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Adalbert is a forum for me, to post ephemera, photography, poetry, occasional travel notes, and various spontaneous motions. Cover photo: Parsonage where my great-grandfather spent his early years. Taken near Liegnitz, Silesia, ca. 1870.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Armchair Family Bookstore

On 18 January 2014 I dropped by Armchair Family Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and inspected its offerings.  Remarkable, the survival of the improbable, that the store still exists in any sense. One writer, with a condescending tone, described the store as "boarded up," and that it's a place that used to "peddle" paperbacks. Well, Armchair never had windows in the first place, and it's still operating, if marginally. I first entered this establishment around 1979, and frequented it for many years after, although I had not been there in a very long while.  Dave Smith, the bearded, expressive proprietor associated with the golden age of Armchair, long ago passed to the other side.  I think of his arguments with his wife of those days, when he repeated her name in increasingly excited crescendos.  I recall his invariant warnings about keeping kids away from underground comics.  (This lecture occurred when a friend and I attempted to look at, or buy, Zap Comix or similar titles, kept among the frankincense pulp of Marvels and DCs, back issues of Playboys, Penthouses, Ouis, and Hustlers, National Lampoons in cramped confines behind Smith's perch, cash register, and counter.)  The bookshelves wrapped around the counter, and lined along small back corridors, held a quirky stock of paperbacks and old magazines.  

In more recent times, the repository maintained a vigorous trade in adult magazines, dvds, and videocassettes, apparently covering the entire "family" spectrum.  On this last visit, the stock had withered to an offering of random paperbacks, National Geographics, and odd items, many of the shelves only partly filled.  I picked up an Airmont Classics edition of P√®re Goriot and a few National Geographics from the 1960s.
But the bookstore survives, and the "Drink Hires" sign, and the attached Norman Bates house, just as when the world was created.

Armchair Family Bookstore

From the east side of Milwaukie Avenue

The eccentric Chuck would always speak of the tower in the distance, used (according to him) for training firefighters.  The scene is close to Armchair.


  1. My favorite book store just closed. It was located in the center of Utrecht and used to have three floors stacked with books. Other still existing bookstores are now a sad remnant of what they used to be. First the internet companies, then e-books, and then the economic crisis, it's too hard for them.

  2. Rob, I almost went to Utrecht by accident (got on the wrong train for a bit). Sorry your favorite bookstore closed. The harsh climate for bookstores makes it even more remarkable this one is around -- maybe it's too weird to die.

  3. I got many of my early Mad Magazines from Armchair and I too marvel that it's still around. For whatever reason I went in about six months ago and asked the lady if she had any old Mads. She said she'd have to go to the house and bring her box down. So I waited five minutes with no one in the place while she made her trek. I wasn't disappointed. She had an early run of issues starting with #24 (the first magazine -- they were comic books from #1- #23) going into the #50s... Not bad prices either. I wasn't in the market and was a little ashamed that I'd made her leave the store to satisfy my desire to see someone else's Mads. But it did cause a memory flood of around the same time period, late '70s, and me as a kid who had figured out the bus system finding old Mads in a claustrophobic shop, sending him down a road to ruin.

  4. Our minds must have been running in the same track Doug, I hadn't been to Armchair in... I'm not sure how long it was, over ten years. I'd forgotten you got a lot of your first Mad magazines there. Roman and I (and sometimes my dad) often made it part of our circuit in high school days, along with Powell's, Looking Glass, and a lot of places no longer around. It does feel nostalgic. Nice lady, she was actually the wife of Smith following the one I mentioned. The one and only time I met Marcus Reed was also there, when Roman, he and I were discussing publishing the first Oddities.

  5. Regarding bookshops in Netherlands: I did go to a good used English language bookstore in Amsterdam, and saw other bookstores about.

  6. I went in there today. They ran an ad in one of the alt-weeklies, last week, I think. "New ownership," or some such. Well, they don't own much. A few dusty books, some CDs, some porn DVDs, overpriced at $5 per (but some "special interest" discs going for up to $60, don't tell Mr. Ed). The place stinks... literally... when I went in there were a couple of Filipino women holding the fort... back rooms blocked off... then an old guy showed up and the women left. He sat in a lawn chair in the one room, a huge cup of soda in the chair's cup-holder. I told him there was 35 cents sitting on the center table. "BFD!" he said, then was off on the subject of money, but after discussing the gold standard and Richard Nixon for a bit, I fled from the place, pornless and flummoxed as to how they stay in business and why they bothered to run a newspaper ad. My guess is that the guy owns or rents the house, and the space comes free, so... (I was interested to read that you and Roman used to frequent the place in the olden days!)

    1. Thanks for the entertaining update on Armchair, Todd. Mr. Ed, huh? ;-) I saw the ad in Willy Week also. From your description, sounds as if the "new" Armchair is similar to 1.0. It was weird enough to begin with from the late 70s - early 2000s, but the former, late owner added a layer of sleaze and unpredictability. I'll have to go by someday, for the sake of nostalgia.