bookstore began offering book scholarships to PSU students, to encourage students to purchase their books and supplies from the campus Bookstore.
The Last Drop:
In 2010 the Bookstore’s basement portion of the Urban Center building had a catastrophic flood , water 12 inches deep covered over 10,000 square feet of retail and storage space. The Bookstore never fully recovered from the expense resulting from the loss of inventory and the necessary repairs.
After two very stressful years, The Board of Directors of the not-for-profit Bookstore was approached by Nebraska Book Company to have the Portland State Bookstore become a Neebo © store. The purchase was finalized in June 2012.
In 2015 Nebraska Book Company sold their retail division to Follett Corporation, who continue to provide books and services to the PSU Community.
The Bookstore co-op that had such humble beginnings in Vanport City has had its spirits dampened, but the mission to serve the Portland State community continues.
In 1942, Vanport City, Oregon, was constructed behind dykes on farmland between the Columbia River and the boundary of Portland. It was built to provide housing for men and women working at the Kaiser Shipyards in both Portland and Vancouver, Washington. At its peak, Vanport City was the second largest city in Oregon, with a population of 40,000 people. The community shrank by half at the war’s end, but returning war veterans and nearly 2,000 students swelled its ranks when the City created the college in 1946. The college’s buildings were scattered across Vanport City, and they, like everything else, were destroyed in May 1948 [Memorial Day] when the dykes broke and flood waters from the Columbia River, swollen by the spring thaw and heavy rains, poured in. The site of the city is now the location of the Portland International Raceway at Delta Park.
Reference: Sanders, R. (2009). Portland State: A history in pictures . Portland, OR: Retirement Association of Portland State (RAPS).